Prospering in the digital workplace

Ever get the feeling we've been on pause or holding out for our old way of life, pre-Covid-19, to return?

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Ever get the feeling we’ve been on pause or holding out for our old way of life, pre-Covid-19, to return? If, like many, you now feel that while the initial crisis has passed the adrenaline is still pumping but are unsure of how to sustain or evolve your practices and behaviours then I would highly recommend that you listen to our latest webinar with our friends and global advisory firm, Finsbury,  Prospering in the Digital Workplace; Insights from Behavioural and Neurological Science.

Head of EMEA Employee Communications and Change Practice at Finsbury, Louisa Moreton, sat down to unpick the challenges now faced by so many workplaces with Lucas Millar and Owain Service, experts in neuroscience and behavioural science respectively. The fascinating conversation touched on how, with lockdown lifted, but with restrictions still in place, businesses are trying to navigate this ever-changing minefield that feels more complex than ever.

Louisa asked our experts how can we collaborate across a business where some people are onsite, in the office together while others are still working remotely? What does good leadership now look like? And how should employers help their people to manage anxiety, exhaustion and loneliness? There’s no doubt the questions are many and there’s no doubt that we’ve only scratched the surface but, in this discussion we looked at how to strike a balance between technology and humanity.

Digital workplace challenges

The key challenges most businesses are facing in the digital workplace touch upon all of the following:

  • Remote leadership and behaviours
  • Empathy care and mental wellbeing
  • Effectiveness, productivity and burnout
  • Moving away from 100% online working
  • Maintaining culture remotely.

As Louisa highlighted, while many businesses have tackled some of these challenges, no business has all of them covered. Both Owain and Lucas discussed how it’s no good holding out for a return to normal because it simply won’t be happening any time soon, if ever. Lucas implored people to re-think and challenge everything we used to do and by doing so we can start to create new routines and habits that will help us as businesses and individuals to evolve into this new hybrid way of life. Instead of thinking negatively about what has come to pass we need to hit refresh and introduce new, positive practices for the well-being of all.

“Now is a time in history, with what I would call high variants. So, there are many, many companies and individuals who are benefiting tremendously from this situation. It’s made their lives easier, opened up opportunities to spend time with their families and do things they never had time for. Then you have people who are struggling immensely, the demands on their time, attention and energy have basically exponentially increased and there’s so much lack of control and in this time of high variance we have many people with setbacks and many opportunities. It ends up presenting an opportunity for business where if you don’t rethink everything and try to emerge stronger than you’re going to be left in the dust…” Lucas Millar, Productivity & Cognitive Performance Researcher, UC Berkeley & Stoa Partners

Creating and maintaining trust – Even remotely

During our earlier discussions about the impact of Covid-19 we discussed how trust and empathy had dramatically increased across businesses as people got to see their colleagues and senior leaders in a new light – or simply from their kitchen table. Lucas highlighted that for humans, trust is paramount, like any other pack animal species. Oxytocin is the main neurochemical for building trust. And the best way to build trust in a team is to promote psychological safety. That’s pretty tough to do when you’re staring through computer screens at one another.

Interestingly, Owain reported that looking at the broader picture of whole economies: studies have consistently shown a strong correlation between levels of trust amongst a population and GDP. In other words, countries with the highest levels of social trust tend to be wealthier. How on earth can a simple behaviour like trust do this, you’re wondering? Well, as Owain went on to explain trust lowers transaction costs and therefore encourages people to take risks. If you take this down to the level of a firm where trust is encouraged amongst individuals then the psychological distance between people lowers which in turn enables more natural, social connections and encourages conversations that build trust and spark creativity.

Transparency, trust and collaboration create your culture

Of course, if we’re going to develop more trust then we need to do a better job of promoting a culture where people feel secure in their roles and secure about being wrong. They need to feel comfortable suggesting crazy ideas, and knowing that when they are given critical feedback, it’s not personal and that it’s not an attack on their identity. Owain advises that creating a culture where trust flourishes doesn’t come from being told by the senior leadership team, it evolves by bringing together a diverse set of individuals and getting them to unify over a shared goal. When people share a commitment to one another they then share a belonging to the organisation which encourages positive, reciprocal interactions between individuals, teams and, ultimately, across the company itself.

One concern for many of the webinar attendees was burnout. How do we prevent it in ourselves and across our organisations? Both Owain and Lucas talked about a ‘Calendar Cleanse’ where teams work together to reduce the number of meetings – which have notably increased since Covid-19 as people compensate for not being in the office by being on more calls. Both experts noted that this huge increase is a big mistake and will accelerate burnout. By reviewing calendars together teams can agree what’s necessary or not and who does or doesn’t actually need to be in a meeting. It helps productivity and helps to remove new forms of presenteeism that seem to be creeping into our daily working habits even remotely!

As I said, the conversation was fascinating and there’s so much more to cover. To hear the discussion in full click here, but in the meantime here are a few practical tips from Lucas and Owain on how to adapt your behaviours for the better:


  • Give up the façade and reveal personal information. Show your kids and your pets, let people see the real you and be informal
  • The very nature of video-conferencing does little to help develop trust as you would in person. Eye contact is impossible so do a few things to help:
    • Turn off self-view
    • Look at the green dot when you can
    • And show more of your body / hands (don’t be afraid to move around, it’s natural)


  • Remember transparency and information are absolutely key
  • Centralise knowledge and information in an accessible way that works for everyone, no matter where they are, whether that’s the company mission and values or the health and safety policies and benefits programme. Make it easy to reach
  • Think critically about what benefits people actually care about. Is it the right tools and tech so that they’re comfortable working remotely or would a meditation subscription be of more help. Remember one size doesn’t fit all
  • Allow budget for people to meet in person at a WeWork or space that’s mutually easy to get to and meets with all the social distancing requirements. People will want time with their colleagues and don’t just decide, ask them what they would like. Remember collaboration is key to the success of these new initiatives.

Avoiding burnout

  • Turn off notifications and encourage people to intentionally check messages every 2 hours instead of real-time
  • Calendar Cleanse – regularly!
  • Encourage people to state their top three priorities for the day. No more than three and if they accomplish them they need to recognise that’s success and they can comfortably ‘switch-off’ without feeling they have to do” just a few more things”.

Related resources

Nicole Alvino

Nicole Alvino

Nicole is our Founder and Chief Executive Officer ensuring tens of millions of global employees are more engaged and our enterprise customers—including 40 of the Fortune 100—are more agile with workforce intelligence. Prior to co-founding Firstup, she was the Founder and CEO of Dermalounge, a pioneer in using technology to empower employees. She has a B.A. in Economics from Vanderbilt University and an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. She is a contributor to Entrepreneur, Forbes, and Fast Company and lives in Seattle with her husband and three young sons.

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