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The human side of work has never been more important. Organizations that can support and empower a distributed workforce have fared the best during the pandemic. However, changes have come so fast that many employers feel as overwhelmed as their workforce.

To build an agile work environment, organizations need to be able to support work from anywhere and enable diverse teams and employee culture to thrive even as priorities shift. Today’s employees expect far more from their employers than a paycheck.

As organizations move beyond reacting to the pandemic, they need to be proactive about creating a workplace culture where employees feel:

  • Valued and believe the company supports their health, safety, and well-being
  • Connection, not just connected
  • Empowered and engaged

Feeling Valued and Supported
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs demonstrates the progression from “surviving” to “thriving” to reach human potential.

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Many in the workforce today are most concerned about meeting their physiological and safety needs. These concerns are accelerated by furloughs, layoffs, difficulty paying their bills, anxiety about catching COVID, or grief or concern about loved ones’ health and safety.

Essential workers have heightened physiological and safety needs as they put themselves and their families in danger every day. The scars and trauma caused by the pandemic will not heal easily. As vaccines become more readily available and economic conditions improve, employers and HR leadership teams should continue to prioritize their employees’ physiological and safety needs before moving up the hierarchy to help them thrive. To do that, leaders need to listen to their workers, empathize with their concerns, and make sure they have all the tools they need to feel supported and productive.

Connection, Not Just Connected

The pandemic caused some organizations to transform their digital environments in a few days or weeks. Many organizations had to move from in-person offices and teams to working from home and using new technologies that enable remote work. At the beginning of 2020, few organizations were using tools like Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. By the summer, most teams were using these tools to work remotely.

Although we are lucky to have these remote working tools that allow teams to stay connected and collaborate, a video chat will rarely be as meaningful as in-person connection. Many leaders are struggling to foster positive, meaningful interactions with their teams, especially as the pandemic stress piles up. Employees miss the daily connections in the break room or conference room. “Zoom fatigue” is wearing everyone out. Physical togetherness not only helps build connection but also reinforces culture. Working remotely, it is far more challenging to build connections within a team or across an organization.

To drive a sense of belonging and connection in the workplace (the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy), leaders need to try even harder with their remote workforce. They should check in individually with their staff to ask how they are doing and feeling and how they can boost connection. In some cases, more meetings (with cameras on) and communication could be helpful, but in other cases fewer meetings might be warranted. Perhaps employees need socially distanced, outdoor gatherings or fun, silly activities to boost creativity. Ask them what they need. When employees believe their leaders care about them as human beings, they will feel much more connected to their team members and the organization as a whole.

As vaccinations advance and the world reopens, many organizations will start to have some of their workforce return to offices. Now that employees have had a taste of remote work, though, many employers will adopt a new hybrid, allowing team members to work from anywhere (including the office). This could provide more opportunities for connection, but leaders will need to make sure they do not treat remote workers differently from the in-office employees, which could cause diversity, inclusion, and belonging challenges.

Empowered and Engaged

For people to feel truly empowered and self-actualized (at the top of the hierarchy), they need to feel comfortable bringing their full, authentic selves to work. They need to feel safe to test new ideas, learn, and innovate. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. People have better ideas and are more innovative when they work and collaborate in teams that have a common purpose and vision and feel supported by their leaders. Teams are the foundation of how work gets done today.

Agile organizations carefully look at how they create, support, empower, and even disband teams (and re-form new teams as needed). To create an engaged and empowered workforce, leaders need to create a culture and environment that supports and nurtures teams while recognizing each person’s unique contributions to the team. Working remotely does not have to be a barrier to nurturing an empowered, engaged workforce.

The Opportunity to “Re”

Now that organizations have nimbly adapted to the pandemic’s challenges, 2021 brings an opportunity to restart. Employers can shine by refocusing, reframing, reimagining, refreshing, and relearning how we work and thrive together in a workplace.

2021 brings us an opportunity for employers to shine. For people at work, their managers, and their leaders to really put the human at the center of what we’re doing. To design our systems, our processes, to support every human in the context of where they are and what they’re doing. We call it designing around the empty chair. Put yourself in the empty chair of each employee and think about what’s going on in their world–not just at work, but also in their world beyond work. Think about how that shapes their perceptions and needs. Think about how you can support them to be the best version of themselves and bring their best selves to their teams. For leaders, this is the key to steering and supporting people to moving from surviving to thriving.



Jim Holincheck has more than 25 years of experience in the HCM technology industry and is the Vice President of Advisory Services at Leapgen. Before joining Leapgen, Jim gained experience as a vendor (Workday – Services Strategy and Product Management), an industry analyst (Gartner and Forrester/Giga), and a consultant (Accenture). He has spent his entire career working with customers to strategize, select, implement, support, and optimize their usage of enterprise applications. Helping customers successfully get the most out of their enterprise software investments is something he is very passionate about.

David Guazzarotto is one of Australia’s leading authorities on HR, talent, and technology and is the Managing Director of the Asia Pacific Region at Leapgen. Highly respected as a global keynote speaker, thought leader, consultant, and change leader, David is also a host of the Humans of HR podcast. David brings more than 20 years of experience as an advisor and change leader in people management, worker experience, and technology with expertise in both the Australian and global HR Technology markets.

Jason Averbook
is a global keynote speaker, industry analyst, thought leader and consultant in the area of human resources and workforce experience. He is the Co-founder and CEO of Leapgen, a digital transformation shaping the future of work. Author of The Ultimate Guide to a Digital Workforce Experience ~ Leap for a Purpose, Jason seeks to broaden executive mindset to rethink how to better design and deliver employee services that exceed the expectations of the workforce and the needs of the business.


Leapgen is a global digital transformation company shaping the NOW of work. Highly respected as a visionary partner to organizations looking to design and deliver a digital workforce experience that will produce valued outcomes to the business, Leapgen helps enterprise leaders rethink how to better design and deliver workforce services and architect HR technology solutions that meet the expectations of workers and the needs of the business.