In an unprecedented era where nearly all knowledge-based employees are working from home, the Dean of Brock University’s Goodman School of Business says the human experience remains important, perhaps now more than ever.
Goodman Dean Andrew Gaudes has studied telework and crisis management for more than two decades, including writing a master’s thesis on virtual officing during periods of interruption, which examined frameworks for creating telework environments in periods of crisis.
Gaudes says under normal circumstances, an important element of a distributed work model where employees are working in locations other than the central office is encouraging and supporting ways for workers to come together with others outside their regular work tasks.
Whether it’s with office neighbours gathering at local coffee shops or at centrally located satellite work centres, the intent is to maintain social interaction and share ideas beyond the daily work routine.
But when the current response to the COVID-19 pandemic is to advise people to stay apart, how do you encourage that human connection?
“In our new reality, it’s a persistent challenge to maintain human interaction without human proximity,” says Gaudes. “Now more than ever, it’s important for managers to be creative and reach out to their employees with regular communication, to understand what they may need in terms of resources and support, as well as to create environments where using the technology we are applying towards our work is also applied in supporting social interaction too.”
Like many others around the world, Gaudes and the roughly 200 faculty and staff of the Goodman School of Business have been operating in a distributed work model for the past four weeks. Across Brock, one of the largest employers in the Niagara region, all but a handful of operational staff are now working remotely.
Frequent and regular communication, as well as virtual coffee breaks applying office technology, such as Microsoft Teams and Lifesize, has been encouraged.
“It’s an opportunity to see each other’s faces, discuss daily life and tune out from regular work tasks, if only for a few minutes,” says Gaudes.
Whether the world returns to ‘business as usual’ weeks or months from now, he expects there will be an increased number of knowledge-based employees working from distributed places, such as their homes.
“No matter what we’re doing today, and what will change once we’re on the other side of this crisis, there will be a continued need for the human experience,” he says. “As organizations incorporate distributed models of work, they’ll also need to factor in opportunities for people to engage and interact, so they can satisfy the fundamental human need of social interaction.”