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There are no areas of life left untouched by Covid-19:  from the global economy to our hobbies, habits and happiness, the pandemic has transformed almost everything we do. Nevertheless, employees have shown great resilience and adaptability in the face of such unprecedented times. 

After a sharp plunge in mental and physical wellbeing due to isolation and uncertainty at the height of lockdown conditions, many seem to have recovered. Working from home has been widely experienced during the pandemic and will likely stay in different forms.  Many employees have discovered the positive impacts of working from home, both to improve their productivity at work, while simultaneously having more time for their personal life. However, it is undeniable that it involves higher feelings of isolation for some employees and a lower sense of belonging to a work community – and this has repercussions that are more wide-reaching than you might expect.

I believe that the real power of a workplace it’s in how human contact creates an intangible essence – a culture and collective emotional intelligence that is greater than the sum of its parts. Even with easy access to technology, online meetings and constant contact, there is no substitute for physical presence. Our creativity, trust and empathy are all deeply intertwined with in-person contact, the product of human evolution and the primal urge to be part of a group. 

Personally, I felt energized the first time I had the chance to work again with my team and meet my clients physically, after the lockdown. Honestly, I hadn’t realized how powerful this can be, until I experienced it first-hand. Once all necessary safety measures are in place and people have adopted safer behaviours in their routine, working together and meeting in person provide an added value to our relations, our performance and our mood.

Harnessing collective emotion 

If we could harness collective emotion, where would it take us?  Perhaps collective emotion explains the public outpouring of gratitude for key workers around the world?  The work of French sociologist Durkheim, a founder of the modern social sciences, suggests that collective emotions bring an extra important layer of felt meaning to the shared beliefs or values of its people. 

In organisations, collective emotions help to maintain the relevance of shared beliefs or values in daily work and interactions.  As we perform our work tasks, we join different groups of people with varying degrees of skills and expertise, evaluate a situation together and organise ourselves to achieve a common goal.

Collective emotions form the basis for this collective intelligence which is key to the performance of organisations.  While the pandemic and work from home has initially improved productivity, we need to continue to innovate and build creativity into our business solutions for the future. Collective emotions through human interaction is a key lever for boosting our ability to be empathic, which leads to innovation and creativity. While our comfort zones are continually challenged and stretched, collective emotions can help us stay close to the fundamentals of our organisation.

Capturing individual experiences by regaining employees trust 

If a physical workplace is essential to capture individual experiences and emotions, most employers already understand their responsibility to provide a safe environment, support and reassure every employee. The Harris Worklife Tracker is measures and services that build confidence and engagement, going beyond a supportive mindset to deliver things that people can feel at every touchpoint.

As an example, a ‘welcome back’ package with face masks and antibacterial gel can be an easy yet effective way to help employees feel comfortable. As well as providing the essentials they need to stay safe, these kinds of initiatives turn promises of safe workspace into something your employees can actually see happening, fostering trust.

Moreover, our Rise with Sodexo programme is playing an important role in supporting clients do more than helping employees get back to work. As an example, human interaction over a meal has always been a great way to exchanges ideas and experiences: our Mindful by Sodexo, as part of Rise with Sodexo, focuses on transparency of ingredients and delicious food, that support employees’ health and wellness goals, without sacrificing quality or taste. 

Creating a safe environment where employees can engage, share and interact to facilitate creativity and innovation through the power of collective emotions is our goal!

Discover the e-book Thriving in the worklife evolution: insights for adaptive leaders.

This article was first published on the personal LinkedIn account of Sunil Nayak, CEO, Corporate Services Worldwide for Sodexo.

September 25, 2020

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Sunil Nayak, CEO - Corporate Services Worldwide at Sodexo

About the author : Sunil Nayak

CEO - Corporate Services Worldwide at Sodexo

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