Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
October 17, 2022 10:04 PM EDT

“Work can be how we explore our potential,” said Lakshmi Rengarajan, a workplace consultant and former WeWork executive, in an opening reflection at the Charter Workplace Summit this week. “We might feel some of our deepest longings and potential finally set free or we might feel ourselves slowly suffocate under the weight of work.”

Workplaces (both literal and figurative) can be engines of human opportunity and potential, and there are many specific ways that we can continue transforming them for the better. That was a foundational idea running through our second annual Summit in New York City, which we organized with the goal of creating a playbook for 2023.

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Here are some of the points and practices that stood out for us during the day:

  • Physical offices are a place for conflict. “Conflict, disagreement, the brainstorm, the row, the ‘I’m sorry, we’re not on the same page here’” are important to spend time together with colleagues for, said Julia Hobsbawm, author of The Nowhere Office. In-person work—whether it’s in an office, coffee shop, or other location—is also important for training, mentoring, and social connections between people. “To hang out, to learn, or to argue,” is what in-person work time should be for, concludes Hobsbawm.
  • Workers should be re-onboarded. “We’ve been spending all this energy on onboarding new employees in a unique and special way,” said Daisy Auger-Domínguez, chief people officer at Vice Media Group. “We need to do the same thing for our current employees.” She sees that as a way to remind colleagues why it’s important to come to the office.
  • Talk about what’s not working. “We owe it to our people to get really specific about where we’re growing, where we’re shrinking, where we think we have the most risk,” said Francine Katsoudas, Cisco’s chief people, policy, and purpose officer. “In doing so, we give our people a lot more power as well.” Providing transparency about a business’s challenges is also a way to enlist colleagues in navigating an economic downturn, said Kieran Luke, chief operating officer at Lunchbox. “We want everyone to see and understand, empathize, and take a sense of ownership.”
  • Audit your attention. “The scarcest resource that we have is not money and it is not time. It is attention,” said Didier Elzinga, CEO of Culture Amp. Organizations need to assess what they’re asking their leaders, managers, and individual employees to focus attention on amid numerous priorities. “We can actually sit down and look at it and give ourselves almost a budget,” he advised. “How are we going to prioritize the things we need [a company’s staff] to focus on?”
  • Ask “What is throwing you off your game?” in one-on-one meetings. “That’s one of the easiest ways to prioritize connection,” said Donald Knight, chief people officer of Greenhouse Software. “Because it allows them the opportunity to demonstrate vulnerability around what’s not necessarily going well.” By asking the question, you also give someone permission to talk about what they’re learning and what they need for their wellbeing.
  • Practice real-life scenarios such as uncomfortable conversations. “We often give people an opportunity to expand their role and become managers without actually giving them the experiences that they need to practice the craft,” said Edith Cooper, co-founder of Medley. One way to do that is to create spaces, such as group coaching environments, where they can practice having difficult conversations without being judged or dismissed.
  • Audit your organization’s benefits. Look closely at how they in practice support workers’ reproductive rights, said Shelley Alpern, director of corporate engagement at Rhia Ventures. She recommends that organizations survey employees and ask questions such as “Have they faced specific obstacles in getting birth control or other reproductive healthcare or maternity care? Is there anything preventing them from using their insurance or their benefits? Are they worried about their privacy?”
  • Use “No-KRs” to make clear what you shouldn’t prioritize. Many companies use OKRs to track performance. But it’s also important to be clear about the things that aren’t top priority right now, which Colette Stallbaumer, general manager of Microsoft 365 and Future of Work at Microsoft, calls “No-KRs.” Ask “what can they take off their plate?” she advised. “Which is equally important.”

If you registered to join us for the Charter Workplace Summit virtually, you can go back to access video of the day here.

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