What’s on the minds of two top chief people officers these days? Employee well-being; connection and belonging; and building the new world of work.

Electronic Arts Chief People Officer Mala Singh and LinkedIn Chief People Officer Teuila Hanson shared a broad range of insights gained from the turbulence of 2020 and previewed their priorities for 2021 at this year’s People Success Summit. (You can view their sessions here.)

Both leaders touched on the importance of the four People Success habits (gathering feedback, having conversations, setting goals, and taking action) in weathering the challenges that this year has brought. Now they’re turning their attention to three themes they both believe will be critical moving forward.

Well-being

With employee burnout on the rise, both Mala and Teuila are helping their organizations prioritize well-being, first by asking their employees for feedback, and then by taking action.

Teuila noted that, early on in the pandemic, LinkedIn asked the simple question, “How are you doing?” in its employee engagement survey.

“We received thousands of open text responses, and that information was incredibly critical to understand… [how to] alleviate employee concerns at this time,” she said. Just a few of the actions LinkedIn took as a result of these data insights include: 

  • Adjusting employee communications
  • Providing a wellness day off
  • Implementing regular no-meetings days

At Electronic Arts (commonly known as EA), Mala said the employee mental health benefits the company had in place prior to the pandemic provided much-needed support once everyone started working from home. In fact the company’s usage of mental health services quadrupled as the pandemic took hold.

EA also responded to employees’ fears over how the pandemic could impact their health by bringing in medical consultants so that employees could ask questions and learn more about the virus.

Connection and belonging

Globally we’re seeing workplace connections suffer as a result of the strains of the pandemic. Teuila noted the challenges all organizations face in helping their employees stay connected in a remote world.

“This is a really difficult thing to do right now,” she said. “But I like to think that, 18 months from now, when we look back at this time, we see this as a time that brought us together. Although we’re separated by physical location… we’re building the deepest, most trusting relationships we’ve ever had… There’s something about creating connection when you’re trying to work through really hard, challenging, complex issues together.” 

One small but consistent tweak she has made is to personalize the communications she sends to the entire organization. In her company-wide emails, she acknowledges the wide range of situations employees are in and difficulties they’re facing so that they feel seen, heard, and cared for.

We’re also seeing employees around the world increasingly indicate that their happiness at work depends on whether they feel a sense of belonging. One area Teuila and LinkedIn are focusing on to encourage belonging in the remote workplace is psychological safety.

“I think it’s a little bit more challenging being able to read body language and understand if people can speak out and bring their best selves to work in a virtual environment,” she said.

One adjustment she recommends is helping managers and employees have consistent and high-quality one-on-one conversations. That way managers can help employees with any issues specific to their unique situation. 

Building the new world of work

When it comes to reimagining how we get work done, Mala has adopted a saying often used in politics: Never waste a good crisis. Among many things, the pandemic has led EA to:

  • Embrace a new geographic distribution of its employee population
  • Double down on its values, especially in regards to collaboration and creativity
  • Elevate the HR function into a strong and consistent leadership role

“While every difficult situation is painful like this year has been, it also presents gifts and opportunities to reimagine everything,” she said.

Less than 5% of EA’s employees worked virtually before the pandemic. Mala expects that percentage to grow post-pandemic, but she said the gaming and interactive-entertainment company does not plan to become virtual-first in the future. 

“What we do is really unique and really special,” she said. “The creative process—the magic that happens when people are in each other’s physical presence and can gather around a monitor to look at a piece of content or stand up around a whiteboard and sketch out the next great level of a game design—those things are meaningful and important. And the creative process benefits from collaboration in physical proximity.”

Mala said most EA employees expressed through their engagement surveys that they would like a hybrid work model, splitting their work time between the office and home. So EA is experimenting with new ways to cultivate creativity in a flexible work model.

Teuila also stressed flexibility, along with equity, as a critical component of the future of work at LinkedIn. She recently announced to the organization that employees will be able to work remotely up to 50% of their time without needing manager approval.

“The genie’s out of the bottle,” Teuila said. “If there are leaders that really believed that face time mattered, we’re able to see through the last few months that we are able to be productive being in a remote environment. There is going to be a shift in the dynamics between who’s in the office and who’s not in the office.”

If you’re looking for ways to build your new world of work, visit our Reimagine Resource Center.