OPINION28 June 2021

Momentum is the key to workplace improvement

Inclusion Opinion Wellbeing

It’s time for research employers to keep up momentum behind their areas of focus, says James Vaughan-Smith. 

London street at night with long exposure light trails from traffic

The self-reflection involved in entering Research Live’s Best Place to Work award is one of the best tools we have to look at how we’re developing as an employer.

As we write our entry for 2021, this means we’re now asking ourselves: have we improved as an employer in the last 12 months? And if so, what’s defined our improvement?

The answer to the first question is subjective, so I can’t answer it objectively. But I do know what we’ve tried to do in the last 12 months, and it can be summarised in one word: momentum.

The pandemic is teaching us that time is precious. Time flies by and drags at the same time. Our days feel busier than ever. But also, in a strange, disjointed rhythm that doesn’t feel like 2019. Despite this, momentum behind workplace excellence is all important. Like ISO’s model of demonstrating continual improvement, we must keep looking at how to improve to the next level.

How do we keep – and indeed gain – momentum as an employer? Firstly, we must reassure colleagues that equality, diversity, inclusion and wellbeing aren’t ad-hoc. Instead, they’re long-term signposts for how we can be better.

Reassurance is one thing. But how do you activate momentum? That’s a book in itself. However, there are three clear ways that employers can keep up momentum behind their key focus areas:

1. Prioritise community and digital wellbeing

Home working spawned the potential for fragmented teams, unstable work/life balance and burnout. However, these are issues that we’ve become aware of and combated, virus or no virus. This means wellbeing and sense of community is now – and will keep being – as important as entrepreneurialism and methodological innovation.

Remote working has also led to more screen time, which is good because we can connect with people we otherwise couldn’t. But there’s a darker side to this – technology’s impact on our lives. This isn’t new, as we found out in 2016 when we researched the darker side of the human relationship with digital technology.

As important as using tools such as Microsoft’s Teams, Viva and Planner, is ensuring colleagues know how to manage notifications and how to create focus time in aid of preventing digital burnout.

2. Propel diversity and mental health initiatives via communication and empathy

Mental health and diversity finally got the awareness they deserved in 2020. Many businesses now have mission statements and hubs to manage these areas. But what next, in what is a harsh economic environment?

Ongoing communication and education are key. It’s now the job of employers to educate, support and host platforms for sharing stories and driving empathy around diversity and mental health. In doing so, these areas will become part of the cultural fabric. Shortly after, devoting time and resource to them quickly – and properly – will be the status quo.

But more than tangible actions, these areas require empathy, compassion and care to allow us to function as healthy humans. It’s empathy, compassion and care that’ll power our industry’s diversity and inclusion and wellbeing hubs through 2021 and beyond.

3. Commit to commitment

While we must continue the momentum behind diversity, inclusion and wellbeing, we must also stay committed to the business engines of innovation, internal training and opportunity.

I referenced the harsh economic times we live in. While these are challenging the present, it’s innovation and skills development that’ll propel the future. That’s why we should all commit to continuing to innovate across our businesses from operations, to training, to communication, to methodologies.

However, innovation requires knowledge, and all research agency businesses have this in abundance. Sharing this knowledge internally is great foundations for training. Doing so will upskill less experienced researchers and allow their more experienced colleagues to revisit the skills they’ve acquired over the years.

Research businesses should always be looking for opportunities for young researchers. A global pandemic shouldn’t have changed this; actually, it provided more opportunities for doing so. We’ve seen that young researchers’ increased exposure and ownership over their roles in 2020 has generated newfound confidence to do this to greater levels in 2021. Doing so allows research business to show their strength in depth and help young researchers shape how they best contribute to their work and careers overall.

It’s time to not just stand up but also move forward. The founder of the Sufi Order in the West in 1914 and teacher of Universal Sufism, Hazrat Inayat Khan said: “Failure in life does not matter; the greatest misfortune is standing still.” 

If we fail in all of the above, so be it. But at least we’ll know we did so trying to propel ourselves forward, using the momentum 2020 provided. 

James Vaughan-Smith is operations director at Northstar Research


Research Live awards entries close on 5th July. For more information, visit the MRS Awards website.