Digital Belonging and The Human-Centered Paradigm

IRI Podcast episode on workplace wellbeing 2

We’re all familiar with the statistic – over the course of a lifetime, the average person will spend a third of their lives at work, that’s more than 90,000 hours, on the job. With that understood, it shouldn’t be a radical thought to hope that those hours may be spent working for organizations that are focused on fundamental human needs, and optimized for employee well-being and workplace belonging. Today’s guest is Yogesh Soni author of a new book that takes on this notion of a new era of work, titled Digital Belonging: Building Human-Centered Organizations. Here, he explains:

  • How stress has become a "workplace pandemic";
  • The loneliness of the American worker, and the need for workplace belonging;
  • The basic human needs for peak work performance; and
  • Why building a community mindset is critical for organizational success!


If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 

 

The Human Element

  • Mr. Soni’s expertise lies in artificial intelligence, and says that empathy is key to developing products and optimizing the user experience.
  • He and his team went on a wilderness journey without any technology or guidance, which is not unlike businesses.
    • This taught him about important tactics that can be translated into the workplace, and the importance of community, teamwork, and workplace belonging, which can lead to success in challenging environments.

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Pivoting from Traditional Work Environments

Loneliness and Workplace Belonging

  • In a recent Cigna study, 97 million U.S. workers, 61% of the workforce, report themselves as being lonely in the workplace. 
    • This study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, when almost everyone was working in person
    • Factors that contribute to this loneliness are:
      • Not having meaningful relationships with co-workers;
      • A misalignment of personal and company values; and 
      • A lack of support from leaders.
  • When we are lonely, it has a negative impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing and negatively affects creativity.
  • Researchers conducted MRIs of babies as young as 2 weeks old, and found that the cognitive state of babies is very similar to those engaged in social interactions. In other words: people are born to belong.
  • Workplace belonging manifests into being valued for the work that you do, being recognized by peers and leadership, and having psychological safety at work.
    • If leadership ignores this need, they may have difficulties with employee retention.

Human-Centered Work Environment

  • Mr. Soni developed a D.I.G.I.T.A.L. acronym which stands for the basic human needs for peak work performance, and is the key to workplace belonging and human-centered work environments. These values are: 
    • Dignity
    • Inclusion
    • Growth
    • Independence
    • Trust
    • Appreciation 
    • Love
  • It is important for these values to be upheld for every employee at every level.
  • Transforming an organization is very difficult, and it is challenging to break people’s habits. The D.I.G.I.T.A.L. needs strategy is about not only changing an organization, but changing the people who work at the organization. 
    • In order to do so, he developed another acronym: T.A.C.T., which stands for:
      • Transparency, which is fundamental to having trust in an organization, and a sense of psychological safety;
        • Psychological safety is important for people to do their best work; without it, people are not able to tap into their creativity
      • Autonomy, which is about distributing decision-making and leadership, and letting employees make decisions that are best for the customers or clients. It is also about who to work with, when to work, where to work, etc.; 
      • Community, the heart of workplace belonging. Lacking a community is at the root of the “great resignation”, and having a sense of belonging is key for having a sense of community in the workplace; and 
      • Technology, because as more companies and people are working remotely, technology has become even more essential. Technology should be used intentionally (rather than simply used to replicate in-person experiences), and it is important to be mindful of scaling the D.I.G.I.T.A.L. principles throughout an organization.

Community Mindset

  • Community mindset is about wanting to succeed with others, growing with your co-workers, and not leaving people behind.
  • Community as a strategy is about putting the power of community behind everything a company does. 
    • This strategy can be applied throughout a company, such as in hiring, product design, etc.
  • While community can not be forced, it is important for leaders to be able to foster workplace belonging, and give more resources and attention to budding ideas.
    • Community behaviors can spread like wildfire in a good way.

Yogesh Soni’s Background

  • MBA from University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur
  • Worked as Software Engineer, Software Architect and Product Manager for a variety of companies, including ST Microelectronics, Leman Silicon Solutions, Marvell Semiconductor and Cisco.
  • Most recently, Mr. Soni served as AI Product Leader for eBay.
  • He is the author of Digital Belonging: Building Human-Centered Organizations.

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About the Author Jacqueline Gregory

A 20+ year media veteran, Jacqui has produced custom communications for some of the world's best-known brands. Producing ProjectHR has been one of her favorite ways to engage and delight HR and Labor Relations professionals!

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