As leaders adapt to our new hybrid reality , they face new challenges with communicating their company’s mission and values. It’s an urgent issue: a 2021 Gallup poll showed that only 20 percent of employees globally say they are engaged at work. How can leaders increase that sense of engagement, create a healthy culture, and make sure that everyone in their organization is aware of it and feels connected to it?

Those are the sort of questions that drive Frances Frei, a professor of technology and operations management at Harvard Business School. In her research and her work as a corporate advisor for companies embarking on large-scale change initiatives, she investigates how leaders create the conditions for organizations and individuals to thrive by designing for excellence in strategy, operations, and culture. In this episode, she discusses how leaders can build trust, speak authentically, and empower workers to do their best.

Three big takeaways from this conversation:

  1. “Empathy is a superpower,” Frei insists. She believes it’s always been a vital skill, but it’s become even more important in the hybrid era. Leaders and organizations that can effectively harness it have a tremendous advantage. She defines empathy as being “other-centric,” focused on the needs, or just the physical presence, of someone else. That can be achieved through obvious means—don’t glance at your phone and multitask during a conversation. But it also means taking care of yourself—dealing with stress and distractions and things like hunger from skipping lunch—so that you can give others your full attention.

  2. Frei notes that companies seem to think that once trust is lost, it’s almost impossible to regain. Trust isn’t a delicate Fabergé egg, she says. “Trust can be rebuilt. It’s better not to break it for sure, but it can be strengthened as a way to protect against future missteps. So if I can be more trusted by my clients, be more trusted by regulators, be more trusted by my partners, we see performance skyrocket. So in the presence of trust, everything gets better.”

  3. Frei believes that we’ll look back and realize that the past decade has been focused on improving the customer experience, sometimes at the expense of employees. “I mean, my goodness, as customers, everyone’s life has gotten so much better. But sometimes we do it on the back of employees.” She believes that companies will now have to be just as focused on creating good employee experiences as they are on creating good customer experiences—and she’s all for it. “The same way we have to earn our customers and we want to have our customers’ loyalty and all of those things, the same thing applies to employees.”

For an additional perspective on company culture, we get some advice at the end of the episode from Nancy Baym, senior principal research manager at Microsoft, who studies how people use communication technologies to build and maintain work relationships.

WorkLab is a place for experts to share their insights and opinions. As students of the future of work, Microsoft values inputs from a diverse set of voices. That said, the opinions and findings of the experts we interview are their own and do not reflect Microsoft’s own research or opinions.

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Here’s a transcript of the Episode 3 conversation.

ELISE HU: Welcome to WorkLab , the podcast from Microsoft. I’m your host, Elise Hu. On WorkLab we hear from the leading thinkers on the future of work—economists, technologists, researchers. Throughout the season we’ll share surprising data and trends transforming the way we work.

FRANCES FREI: The myth was that trust was a Fabergé egg. If it ever, ever slips out of your hands, it breaks into a million pieces never to be repaired again. And that is simply not true.