One of the enduring images of 2020 for many sports lovers – whether it be football, tennis or basketball – is the sight of matches being played in front of empty stadiums.
It’s interesting to consider the impact it has on an athlete. Does the lack of an audience affect their ability to perform?
It also prompts the question of whether employees perform better in an office environment – replete with ebullient colleagues – or in the relative solitude of a work-from-home setting.
The answer, it seems, depends not only on the individual but the role involved. With the Human Resources team, for example, those in editorial seem to thrive more on quiet time to compose stories and ponder the bigger questions in HR.
While those on the Human Resources marketing side thrive more on being able to interact, share sales leads and generally gee each other up in what French sociologist Émile Durkheim called ‘collective effervescence’ – to describe the phenomenon of how people build a group identity. It’s certainly applicable to sports teams. Workplaces too.
In fact one of the concerns by many leaders when WFH became the norm as the pandemic took hold in 2020 was workers ability to perform in isolation.
According to the stategy+business website, “It’s easier to tally goals on a score sheet than productivity on a time sheet, but there are some indicators that a lack of face-to-face office experiences is also having unexpected effects in business – and not all of them bad.
“One big fear when many companies made the switch was that employees, away from the pressurized environment of the physical office space and with no one keeping an eye on them, would ‘shirk from home’.”
Turns out it was a concern that was largely unfounded. As recent studies have consistently shown, working hours actually increased and digital presenteeism rose, along with productivity.
And many people actually like working from home, with the majority not wanting to return to the office to work, at least not five days a week.
The other aspect of performance in isolation is personality type. To extend the sports metaphor, empty stadiums generally suit introverts. American author Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, posits that introverts are most productive in quieter environments – with the added privacy empowering them to perform at their best.
Conversely, the more outgoing among us are more likely to thrive and deliver their best when performing in front of an audience – drawing on the energy drummed up by those around them.