Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins: Empathy is not a trend

With so many employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, executives have had to pay extra attention to the mental well-being of their staff, an effort that requires significant empathy. According to Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, that executive empathy toward individual employees isn’t merely a momentary trend—it’s here to stay.

“If we’ve learned anything over the last 18 months it’s that you have to be empathetic to the person’s individual circumstances, and I don’t think that’s going to change,” Robbins said on Tuesday during Fortune’s Global Forum conference.

Robbins noted the irony that even though Cisco’s workers have been “apart physically,” employees “feel like we’re closer as a company” because management has been communicating more to staff, often videoconferencing from “informal situations” like their homes.

Employees are likely to still “expect” this kind of increased communication from management, even when they eventually head back to physical offices.

Executives have had to take time to understand how major issues like the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racism affected every worker, each of whom may have dealt with these hardships in unique ways, specific to the circumstances of their lives and households. Because of this, Robbins said, Cisco has had to discard the “traditional measurements” that management used to evaluate the performance of workers. Some of these old-school measurements included scrutinizing employee activities in physical offices, judging workers by whether “they were on the phone a lot,” he said.

“We don’t work in a world where the people that work for us are punching clocks,” Robbins said.

Accenture CEO Julie Sweet explained how the consulting giant is working with companies to determine whether the new ways of working, like relying heavily on online communication software, are producing the same kinds of collaboration and positive feelings of employee well-being as before. 

She offered a helpful tip that she tells her team members to use to ensure they are being empathetic to remote workers: Use the “delayed delivery” feature in your email client, so workers don’t feel as if they have to immediately respond to every single message.

If executives aren’t using the delayed delivery email feature, “most likely, your teams are working longer hours or checking their email when they shouldn’t,” Sweet said.

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