Transformation and new ways of working aren’t new topics on the agenda, but there has never been a more critical time to grab employee experience with both hands. The accelerated workforce transformation that has arisen as a result of the pandemic means that there is no time to waste.
The true costs of Covid are starting to emerge. Our mental health is at the forefront, as is lack of connection. Surveys are revealing that many of us don’t want to return to the old ways of working.
As a leader or manager, what are some things you can do to retain engagement and harness the emerging and working trends as we transition into a new way of working?
Below are five areas to consider.
1. Listen to understand
Retaining the best talent and improving productivity is in your hands. Aquent's recent survey of over 1,200 employees cites that only 2.24% of people want to go back to working in an office full-time! Really understanding how your team wants to work is key to moving forward effectively post Covid. Do you know what your team's new work preferences are? Run a survey and track the changes each month (an annual survey will no longer be enough), or if your organisation is smaller, find a way to connect with your team in small groups. This way you can better understand the challenges employees are facing and how they feel it is best to solve them. This approach creates better engagement and even drives cost efficiency.
2. Really embracing flexible working
What are the plans for your organisation post-Covid regarding remote working? Will you continue to support it, or is there an expectation that teams will return full time to the office? Nicholas Bloom, a professor at Stanford University in California and a specialist in remote working says “the pros outweigh the cons." In the long run, I think it's huge. Imagine: we go to something like, 20% of our days are spent working from home. That’s 20% less commuting. His research back in 2010 found that there was a 13% increase in performance of employees and a 9% increase in more minutes per shift.
The result of not addressing flexible working could be costly to deal with. As the founder of the PwC parents group, I know that the number one reason employees with children stayed (even when offered significantly better pay or a better role) was the empathy the business showed for their mental health and the flexibility they offered.
3. Back the Infrastructure to support flexible working
If there was one thing that incensed me when Covid hit, it was the lack of support that many employees received to work remotely. Team members were just expected to go cold turkey into their bedrooms and set up an office. Back in 2018, I spoke at a global legal conference on the topic “What does flexible working look like?” sharing my experiences at PwC which were very progressive at the time. Many organisations were starting to consider ‘work from home’ policies.
In March 2020 their bluff was called. Were they really enabling their employees to work off site or was it all just an HR campaign?
Had they developed trusted ways of working? Had they implemented the tech and IT architecture and support processes to create productive flexible working? Many consulting firms simply turned off the lights in their offices when Covid hit and walked out of their buildings, whereas other organisations struggled horrifically. If you don’t have the IT in place now, you may be too late, without it you’re allowing a productivity lift to slip right through your fingers.
4. End-to-end mental health support
Look at the support systems that are in place for mental health and ways to reduce mental load for your employees. Lack of connection is playing a key role in our mental health challenges, but it’s not just about long term staff. How are you building a support system for those that are joining your business during this time? What does the on-boarding model look like?
Starting a new role is always a challenge, but it’s even more challenging when your HQ is your own bedroom. There is no getting away from your workstation to your place of rest as they are the same location. Dr Adam Fraser speaks about the importance of “ The Third Space” between work and home being for our mental health. By now we have been missing the ‘ Third Space” for 7 months or more. We are facing the same pressures of work and no time to transition, is it any wonder our mental health is suffering?
According to a survey by the job search website Monster taken in July, 69% of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home during the pandemic – up 35% from just two months earlier.
5. Leading with compassion in all areas:
This goes back to understanding your employees' challenges. They won’t necessarily tell you, but the message as an organisation you can send is that there is help. Pushing that message out will allow those that need it to come for financial support before it’s too late. Linkedin Founder Jeff Weiner spoke widely about “Leading with Compassion” well before Covid hit, yet it has never been a more important message. Craig James Commsec's chief economist was right in a recent video update when he says ”Unfortunately 100 years ago they didn’t leave us with any playbook on how to get through this pandemic”.
This is new territory for many and financially it’s stressful. There was little time to prepare for the loss of share values, potential redundancy and sudden loss of income to support mortgages and ongoing costs like school fees continuing despite being run from home.
In summary, there is a small window here to get the employee experience moving in the right direction. Keeping your employees at the heart of the conversation is the key to unlocking a new more productive reality for your organisation, whilst attracting and retaining the best talent.