Employee Experience: The Future Of Work Post-Pandemic
As cities and regions across Canada start reopening following a successful, albeit slow, vaccination drive, employees can finally start imagining a post-pandemic working model other than “remote working.” Toronto and Montreal ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively with the longest lock-down/stay-at-home measures across all major global cities. Workers and employers are eager to see a return to a new form of normalcy, where we can enjoy lunches on patios and coffee with colleagues while awkwardly adjusting back to a time when face masks were not mandatory indoors.
Looking ahead to the second half of 2021 and toward 2022, there are a couple of major themes emerging that will define the “Future of Work”. These themes are an evolution of existing topics focused on the emergence of brand-new frameworks and models. The enabler of these themes is going to be digitalization of the Employee Experience, a theme that was underway but has gained increased prominence since the pandemic.
Five Future of Work themes need attention to are:
Maintaining Inclusion and Engagement
One of the biggest casualties of flex work is the degradation of involvement and engagement with employees. Companies have invested boat loads of money over the past decade in creating sleek, hi-tech, goodies-laden, Herman Miller-filled, rec-room-inspired offices that have basically been empty for six to 15 months. One of the most effective ways to generate and maintain engagement is creating an attractive and welcoming physical work environment, where employees work, collaborate, and inspire each other. Remote working does not allow for that.
Remote working can also exacerbate unconscious biases and create real challenges for diverse employees. To enable inclusion and maintain engagement, it is important for an organization to use multiple communication channels to allow employees to engage, such as creating virtual coffee lounges that employees can join during breaks, encouraging the use of video during meetings, creating informal breakout rooms, and encouraging leadership to have deliberate check-ins on their teams and employees.
Improving Mental Health and Well-being
One of the startling results of home and remote work models has been the exponential increase in mental stress and reduction in overall well-being for employees, running counter to our assumptions. “Working from home” and “working from home during a pandemic” are different models and consequently have had different outcomes. Most companies picked up on this early and designed support structures and working arrangements to minimize the effect. As we emerge out of the pandemic, companies must continue developing new support mechanisms and expand on successful ones.
These support models for employee well-being must be viewed from three points of view: individual, team, and organizational. It can be simple measures, like logging off from instant messaging platforms, such as Teams and Slack, providing meeting-free Fridays, lunch and breakfast times, and providing new benefits, such as company funded daycare or pet-care services.
Retaining and Nurturing Talent
A sense of belonging and affinity with the culture of the firm helps retain talent; this is well known across employee management circles. Much like the theme surrounding engagement, one lingering question remains – how does a company retain talent in a virtual and/or hybrid working model?
Culture, even though intangible in its essence, is something that can be felt when an employee enters a physical office of an organization. It is difficult to provide the same sense of culture to remote employees. The research on the proportion of employees who switched jobs at the end of the pandemic has not been completed but based on anecdotal evidence anywhere between 25-30% started looking for and found new jobs.
Some of the strategies a company can use to retain talent is doubling down efforts around engagement, coaching, and mentorship, reviewing the rewards and benefits programs to align them with the new working models, allowing more flexibility in timing of promotions, and updating the learning and development structure. Changing a taught course to an e-learning module that can be accessed through a portal is not effective, instead focus on creating a peer learning and teaching model by creating cohorts with similar years of experience.
Reinventing of the word “Team”
The majority of surveys and research published throughout the pandemic has reinforced our assertion that irrespective of industry, two-thirds of the workforce prefers remote or hybrid working arrangements. Yet, as highlighted earlier, this preference intensifies the need of interacting with peers, colleagues, and managers. We genuinely miss collaborating with co-workers in a physical office setting, whether it was to respond to a late client request, create a sales pitch, or solve a problem together.
The virtual “team-sport” aspect of working is the new-norm and growing faster during the pandemic as companies invested and leveraged technology and digitalization to improve productivity. Despite the advances in virtual collaboration through Zoom, Mural, Slack, InVision and others – employers are still using technology as a tool rather than a force multiplier. This makes the digital experience even more important to get right — it is the connective tissue that allows workers to communicate and collaborate, from wherever they decide to be, and with whomever they need to connect.
Creating the Digital Experience with your Employees
Companies regularly and consistently engage with customers, listening to the feedback and improving their operations and processes. Instead of defining the next digital experience for your employees, encourage them to invest time, effort, and energy to build an outcome they are invested in. Make employees responsible for defining their digital experience. Use the latest in design-thinking approaches to ideate, define, refine, develop, test, and deploy prototype solutions to enhance and digitize an employee’s experience within days and weeks.
Companies should collaborate with their employees to identify high-value journeys across the organization that can be digitalized to enhance the employee experience. Use insights provided by your workforce to identify new directions and define what will be the future of work for your organization, rather than try to improve old processes and patterns.
Organizations that provide agency and choice to the employee in pursuing work they are passionate about, through a working model that was influenced by them, while focusing more well-being and inclusion, are the ones that will emerge as leaders from this pandemic.
(Haleel Sarwar is Managing Principal at Capco and the views expressed in this article are his own)