2020. The year everything changed.
There’s barely a part of anyone’s lives which hasn’t been touched by the pandemic. But with work representing a big chunk of most peoples’ lives, it’s meant a massive readjustment for organisations, employees and the HR teams working hard to ensure a continuation of motivated, secure, safe, high performing workplaces.
This year has seen furloughing of staff, uncertainty, fear, anxiety and ill health, redundancies and new complex, fast changing regulations and laws.
And these have led to an enforced overhaul of working practices for some organisations, with varying degrees of success and agility. Some were quick to establish their teams at home, equipped with technology, with robust lines of communication, performance management and even social interaction, much of it enabled by video conferencing, which has seen Zoom become part of our daily lives and terminology.
But while many businesses have coped well with the initial implementation, it’s now becoming clear that some of these changes will be a permanent feature of working practice. And if they are, the implications need to be considered and well managed if organisations are to ensure sustainable commitment, motivation, psychological contract with and performance of their teams.
HR can and must be at the very centre of this effort.
Workers may be remote, but working relationships must stay close.
Employee engagement is an ongoing priority in all organisations, but it just got tougher.
No leader can predict the future, but organisations can give employees reassurance, stand by their values, envelop employees in the objectives and goals of the business and give them accountability, a voice, a mutual psychological stake in the organisation’s success.
So much of this will be about consistent communication. Ensuring the channels are open, two way, varied and regular so every single employee feels included, involved and listened to. And that’s whether they’re actively working, on furlough, onsite or remote, or sadly out of action with the virus.
It means thinking creatively, powering up communication within and between teams, empowering and training line managers and inspiring them to find new ways to motivate people.
It also may mean an individual approach, recognising the different concerns people may have. Maybe your business is multi-sited with a blend of home-working and others who can’t do their roles from home.
How are both groups feeling, what are their fears and concerns? How confident and able are different employees in working independently and staying self-motivated without the camaraderie and social network associated with a lively, supportive workplace?
Well-meaning support to one person could be perceived as patronising or micro-management by another. This is a delicate balance and line managers will be under pressure to get it right.
A lesson to be learnt from recent research, is just how important it is to listen. According to Global Research by the World Economic Forum, “Managers believe they’re doing well at supporting staff through changes to work wrought by the pandemic. But employees disagree, telling researchers they are tired and overworked”. This and other surveys have thrown up a startling disconnect between employers and employees’ perceptions of remote working, demonstrating that no-one can afford to be complacent.
Practical considerations, psychological implications.
No-one could have imagined the effort and investment needed to offer safe workplaces and remote working.
And practical installation is just the beginning. New working practices often mean changing working cultures, and with no blueprint for this ‘new normal’, cracks and issues may start to appear if change is not managed effectively.
For HR professionals, implementing and ensuring the sustainable positive outcomes of this scale of change may be one of the toughest challenges ever faced.
The right systems and technology need to be brought in. All the evidence shows the importance of getting employees’ ‘buy-in’ and ensuring they are trained on new systems, on video conferencing, on digital communications platforms.
There may be very different appetites for home-working, and all sorts of practical issues with their home set ups making productive working a real challenge.
Fast moving Health and Safety regimes and practices must be implemented and followed, accompanied by work around awareness, education and support.
Practical solutions need to be found for monitoring and managing sickness, absence or performance issues.
High on the agenda is mental health and well-being. Employers must be responsible and offer supportive cultures respecting their employees’ home, family, medical, mental health and professional circumstances.
In a poll by Network Reach of SMEs, while generally supportive of homeworking, 50% of respondents did miss their colleagues and social interaction and this feeling of loneliness has been echoed in other surveys. As time goes on and remote working becomes a more permanent feature, it will be increasingly important to check in on employees’ mental health.
Maintaining performance in the toughest of times.
Organisations and businesses must focus not just on maintaining performance, but on raising it.
In some sectors, competition just got tougher, others are just trying to survive.
But whether the immediate objective is to survive or to flourish and thrive, one thing is unarguable. The workforce is intrinsic to this goal, and leadership teams cannot achieve it alone. Employees are the interface with clients. They are delivering the service. Some high-profile brands have already been criticised for failing their customers, damaging their long-term reputation. No one can afford to let performance slip in the current climate.
The good news is that according to various research, such as a survey of UK workers by Deloitte, at least 55% of those remote working felt they were at least, if not more productive, than they were in the office. In some companies, the results were even higher.
The challenge will be to maintain this long term. KPIs, expectations, measurement, reporting and communication must be crystal clear. Line managers must be afforded the support and time they need to fully coach and support their teams.
And leadership teams must be visible and inspirational, taking the whole team with them on this journey, riding together through the ‘downs’ so in future there will be ‘ups’.
These challenges call for far reaching, innovative and creative solutions, which may include these;
Frequent, robust surveys and mood checks to check in on how people are feeling and what they need
Regular informal one to ones and team meetings
Digital communication platforms
Robust systems of performance management and appraisals, to ensure absolute clarity over people’s roles and reinforce each person’s value to the organisation
Embedding a culture of openness and willingness to speak out and express concerns and ensuring they are addressed
Using technology to enable efficient remote working
Replacing social interaction and networking with virtual events and socials
Boosting the visibility of reward schemes like employee awards, team awards, recognition of customer feedback, long service awards
Review company values to ensure they are relevant, embraced and understood
Ensuring a culture of trust not suspicion
Looking at your future recruitment and person specifications with the new working culture in mind
Embrace the positives
With every challenge comes opportunity and HR teams have a real opportunity here.
A survey conducted by PwC showed 86% of UK bosses believe there will be a long-term shift towards remote work.
Arguably, it is HR professionals who will lead the agenda and create a culture of engaged, well managed, high performing teams that will be a part of the organisation’s future success.
For some, it may be a chance to review the old and bring in the new. An opportunity to update values, build safer workplaces, boost communication and attract new diverse talent from audiences who pre-remote working may not have been able to work for your organisation.
This sentiment was echoed by HR industry specialist Josh Bersin, who referred to delegates at this year’s virtual CIPD conference in his keynote speech, as heroes.
Pointing out that a lot of the changes we are seeing were already in progress but now will accelerate, he highlighted the input of innovation and enhanced profile HR will have in the future of work.
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