(Working from home and working from the office – both are here to stay. A workplace with adequate comforts and convenience keeps employees productive, engaged and aligned with the company’s goal and vision. Hence, while reimagining workplace design in the post-pandemic era, employers need to prioritise employee experience above everything else. By incorporating ergonomic features and supportive management, employers can facilitate deeper connections between employees and the workplace.)
Crisis as Catalyst
Ergonomics or the study of people in their working environment has seen a paradigm shift ever since the remote work culture or Work from Home (WFH) started taking deep roots across organisations save industries post the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. To put it succinctly, Covid-19 acted as a catalyst for changing the employee engagement model across organisations world over for good. Two visible trends that are playing out in the global workplaces may be worth noting here. First, against a tight labour market in many advanced economies especially in the US, workers are willing to forgo a job that they perceive does not fit their bill. Second, more and more organisations are willingly coming to terms with the new normal of flexible working after attempts by several organisations to revert to the old system of office-based work culture hit a wall of resistance forcing them to retract from their get-back-to-office calls.
For the sake of context, the healthcare crisis of the century has seen many dogmas about old school employee engagement models challenged in their premises. The first myth the WFH culture has debunked is the precept of in-person work from the office leading to higher productivity. Second, the old employee engagement model through the myriad web of control and command structure, which is eponymous to both Fordism and the post-Fordism workplaces, have found wanting in its use case utility in an evolving work environment.
Third, in several developed countries the reopening of economic activities after the moderation in Covid-19 infections saw the bargaining power of workers going up considerably against the backdrop of a tight labour market. Also it may be pertinent to note that as the world emerges out of the lockdowns, many workers started saying no to job offers as they turn themselves as entrepreneurs/employers on their own rights. The pandemic learning and savings made them explore novel ways to get both rich and satisfied in life. And they prefer a better work-life balance than monetary compensation.
As Marcus Buckingham, head, ADP Research Institute and the author of the `Love + Work’ famously said in a recent Time interview: “If you want to be a company that attracts people in these really tight labor markets, talking non-clichedly about: “We’re interested in who you are, and what you love to do, and how you can build your mastery…. Because the unemployment demographics are going to stay the way they are, and money won’t cut it. We’ve got way more powers as employees than we’ve ever had before. And it’s going to be this way for the next five years”…. The new found bargaining power of employees has turned out to be the tipping point in redefining the future of work and workplaces.
Further employees too are eager to continue working remotely. According to the FlexJobs 10th Annual Survey conducted between July and August 2021, an astounding 97% of workers desired some form of remote work. Another FlexJobs survey done between March and April 2021 found that 58% of workers would look for a new job if they cannot continue working remotely. The bottom line is that companies have realised that physically being at the office full-time is not a necessary condition to achieve great results and employees see a better work-life balance in remote work.
Towards a Human-as-a Whole Approach
As the old adage goes, life is about building bridges, not walls. Pandemic has proved that this maxim holds good for workplaces as well. Organisations operate in an era wherein employees are no longer a cost-item under ‘Salary and Wages’ but represent the integral ‘Human Capital’ of an organisation. Hence, business should not just emphasise on reaping returns from human capital but also invest in enhancing its quality. Here, an important element in encouraging employees to explore their complete potential is through creating a sense of belonging for them towards the organisation. Aligning their goals with the organisational objectives is a win-win deal for both the employees and the employers.
The need of the hour, therefore, is a hospitable work environment which is driven by the observed culture among all the employees; a culture which exists beyond the corporate brochures where each member holds himself/herself responsible for maintaining and nourishing the values of the organisation. Moreover, the leadership team should ensure that they lead by example and act as a guiding light for the entire organisation.
True that everybody looks forward to being valued by their team and associate themselves with something important. An ideal workplace environment is one where irrespective of rank and opinions measuring up to peers, the sole criterion for career advancement should be merit. In sum, a protocol which exhibits fairness and provides equal opportunity to everybody would lead to cordial employee-empower relationship by improving their emotional quotient. Therefore, organsiations should drop transactional metrics to evaluate staff but should shift to an all encompassing methodology based on experience and observation - experiential in HR parlance – to assess employees.