When the COVID-19 crisis first erupted, organizations across the world were plunged into such uncertainty it was hard for many to know whether they would emerge intact. Now, though the road ahead remains difficult, leaders are shifting from whether they can return to how to do so.
Leaders are also having to manage waves of unforeseen crises. These events can take as much of a toll on workers’ productivity and mental health as radical, rapid changes in the workplace. Employees will have to confront cycles of disruption and adaptation, driven both by pandemic-related health reasons and new business imperatives, ranging from reorganizations to further reductions in workforces or furloughs.
Clear, inspiring, continuous communication is central to making this next unsteady phase a success.
This Work Trend Index report looks at how the pandemic has impacted wellbeing at work globally. We studied how productivity patterns in Microsoft Teams have shifted since early this year and surveyed over 6,000 information and Firstline workers in eight countries including Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, India, Singapore, the UK, and the US. The report also includes studies from the Microsoft Research group that shed light on the surprising productivity benefits of our once-dreaded commute.
Some of the key findings from the study were:
- The pandemic increased burnout at work – in some countries more than others.
- Causes of workplace stress differ for Firstline and remote workers.
- Six months in there are more communications and fewer boundaries.
- No commute may be hurting, not helping, remote worker productivity.
- Studies show meditation can fight burnout and stress during the workday.
One of the biggest losses with remote work is those human connections at the beginning of meetings, coffee breaks, and having lunch together.
To delve deeper into the changing paradigm of the workplace and the emergence of the hybrid workplace model, and creating a resilient workplace, People Matters and Microsoft brings to you “The Wellbeing Week”, an attempt to make employees thrive at work; be it a remote workplace, or a hybrid model, or the company headquarters.
Supporting the wellbeing week, we have Kavita Mathur, Head of Human Resources, Trilegal. Kavita has been an HR professional with over 20 years’ experience spanning Academia, Consulting, Generalist & Corporate HR functions. She has held marquee leadership positions requiring strategic and innovative methods of talent acquisition, retention, development, and engagement, with proven results.
In this exclusive interview with Kavita, we talk about how the concept of wellbeing in a hybrid work model, her take on some of the findings from the Microsoft study, The work trend index, and creating a sustainable wellbeing strategy for its employees that helps them thrive at work.
Here is a look at some of the insightful takeaways from the interview:
Employee engagement and experience is core in responding to the pandemic
Kavita agrees that when the pandemic hit, lack of social interactions, confinement, and an increasing workload, all this has taken a toll on individuals both physically and emotionally.
She shares, “When the pandemic hit us, there was an immediate impact seen in the business in the first couple of months. As things progressed, and lockdown measures started to ease out, business activity picked up steam and August was probably the busiest months in the lifetime of the firm. This has been a very trying period for our people who have shown the highest commitment levels despite the headwinds of the external environment. Lack of social interactions, confinement, and an increasing workload, all this has taken a toll on individuals both physically and emotionally.”
Trilegal took a number of initiatives to address the underlying issues at different levels. The whole objective has been to bring a sense of belonging and togetherness albeit over virtual platforms. Some of the initiatives shared by Kavita were:
- Seeing the situation, the partners at the firm-initiated team connects at both the individual team level and at an office level.
- There were mindfulness workshops organized. And the Firm tied up with a corporate hospital for their Counsellor-on-call services.
- To help unwind and ease stress, the firm has been getting people together virtually through initiatives like Fahrenheit Fridays, where well-known music bands were invited for exclusive performances for our lawyers. On Diwali for example, we sent gift hampers to our lawyers across the country and hosted a cocktail making session with the country’s best master liquid chef.
What Kavita shared here in actually inline with one of the findings of the study of Microsoft which shares, the top stressor shared by employees globally was worry about getting COVID-19, followed by lack of separation between work and life, feeling disconnected from co-workers, and unmanageable workload or hours.
As shared by Kavita, there is an immediate need to acknowledge the lack of social interactions, confinement, and an increasing workload. Definitely, collaboration tools like Teams can help create more connection between employees, partners, and leveraging it to host events, networking programs, would help to a greater extent. Today, technology has advanced multi-folds and offering features that make connections more experiential. For example, a new stay connected experience in Teams helps individuals strengthen relationships with their colleagues by making it easy to praise top collaborators for key achievements and to schedule 1:1s to catch up. It also helps you stay on top of your commitments by intelligently surfacing suggested tasks and emails from Outlook—plus @mentions in Teams—that might require follow up.
Organizations need to embrace consistent communication among employees
Humans seek out social interactions from birth and this continues throughout their lives. Whether it’s how management and employees relate or the power of peer to peer recognition, human interaction is crucial in the workplace.
Kavia shares, “We learned that people see office space as not merely a workplace but also a place of networking, making social bonds. We have seen that water-cooler conversations, which go beyond work can to a great extent bring back that human connection.”
She further adds, “Nothing is more important than mental well-being. As we are all working from home, the chances of our own pressures and work-related anxieties getting passed on to family members become a lot higher.”
"Clearly, the requirement of managing household chores with the responsibilities of the workplace is a big contributing factor. We learned in science that man is a social animal. And the current situation has challenged this very basic human character/need. So, isolation is a bigger issue causing significant anxiety amongst employees. And importantly the plummeting economy has also resulted in fear of losing one’s job,” says Kavita.
Taking into account the above two factors, according to her, wellbeing at work in a hybrid workplace, therefore, means, becoming more aware of the impact of work stress on individuals and their surroundings and therefore making some fundamental shifts in the way we interact. Showing empathy, being authentic, expressing care and concern towards fellow colleagues, are some basic shifts in our thinking pattern which will aid in the process of wellness.
Inline with Kavita’s thought, research from the work trend index found that over 30 percent of firstline and information workers said the pandemic has increased their sense of burnout at work. And one-third of remote workers said the lack of separation between work and life is negatively impacting their wellbeing.
Leaders would have to prioritize wellbeing for every employee. Given the fact we are all operating in a remote/hybrid world of work, we would need to look at integrating wellbeing initiatives into day to day technology we use. For example. recently, Microsoft introduced experiences to help structure the day, make space for breaks, nurture relationships, and stay on top of tasks. It added features of meditation and mindfulness experiences with Headspace into our virtual commute experience in Teams, which allows users the ability to schedule ad hoc or recurring time for mindfulness breaks anytime—before a big meeting, say, or when one needs to focus on an important project.
The conversation with Kavita left us with one big important learning– making people connect is critical for their wellbeing. Leveraging the right technologies, practices, and mindset would take employers a long way into making people thrive in the new normal.
We would like to extend our gratitude to Kavita for such wonderful insights and takeaways that will help the community to build more sustainable workplaces and help employees thrive at work.