In 2020, the pandemic threw up a few surprises - the overnight move to a work from home, far away from the usual schedule and way of working including the ensuing impact on productivity and performance of employees.
While leaders were pleased with the unexpected outcome of some employees enjoying increased productivity, a threat was looming large too – burnouts from punishing work schedules. The traditional workplace norms may have changed irrevocably. While employees (and employers!) have learned to go the extra mile, both need to accept a new reality – flexibility in working hours and learning to work the hybrid way.
A post-covid workplace as some employees are assigned to work from home permanently – or via rotation – the differentiating line between the workplace and the home stands subsumed or blurred. Consciously or subconsciously, office peers and teams may come to be perceived as part of an “extended family”.
Additionally, flexi work hours are a new-age paradigm that startups have embraced with gusto. The overriding thought behind this principle is that outcomes matter, not output. As a result, the conventional central command-and-control model may be replaced by autonomous, agile and self-motivated teams that set their own targets while raising the bar consistently on outcomes.
Companies should consider all the above realities as they define performance management and annual appraisals are undertaken. Employees surpassing their expected or predetermined metrics must be acknowledged, applauded and awarded on merit. But those who may not have done as well, despite putting in their best efforts, need to be guided during this transition phase of going back to work from office (WFO) – without being put down in any manner.
In some cases, annual performance appraisals may no longer make the cut. Instead, nimble entities will prefer quarterly or biannual appraisals. Besides, appreciation for great work doesn’t have to wait for the appraisal period. Rather, managers, peers and leaders should be encouraged to highlight such efforts the moment they happen or as early as possible. Performance management can then effectively metamorphose into a 365-day tool with 360-degree perspectives - a constant outflow of cross-team, cross-organization communication. Due to the current situations, the distance and the hybrid workplace we are all entering into for the next several months, it will require managers to double down on more outwardly and verbal signs of performance indicators - calling out great work, giving performance feedback quickly to enable change will both need to be balanced, frequent and authentic.
In 2021, empathy also emerges as one of the core organizational values. To be sure, empathy cuts both ways. In 2020, when some companies were on the brink due to COVID-related headwinds, employees helped save the day by agreeing to salary cuts, long work hours and working over the weekends, among other imperatives.
This year, employers will reciprocate. Some had already set the ball rolling last year, months after the pandemic struck. Recognizing that most employees were bending their backs to drive BCPs (business continuity plans), HR heads and management introduced multiple strategies to ease work pressures.
The initiatives included a silent hour during the traditional lunchtime and meeting-free Fridays so staff could plan assignments and take early leave to begin the weekend on Friday evenings, extra time off, etc. Companies that reciprocate in 2021 will find employees more than willing to go the extra mile, irrespective of whether they are working from home or office.
Moving ahead in 2021, even when employees are under WFO, the ongoing pandemic will maintain high anxiety and stress levels.
As the outbreak created unexpected challenges impacting people differently, depending on whether they are WFH or WFO, firms must create a level playing field whereby fairness and transparency are at the core of the performance appraisal process. Here, instead of solo star performers, greater emphasis will be on robust team performance because the pandemic constraints call for cross-functional cooperation in achieving organizational objectives successfully.
Additionally, organizations will understand that pre-COVID goals may no longer be tenable in the post-pandemic world. Consequently, company objectives and KPIs will be updated as per evolving ground realities on a monthly, or even weekly, basis to maintain their market competitiveness. In the coming days, whatever the pandemic scene, companies will promote initiatives that maintain and enhance employee and team morale. More than tweaking KPIs and company objectives, the role of HR and the leadership team is to create an interior environment that allows employees to succeed while also enabling them to achieve said goals. Creating the right support systems, procedures and policies that give employees the security and stability needed to push themselves and do the best work of their career.
Finally, in navigating the new normal, some sectors may end up retaining part of the workforce under the WFH regime to drive better bottom-lines and higher productivity. Irrespective of WFH or WFO, flexi work hours will be incorporated among the new norms where outcomes, not long hours, will remain the main focus. This will eliminate or limit heartburn among either section about missing out on the “better option”.
Undoubtedly, the post-pandemic epoch will throw up unforeseen hurdles and new learnings. However, opportunities will also arise for innovative companies to evolve new operating models and strongly feel that companies should grab this opportunity with both hands to enable a flexible, agile and fast moving organization that simultaneously allows the organization to deliver on key employee needs. In essence, even with shifting goalposts, performance management would revolve around offering employees an equitable working ambience.