It is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work and live. Pre-pandemic commutes have been replaced by bedroom-to-kitchen strolls, and the lines between work and personal spaces continue to blur in our home offices.
Employees are connected digitally, yet there is a cognitive disconnect that affects not only productivity but also employee happiness and well-being. The employee experience in 2021 is ultimately a mix of positives and negatives. And while vaccines brought hopes of returning to some normalcy to our lives, the recent COVID variant surges have renewed calls for reimagining the future of work.
The good news is that we’re smarter this time around. A second round of remote work learnings and innovations should iron out some of the problems encountered earlier in the pandemic.
The Pros and Cons of Digital Tools Connecting the Workforce
Businesses scrambled to enable new digital workplace tools at the start of the pandemic, but there were unforeseen outcomes. Tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom brought what Britain coined as a pingdemic, a new way of working even outside of office hours with unscheduled pings, calls, and distractions.
Sound familiar? Not everyone is a fan.
The digital workplace is a double-edged sword. It can bring people together across continents while simultaneously breeding dissatisfaction as work encroaches into personal and family time. This is something we all must closely monitor to keep morale and productivity high in this new era of work.
Reimagine Workplace Benefits for a Remote Setting
Companies must adapt their benefit offerings and perks so that they have meaning for hard-working talent. Surveying employees to assess what is important to them is an excellent first step to promoting health, satisfaction, and morale.
Workplace benefits are still a great way to entice top talent and foster the health and well-being of employees and their families. But if companies continue offering the benefits created for an office-based, pre-pandemic world, it won’t serve employees well.
For instance, free snacks and hot drinks, on-site gym equipment, and team outings are no longer relevant for employees working from home. Meeting-free times and comp (compensatory) days, however, can show employees that leadership gets what’s most important to us now: clear times to get work done, and when to unplug to be with friends and family. Let talent know they can and should unplug.
Remote Employee Management Plus Good Interpersonal Management
We all agree that teams work better when they are managed and directed by a competent leader. In the office, one-to-one meetings and team-building exercises have been a mainstay of workforce management for decades. In a remote setting, on the other hand, team leaders tend to become more data- and process-centric.
Take care, here. Management via technology can lead to a lack of trust or anxiety from managers who want to uphold high achievement standards but don’t see their teams clocking in and sitting at their desks.
As a result, employees may feel they are in a “big brother” environment where their log-in times, active work hours and breaks throughout the day are heavily scrutinized. They may feel unable or unwilling to express these concerns (or other issues) to management.
As a remedy, managers must work to stay in touch with their teams, communicate outside of meetings, and trust their people to get their work done. Workforce data indicate that employees in fact work harder, longer and are more productive while working remotely.
Executive and departmental leaders, for their part, need to encourage managers to accept their teams’ increased autonomy or be at risk of losing valued employees.
Improving Digital Workplace Problems Through Digital Transformation
And then there’s technology. Adopting a digital workplace solution – a company intranet, for example – as part of a broader digital transformation can significantly enhance the employee experience.
Companies know they can no longer kick modernization down the road any longer. Workplaces today must be intelligent and location-independent – where people, information, and technology connect seamlessly.
But it’s not just about “getting an app” to solve a problem.
Holistic, enterprise-wide digital transformations lay the groundwork for employees to work smarter and with fewer disruptions, and allow companies to pivot more quickly when market or societal conditions change. Start this journey sooner rather than later, if you haven’t already. Even before the pandemic, digital portals and intranets were proving their worth by keeping employees connected with colleagues and in sync with company strategies and goals.
In Summary – Leaders, Not Tech, Must Be the Change
The biggest takeaway from “Managing Work During a Pandemic 1.0” is that there’s not just one solution to bringing us quickly into the workplace of the future. A digital workplace delivers on a dual people-first and digital-first proposition, transforming analog processes and workflows into catalysts for higher-performance remote or on-site workforces.
But we must never take the humans out of human capital. Technology should be sought to bridge the gaps between people, not replace them. Managers still need to manage their people and focus on their development as hands-on as possible.
Leaders throughout the organization may need to rethink their perceptions of success and how they are communicating these principles. Do you value timely project deliverables, or do you appear concerned that your employees are clocking just enough hours to meet a quota? The former is motivational; the latter erodes trust.
Yes, the pandemic has changed the world of work in many ways, and it appears these changes are here to stay. Digital workplace transformation is just one way to help address some of these challenges, providing a more connected and potentially more efficient and productive workforce. The rest is up to us.