In 2020, the pandemic forced us out of our offices and into our homes. Several organisations treated their employees to WFH allowances that let them set up comfortable workstations at home. Yet, dodgy internet connections and sharing cramped spaces while working could be put up with only for so long. We began 2021 on the back of vaccination-driven optimism, hoping to return to our shiny offices and physically meet our colleagues once again albeit separated by plexiglass and social distancing norms. Unfortunately, the second wave proved those expectations to be premature.
After toggling between work from home and hybrid alternatives, one can say the workforce has displayed commendable productivity amidst continued uncertainty and little to no emotional and mental relief. However, digital fatigue and burnout are the flip sides of this reality. One of the ways businesses can address this and go beyond token employee appreciation is by building a work culture that puts people first. People-centric strategies can replenish employee morale and refuel productivity in the post-pandemic workplace.
Holistic plans for employee well-being
The long-ongoing turmoil has changed people fundamentally. It has compelled employers to view their human capital holistically and as more than just workers. As the pandemic eliminated the physical space that separated work from home, it also dispelled the notion that the employee who reports to work is different from who they are in their personal sphere. Before the pandemic, the employer’s responsibility was limited to ensuring a safe workplace and comfortable work environment. Now, it’s all-inclusive, encompassing physical, emotional and mental provisions that will enable a worker’s optimal performance.
While several organisations offered mental health benefits during the pandemic, management must consider making these a permanent feature in addition to standard benefits like paid leave and medical coverage. With offsites, team lunches and business travel out of the picture for some more time, companies should devote resources to understanding the new kind of perks that are likely to boost employee morale. Those that recognise the employee’s roles and needs beyond work – be it as a parent, caregiver or student in debt – will be in favour.
Linking productivity to purpose
Besides the pandemic itself, several events during the past two years have urged people to self-reflect. Changing values and priorities mean a lucrative paycheck is not the sole motivator anymore. Training and development are likely to be of greater value to employees. Given the rapidly changing work environment, adoption of technology and spread of automation, the World Economic Forum had projected that 54 per cent of all employees will need reskilling and upskilling to adapt. Organisations can reap manifold benefits by investing in training programmes. Not only does a future-ready workforce give the business a competitive edge and improve productivity, but upskilling also boosts employee morale as it contributes to their personal and professional growth.
Workers are also looking for jobs, roles and organisations that help fulfil their sense of purpose. They are prioritising work cultures that don’t prevent them from enjoying other aspects of their life. Most importantly, now that it’s clear work can continue unhindered even when they function remotely, employees value their ability to choose more than ever before. All of these are the new determining factors of employee productivity in the post-pandemic world.
Aligning with the freedom to choose
Flexibility in location and schedule has advanced from being a perk to a priority. A global EY study found that 54 percent of employees would consider leaving their job if not offered some form of flexibility in where and when they work. This has turned the hybrid work model into a necessity in 2022 from a crisis response in 2021. More organisations are exploring the avatar of hybrid work that fits them best – whether it’s asking employees to work from the office on certain days or allowing them to choose between remote and in-office work. Some feel their productivity best within the traditional office setting, while others may prefer working remotely to save on rent and commute. A hybrid work model prioritises productivity over the worker’s physical presence.
The new challenges and situations presented by scattered workforces will lead to an evolution of how employees experience the company and the ways managers engage their teams. Ahead-of-the-curve organisations are reimagining their company culture for the hybrid model. The traditional tenets of employee experience and engagement have primarily revolved around the physical space, in the form of open-plan offices and enviable recreational spaces. But in the new hybrid work normal, employers will have to take into account the experience of those who are working remotely, ensure an inclusive culture and work to address biases that may emerge.
As we enter the tail end of the pandemic, most of us are in a phase of recovery – be it emotional or financial, individual or business, trainee or upper management. Organisations that build back better by putting their people first will enjoy sustained employee productivity and loyalty which will lead to business growth by default.