Reimagining a Better Workplace, Even if it Not by Choice

By Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst, Talent Management and Workforce Management

Managing remote workers has always been different than managing local employees, but what I had not realized is that managing remotely now is much different than managing remotely a year ago. due to the unique nature of the pandemic, which presents challenges to employees’ mental health, including a significant increase in mental health issues for all employees, especially those working from home.

Organizations understand the importance of work continuity during the COVID-19 crisis. In a recent Brandon Hall Group survey, 60% of organizations said distractions from home were the top cause of loss of productivity among remote workers, but at the same time, 77% indicated that assessing and fostering employee well-being was the most important people function during this crisis. Organizations embrace the necessity of balancing the needs of maintaining continuous business operations while not placing undue stress or hardship on the employees needed to make that happen. But when it is time to return to the workplace, many organizations may not understand the full implications of their efforts and focus instead on getting people back up to speed rather than considering the unique, long-term psychological effects of the pandemic which can affect culture, employee communications and trust. 

This is not to imply that organizations don’t understand the importance of taking care of employees’ mental states; it’s that they may be unsure of how to do so. One of the interesting things about this crisis is that in many ways, it affects people in organizations equally. For instance, now that nearly everyone has worked from home, they have a better understanding of the complications, stressors and advantages of the home office and this has engendered a sense of empathy for other employees in the organization that have the same arrangement.

In fact, that Brandon Hall Group survey found a great number of organizations interested in assessing and fostering employee well-being, with 68% of organizations citing workforce planning as critically important. Compare that, for instance, with “conducting performance evaluations that may have been delayed during the pandemic,” with only 43% of organizations stating that as being critically important. 

This helps show that we are in tune and acutely aware of the need for employee well-being. Although it was never a completely neglected aspect of the workforce experience, it was also not considered the most important thing until now. As employers plan for the future, they see the need to maintain long-term strategies that keep the business running with proper scheduling, compliance and goal setting.

What are some strategies and ideas to consider when managing in this time? Strangely enough, although we are talking about humanity and empathy, better technology can help in this process. This isn’t just an opinion; it comes directly from our COVID-19 research. When asked what would most help during the transition, 54% of organizations said that better technology would assist with workforce management, more than any other aspect of HR except payroll.

One aspect of technology that can help an organization struggling with continuity of work relates to a stressor mentioned earlier; determining who works on site and who works from home. Having technology that removes human biases and makes objective determinations helps get your organization back up to speed as effectively as possible and mitigates the risk of unintentional discrimination. 

Workforce-management technology helps employees directly by facilitating a more seamless return to work by keeping things consistent with the same process (with room for personalization, of course) for each employee. This can create an air of normalcy and shared experience among employees. 

Technology can also provide immediate access to resources your organization may offer for dealing with mental stresses, financial planning or anything else related to the Covid-19 crisis. Again, this is a different experience than normal workforce management where the goal is full productivity because here, it’s getting people at the right (virtual) place at the right time and giving them the tools they need to manage during a uniquely stressful time. 

This may also be the best time to implement any new policies. Putting people to work is excellent but putting them to work in an improved workplace is even better. 

Brandon Hall Group asked about inclusive leadership behaviors demonstrated by organizations during the pandemic, and the most common behavior survey respondents saw was kindness, patience and genuine interest and curiosity about the well-being of others from their leaders. Instinctively, the desire to help each other is in all of us. Now, we must take what we’ve learned and apply it, to create a better workplace.

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