We’ve witnessed the largest remote-working experiment the world has ever seen. A lot has changed in the past 14 months; the lines between work and home life have blurred, and work schedules and ways of working have been turned upside down.
Organizations have been forced to become more flexible and consequently, managers have had to loosen restrictions on where and when work gets done. The learnings for HR have been huge: working 9-5 is not the optimal schedule for everyone, being ‘online’ doesn’t mean you’re being productive, and no matter how many virtual meetings you put in the calendar, your employees are still missing the water-cooler chat.
UNLEASH Editor Yessi Bello Perez moderated our recent roundtable session in partnership with Time Is Ltd., which lifted the lid on what HR leaders have learned from the past year and how they can now re-build to truly empower their employees in the new world of work. Below are just a few of the themes that were discussed by a group of HR leaders from all over the world.
Wellbeing is at the top of the agenda
The group took a deep dive on the notion that wellbeing has rapidly climbed up the business agenda over the past 14 months.
Whilst in the old world of work, it had often been an afterthought at C-suite meetings, wellbeing has thankfully moved to the front and center of discussions. The group agreed that this has catalyzed new initiatives that they hoped would continue in the post-pandemic world.
One of the key challenges of empowering employees in the the remote world is getting a sense of how they are doing, when you don’t see them face to face.
The participants agreed this needs to be a focus if they are going to continue remote working on a regular basis.
A few participants mentioned how they are now implementing wellbeing-focused conversations for employees to have with their managers. One participant said leaders were reluctant to make time for these as they had become too used to checking up on wellbeing by relying on observations in the office.
Another HR leader mentioned how in order to support employees in a climate of disruption and change, they shifted their leadership style to adopt a transformational model.
They explained how this enabled them to build up leaders’ competencies to be more caring and purpose-led, which in turn empowered them to find out how their teams were feeling and coping.
Another challenge that came up in the discussion was the amount of overworking and burnout that was happening, which in our remote world too often goes unnoticed. This is where workplace monitoring comes in. By keeping an eye on collaboration data, HR is alerted to when employees are experiencing ‘collaboration overload’.
Of course, HR doesn’t want to risk being too invasive, but at the same time its role requires having a sense of understanding about how their employees are. Data is key the new world of work, it provides clear insight without having to schedule meetings and ask questions all the time.
Challenging the status quo
The pandemic has clearly proved that challenging the status quo and seizing the opportunity to do things differently can revolutionize our workforces’ experience, engagement, and productivity.
One participant touched on the positives, noting how being able to adopt more flexible mindsets about where and how work gets done was one of the biggest silver linings to come out of the pandemic.
Another participant mentioned how they’d implemented regular pulse surveys to find out the impact of remote working on employee empowerment. They were interested to discover that 90% of their employees found remote working to be as effective or more effective than going into the office. The group agreed that employee listening should play a key role in finding out whether remote, hybrid, or office work is best for their employees and, in turn, their organizations.
The group also discussed the shift in their organizations’ view of the office and its purpose. Whilst it was once seen as somewhere for employees to get their head down and work, it is now being repurposed as a hub for socials and team building.
Data and tech are power, but tools must be intuitive
The conversation went on to discuss how the most accurate way to measure and understand the employee experience is through collecting data and then leveraging it through technology. By measuring collaboration data between teams and providing managers with a comprehensive data set, you can empower them to make evidence-based decisions that are good for the business.
An example was given about a ‘meeting-free Wednesday’ initiative that a company rolled out, after discovering from an employee survey that their workforce was experiencing elevated levels of ‘meeting fatigue’. Leadership had hoped this would combat the problem but, after measuring the collaboration data, they found that instead the initiative only pushed Wednesday’s meetings to Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The discussion came to a close with an enthusiastic consensus over the fact that technology capability on its own is not enough. Instead, what is equally, if not more important, is that the technology is intuitive, offering a streamlined user experience.
A couple of participants went so far as to say there was no point investing in a tool that required half a day of training. After all, employees today expect everything to be at their fingertips — and just like no one needs a session to understand how to shop on Amazon, HR technology shouldn’t require users to undergo extensive training.