Will people return to the office when it’s safe to do so? Since the start of the pandemic last year, organisations and employees across the world have embraced remote work like never before.
By Genevieve Koolen, human resources director at SAP Africa
Office workers, freed from the confines of corporate headquarters, now perform their tasks, meet with colleagues and customers, and maintain high levels of productivity all from their homes using cloud and other online collaboration tools.
For many industries, including IT, banking and other financial services, it is highly unlikely that workers will return to the office in the same way as before, even if current efforts at vaccinating against COVID-19 are wildly successful.
New hybrid work model beckons
Organisations that have made progress on their digital transformation journeys and have implemented the latest technologies, systems and processes to enable remote work will simply have no need to go back to how things were. In fact, most will likely continue on a trajectory of fewer face-to-face engagements, less commuting, and less need for incurring the expense of fancy offices and beautiful foyers.
Instead, organisations are likely to develop and refine hybrid working models, with a mix of office and remote work based on each organisation’s needs and the employee’s personal productivity requirements.
The shift to hybrid work models will require that organisations develop new strategies for employee engagement to ensure teams are operating effectively and that often-scarce talent can be motivated and retained.
The growing importance of EX
To achieve this, organisations will need to ensure they can deliver a consistently positive employee experience (EX).
In a recent study by Forrester commissioned by SAP, Qualtrics and EY, the number of HR decision-makers that said EX is the most important aspect of their HR strategy had nearly tripled over the past two years, with EX budgets almost doubling over the same period.
Aspects such as learning, development and training, diversity and inclusion, and an open culture that encourages every employee to bring their authentic selves to the workplace all contribute to the employee experience.
It is vital that EX is not relegated to only the HR department or used as a tool to drive greater levels of productivity. Instead, it needs to be embedded in the company culture, driven by leadership across the organisation, and shaped by continuous employee feedback.
The matter of employee feedback will be critical to organisations as they shift toward a hybrid work model. The Forrester study found that 71% of organisations find it challenging to gather real-time information about the employee experience.
Experience management tools that help track employee sentiment and feedback and provide HR departments and company leaders with real-time insights will be critical to efforts at building consistent, positive employee experiences.
Culture takes centre stage
Eight out of ten (81%) employees in the Forrester study believe creating and sustaining a positive culture is the most important aspect to creating a good EX. It is therefore vital that organisations take time to clearly define their culture, and take into account the changing world, likely long-term economic downturn and the effect of the ongoing pandemic on employee wellbeing.
Organisational strategies will need to incorporate three key areas into their cultures to effectively support the new hybrid workforce:
The new realities require that organisations build trust within their teams. Companies will need to create opportunities to set expectations with employees, and then consistently and continuously deliver on those expectations.
Top-down decision-making doesn’t work when centralisation doesn’t exist. The new world of work will require decision-making to be decentralised, which naturally requires knowledge and access to information. A clearly-defined value system can also guide decision-making even when team members are cut off from managers or executives.
The past year of remote work has revealed the importance of teams having access to other teams that have different skills, networks or abilities. This requires that internal silos are broken down and teamwork is prioritised. Organisations should foster a shared sense of victory to encourage teams to work together toward common goals. Teamwork can help build greater cohesion, improve decision-making and alleviate or limit unethical behaviour.
By establishing clear, regular lines of communication, and gaining access to real-time insights into employee experiences, organisations can ensure every employee works toward a common goal that contributes to the organisation’s success. Organisations that define their culture on the premise that every employee wants to work and wants to achieve something of value will be best placed to guide their teams through the ongoing disruption.