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The last 12 or so months have brought change to our lives; personally and professionally. How much change is obviously dependant on your previous working and living circumstances, not to mention what part of the world you live in.
This has brought challenges. This could be due to our mental health being tested as we meander through lockdown, losing our personal touchpoints in and out of the office. Or our physical health has gone wanting as feasting on some snacks seems more viable than fashioning a homestyle gym routine. Possibly could even be due to our trips overseas or interstate have been put on hold for the foreseeable future. Not for the first time, and I can safely assume, not for the last, we are being challenged as humans.
Without deluging into philosophical conundrums or analysing the ‘state of the nation’ from a broader perspective, what does this mean for the workforce and more so Employee Engagement in the new normal workforce?
Organisations, on behalf of engaging, retaining and attracting the best Employees, have for some time been challenging what the working day should look like. We have seen companies implement initiatives such as changing the working week to 4 days. Showing flexibility to what hours in the day an Employee works instead of the standard Dolly Parton 9-5. Working from home has been a constant in the last 5 years, but it was seen as taboo by a large number, seemingly saved for progressive tech companies and few others.
The gap has closed in many of these areas through the COVID- 19pandemic we find ourselves in. Those not on board will be left behind by what is the new normal expectation by Employees as they see the benefits of added flexibility to their work/life balance just as Employers have seen the cost saving it has produced with sustained efficiency of having less overheads.
It poses new challenges and questions for many who are now a part of this new way (and are looking to sustain it) as we look to define how does this new normal work long-term as the forced trial period through lockdown has come to its close through restrictions ending.
Engaging Employees will still rely on what makes people happy and gives them purpose. A hybrid model increases work/life balance, as does hours of work during the day not being so tied to 9-5, however there is a cost to this. Home life and work life can begin to blur when working from home. Travel is no longer an opportunity to remove one’s mind from work through a book, the traffic around you or some open air. If Employee’s don’t take the opportunity to take some time out at home to replace these moments of being ‘workfree’ the possibility of burn out is real as the work day can start and end after breakfast is finished and dinner is ready.
In addition, the expectations of what is required in a work day, such as availability, presence, work hours, responsiveness etc. can be varied for each Employee; be it manager, subordinate or colleague. Questions such as how to fit work meetings in each other’s day (depending on one another’s work hours and if working from home) without burdening or impeding on another’s personal life becomes more commonplace and requires understanding from all parties for each individual circumstance.
Meanwhile certain personalities may find it harder to be heard as a Teams/Zoom call may not provide the forum a meeting in the office provides for an Employee to express themselves confidently. Obviously, there are opportunities where these circumstances allow others to thrive, though even if this is the case it does not mean we should lose our engagement of those that do not.
Knowing your Employees is imperative now. Understanding your team/department etc. make-up through personality tests and having a leader who knows how to communicate to each and every one will lead the way to higher engagement. It will provide insight and prospective touchpoints with each Employee, as engagement can no longer be relied upon a broader team or workforce who can see each other daily and have a coffee run or walk or lunch together. Work camaraderie isn’t dead, but it’s changed drastically from what we have known and the responsibility is with leaders.
It is important for Employers to be proactive in ensuring that ‘hybrid home offices’ are set-up appropriately and their proactivity towards this will only support the benefits that they offer to their Employees
Further to this, clear and concise communication will always be king and finding ways to increase this to a remote workforce will be necessary to keep Employees engaged and can, even should, be done across various mediums to reach different work demographics.
Lastly, companies who continue and pursue a hybrid model need to consider that Employees may not have appropriate working arrangements at home. It is important for Employers to be proactive in ensuring that ‘hybrid home offices’ are set-up appropriately and their proactivity towards this will only support the benefits that they offer to their Employees.
Employee Engagement in any setting is led by those that act before it is imperative. COVID-19 has forced Employers into implementing a new normal for their workforce. Those that use this as an opportunity to think outside the box and use it as a platform to build off, will be the ones that will engage, retain, and attract Employees.