Employee Engagement

Thriving during transition: Maintaining your culture whilst returning to the workplace

Evy Fellas

This article is based on brand new data and insights gained during the lockdown, where lots of companies decided to survey their employees. They wanted to find out:

  • What their people thought about the company’s approach to lockdown.
  • How they were feeling as they started to talk about going back to the workplace.

There are 4 dimensions to consider when you think about returning to the workplace:

Return to Workplace Map
  1. Health and safety.
  2. How supported people feel to do their jobs, regardless of location.
  3. The personal needs that everyone has.
  4. How the crisis affected people’s preferences for work location.

Let’s look at each of these areas in a bit more detail:

Health and safety

“97% of people said that their company was quick to put policies and procedures in place for lockdown.”

Health and safety often traditionally has not been the remit of HR / people management.

In a way, that’s now changed. Everyone’s acutely aware of their personal safety and what could affect them, so it’s important to talk about this when sharing new guidelines for your people. Even if it’s an office manager or operations/facilities team who’s making the physical changes.

This is what people are concerned about, and what you need to plan for

  • Travelling to the workplace
  • The infrastructure and distancing that’s in place when they get there.
  • New cleaning processes – sanitiser and deep cleans.
  • Overwhelmingly, people are most concerned about Other people – that is, how seriously is it being taken by other employees and customers? And they are looking to their companies to provide accountability around this.
  • What will your company do if a staff member or customer doesn’t follow the guidance?
  • How can they make sure people comply with guidelines?

Enablement – how supported people feel to do their jobs

“94% said that remote working tools were put in place quickly for lockdown.”

That’s a huge shift from the same time last year when asked the same question to around 2000 companies, only 46% said that overall they had the tools, systems or processes they needed to do their jobs. That jumped up to 89% during lockdown. Now, we are seeing a drop again to 80% with a downwards trend.

We think the pandemic actually created a lot of goodwill and understanding. People were naturally less critical because of the severity of the situation, plus there’s definitely been an element of camaraderie.

But the novelty of working from home is starting to wear off. While lots of people were juggling childcare and vulnerable relatives, others were enjoying the comfort of being at home and not having to commute.

What you need to think about as an HR manager / people manager

  • The situation is changing and will continue to change so you’ll need to constantly assess and adapt. Put something in place where you can get constant feedback from your people.
  • For people who are going to work from home for the foreseeable future – do they have a healthy workstation? Can you support that?
  • Is there new technology you can use to make remote working easier?
  • How do performance reviews change when working remotely, or having to consider the pressure of people’s individual circumstances?
  • How can you communicate when workforces are separate? How does this affect teams, collaboration and camaraderie?

Personal needs

Research from the World Health Organisation shows that 1 in 4 people will suffer with mental illness at work, but only 1 in 16 feel comfortable talking to their manager about it.

It’s more important than ever to think about people’s personal needs.

Our data shows that 15% said their manager didn’t care about their wellbeing. 16% of people said their manager did not show consideration for their personal needs. That’s significant in the current climate.

The key thing to tackle here is to make sure line managers are encouraged, trained and empowered to put care of their people front of the centre of their teams.

  • You need a way to understand if people feel physically and mentally well.
  • What financial stress is there in people’s households? Partners, friends and family may be furloughed or unemployed.
  • Consider the extent to which you can offer employees the choice of whether to return to the workplace or work remotely
  • The organisation needs to have a wealth of wellbeing initiatives, forums and processes for discussing these issues.
  • Managers need to have the capabilities to be able to have these kinds of conversations with their teams

The Future of work

One thing that stands out from the data is that regardless of industry, people are showing a preference for continuing to work from home. So for roles where this is not an option, you need to track and understand how this might affect attrition.

  • Do you have an option for people to choose how they work in future? How do you define it and communicate it?
  • What’s the effect on productivity with such radical changes to working life? Can you track and understand it?
  • Employees are saying that despite location, we are able to sustain working practices, but we are only a few months into this ‘great experiment’ and it remains to be seen if productivity can be maintained over the long term.
  • How do regional issues affect national guidelines for organisations? For example, where local lockdowns happen – can your policies deal with that?
  • It’s safe to say that the ‘new normal’ is still being formed, so we should consider what the future of work looks like for our specific organisation.

It’s time to start the conversation

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