Rebuilding for a New Better
The Dublin Work Travel Convene Coalition, March 2021
Despite the uncertainty created by the pandemic, it is clear from the roundtable discussions that business leaders are thinking ahead and planning for a different working environment in a post pandemic world. The past year has been a live experiment in remote working and through the process, Coalition members have gained insights that they will carry forward to the way they approach the working environment in the future. The following areas were discussed and taken into account as Coalition members prepare themselves for the ‘Future of Work’.
Culture is a manifestation of an organisation’s core values and senior leadership’s commitment to business culture is imperative to empowering colleagues.
Some team leaders are not comfortable leading in a remote environment, but Coalition members all agreed that empowering them to offer support to their colleagues can help to create an effective team culture. Informal conversations with colleagues were also deemed important in assisting with maintaining company culture in a virtual environment but also helped in building strong and resilient relationships.
Through discussions it was noted that those that were successful in leading their teams this year were able to empathise with their teams, understanding the environment they were working in whether that be in their bedroom or in addition to minding children at home. Understanding the strains that employees were under this year was critical to helping to empower teams to succeed and ultimately enhancing the overall performance of the organisation.
It is worth considering adapting talent management models to acknowledge the significant diversity in colleagues’ adjustment to remote working. Other issues front of mind include remote hiring, onboarding, and assessment.
A more individualised approach to management, including defining the skills and behaviour that help employees to succeed remotely, can also be beneficial for an organisation.
Tools that the Coalition members had explored and recommended to help develop remote management skills included leadership coaching; team assessment and feedback forms; establishing realistic and challenging goals for teams and giving employees guidelines so that managers both differentiate their team members but also set parameters so that they remained accountable despite operating in a virtual environment.
Coalition members called out that performance management in a remote environment may be challenging, as it is often relationship-based and varies depending on employee. For this reason, organisations have utilised the pandemic as an opportunity to encourage staff members to revisit and reassess their goals. Leaders have been challenged to re-calibrate performance evaluation to ensure that it is equitable, and that the challenging home working environments of some colleagues can be acknowledged, understanding that this is not a reflection of their performance or commitment.
68% of respondents said they were putting a greater emphasis on continuous feedback and manager communication as part of their organisation’s performance management process.
Return To Work Assessments Survey
The competencies of our leaders have been tested and it has emerged that leaders who are succeeding today are leaders with strong emotional intelligence. This is a substantial shift from just 12 months ago when successful leadership was often achievement based.
A virtual workplace raises different issues. Leaders must show empathy and empower their teams, which requires taking a more holistic view of their team members.
These insights are key as we review our future people strategies and talent development cycles and reimagine our organisations.
Over the course of the past year it was agreed by Coalition members that there has been a renewed focus on employee wellbeing ranging from an increase in communications from the leadership team to an enhanced package of wellbeing support provided by organisations focused on the core areas such as emotional, social, physical, professional and financial wellbeing. At the onset of the pandemic employers were concerned about their employees’ physical and financial health and the focus later shifted to emotional and social health, due to the nature of the various stages of restrictions and the impact remote working was having on employees and their families.
This increased attention to employee health and wellbeing can be evidenced by the rise in communication efforts on existing benefits to ensure employees avail of them, as well as increased access to services such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) and telemedicine.
75% of respondents have a virtual GP or other virtual health services available to employees.
Return To Work Assessments Survey
In our discussions Coalition members all agreed that as we look to the future the focus is shifting from employee wellbeing to employee resilience. With organisations experiencing a rapid pace of change and facing continued uncertainty organisations are realising they now need to build more resilient workforces.
A resilient workforce is equipped to weather storms, can adapt to uncertainty and demonstrates agility when faced with change. This requires organisations to adapt and invest in their approach to employee wellbeing which was perhaps historically ad-hoc, lacked funding and was not always focused on preventive measures, addressing underlying health conditions or changing health behaviours of the workforce.
Aon’s Rising Resilient Study which was conducted during the beginning of the pandemic, found that there was a shift in mindset to resilience both from an employee but also from an employer perspective. Additionally, it showed employers’ current approaches to wellbeing were not having an impact and were falling short of the employees’ expectations.
As part of this research Aon has developed a model which illustrates how the top factors that drive resilience are aligned to the pillars of wellbeing. In order to embed this into an organisation effectively, there needs to be strong leadership, values and purpose that are aligned to improving health, but also a robust practice of communication between leadership and employees.
Organisations have also been devising a longer-term view on the future of work and long-term logistics including understanding colleagues’ preferences for the return to the office as well as remote working.
86% of respondents were in the process of devising a plan around the future of work for their organisation, including ascertaining roles that could be automated, identifying suitable locations for operations as well as appropriate digital experiences for employees and customers.
Return To Work Assessments Survey
Government protocols and advice are critically important in informing and guiding businesses on the operational environment but won’t support ongoing efforts in areas such as compliance. They will provide a signpost but not a full roadmap to recovery for all organisations. This is where collaboration with other Coalition members is beneficial. Sharing knowledge, experience and learnings can help build a picture of what the future workplace could look like and how to put best practice in place.
On a practical level there was general agreement from Coalition members that it is likely that employees will return in phases, with certain cohorts such as new hires, those who collaborate to innovate, and younger employees who may have challenges with remote working returning first. It was clear from our discussions that certain tasks, such as workshops or brainstorming sessions have been more challenging to recreate remotely. Although these processes need to be nurtured in a virtual environment out of necessity during the pandemic, there was consensus that they benefit hugely from in-person initiatives.
One of the biggest changes in society in the past year has undoubtedly been the transformation of the meaning of the word ‘work’ from a place you went to, to now being more focused on what you do. The role of the office is evolving and into the future it was generally agreed that it’s function would be transformed.
COVID-19 has forced employers to re-examine the office from the ground up, how it is utilised and its future role. It has provided the time for organisations to reimagine workplaces and discover how they can be even more effective as planning for the future of work continues. It was concluded that different teams will utilise the office in a variety of ways and the set-up of the physical space would need to be adapted to reflect these future needs.
We have all interacted differently during this pandemic and many organisations have successfully adapted to remote working models. This has involved developing agile approaches to some of the new challenges faced by all organisations.
Through our roundtable discussions it became clear that some elements of collaboration required additional nurturing and preparation to recreate the experience of having everyone under the same roof. Although there are software solutions that can assist the process, a virtual environment only allows participants to use two of their senses as opposed to five. Sparks of creativity or ideas that emerge when working remotely can be more difficult to share and develop in a virtual environment.
Remote working has however provided an opportunity for organisations to examine processes and methods of engagement with teams at every level of the organisation and in some cases has led to the fast-tracking of decisions. It has provided opportunities to ignite transformational change across organisations helping them to adapt for the future of work and fuel future growth.