The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged humanity in aspects most people were never challenged before. For the first time in many years, the whole world has been brought to its knees by a pandemic affecting every single corner of the world. Suddenly we all found ourselves greeting each other from a distance in awkward ways and wearing masks.
Restrictions had to be applied, and we were not able to go to the restaurants of our liking any longer. We could not meet with friends and families, and many lost their jobs. Others were closely touched by this pandemic and lost a close relative or got the virus themselves going through tough times.
In the same way strong winds leave just the stronger leaves attached to trees, our lives have been challenged forcing us to pay more attention to those things that matter the most to us too. What we do for a living and where we work is one of those things people start to challenge. I’ve been noticing a strong trend where people are more conscious about seeking for happiness more than ever before.
The fear in many countries
One of the main fears that is surging in many countries is around work continuity. Many organizations realized that working remotely is actually possible. Even companies that were not friendly at all with remote work culture, found themselves surprised “how well” it worked for them during pandemic times.
Some companies are starting to think: “If I can have my people working remotely, then I can hire them anywhere in the world, even where salary wages are way lower”.
While the principle might look appealing for many companies, it’s not so simple. In the end organizations always need talented and motivated people to work for them, where they can contribute to the success of the business. And in most cases, they already have these people working for them, would they risk losing them?
It reminds me when a lot of organizations were outsourcing to countries where labor costs are significantly lower like India, Philippines and Vietnam. There is no magic, if you pay low salaries (also considered low in those countries) you will probably won’t be getting the best people, and the coordination and management overhead will be challenging for the organization. This is why many enterprises that drastically outsourced in the past, had to find a better balance to make it work.
It’s always about the people, you need to hire the right people and pay fair wages, and they have to match your organization’s culture, otherwise, don’t expect miracles.
I also foresee certain protective measures from different countries, ensuring a minimum percentage of hires in the local country the main company is based on. Only time will show us how this evolves.
I just hope companies behave ethically and be there for their work force when their support is needed. In the same way their employees continued working for them in challenging times to support business continuity.
The focus on people
Organizations that historically focused only on numbers and not on people, will have troubles retaining talent and keeping people motivated. In contrast, organizations who always paid attention to employees, and were smart to realize that this was a very important point, will be able to foster loyalty and increase engagement. Always put people first.
More than 41% of the participants of a survey done by Qualtrics showed that their mental health has declined since the beginning of the pandemic. So what each company is doing to preserve and uplift employees is key to keep their workforce safe and engaged.
Contrary to how it was many years ago, when you decided to work for a company, its not just them choosing you. The power for people to choose where they really want to work has been even further strengthened by the pandemic.
For example, some organizations completely disregarded the mental well-being of their employees during this pandemic. Working for very long periods of time without contact with colleagues, for long periods of time, is taking a toll on people’s well-being.
Some companies realized at a very early stage about this and were able to adapt, but others were not so lucky or thought they could continue working as they were, but just doing it remotely. As the Qualtrics survey shows, time proved them differently.
The work-place is changing
While with the recently approved vaccinations, our hope for normalization has increased, we don’t know exactly when everything will be back to normal. Most probably we will need to accept that the normal as we knew it will never be the same again. Some organizations are introducing remote work as the primary way of working forward. Some because they embraced the flexibility, others realized that paying for expensive office space did not make much sense. I foresee a switch of demand from fixed office spaces to more floating positions and more meeting rooms spaces so teams can come together on-site when working primarily remotely. Or smaller satellite offices more spread in different areas where teams who need to work together can collaborate.
10 things organizations can do to support their employees
Below you can find some ideas to increase the level of awareness and well-being of your employees, especially working remotely.
1 – Introduction of virtual coffee breaks between small teams: I’ve seen virtual coffee breaks that were too large to be practical or serve their purpose. But if smaller teams would organize virtual meetings at least a couple of times a week, this will contribute to maintain proximity to colleagues. Organizing larger virtual meetings with a larger audience would also be a good idea to allow teams to interact with each other on a higher level. While people will appreciate it if you won’t make these mandatory, they will certainly feel encouraged to participate if they see their colleagues and leadership participating too. Make sure everybody understands how important this is, maybe not so much for them, but it is for some of their colleagues who will appreciate the support.
2 – Do your employees have what they need to perform from home?: This might have been better to address it from the beginning of the pandemic, but its never too late either way. Introducing a plan to help your employees with funds or sourcing of equipment to help them work in a more comfortable way will help increase their motivation. Do they have a proper chair? Do they have a proper desk? Do they need an external monitor to work comfortably from their homes and not from their laptops for many hours?. Are they happy with their laptops or you are just assuming they are?
I’ve seen too many people working from a kitchen table without a proper chair for very long periods of time. The best way to address their needs is to ask them directly, and foster a culture of openness for them to feel confident to speak up. Not every single house is the same, so needs will be different.
3 – Hire professionals to support your teams: Professionals in psychology can help you identify what is going on with your staff. What do they need to feel better and implement measures to increase their well-being. Higher levels of stress and anxiety are just some consequences of this pandemic, but we need to understand what else might be affecting them and what leadership can do to help them.
4 – Work-life balance: Ensure each member of your organization leading teams is aware of the importance of the well-being of the people. Give them the tools to react and tackle the issues the staff might be facing. Ensure the work-life balance of the employees is respected, and enforce measures to ensure employees are not working when they shouldn’t. Every employee will appreciate a manager that takes care of them about the importance of respecting their private life.
5 – Foster openness within your organization: Allow employees to submit ideas of benefits and where the organization can improve. Self-service portals like idea management on the ServiceNow platform or UserVoice, help bring visibility to all employees about ideas submitted by other colleagues and would allow them to vote up or down on them. This increases visibility and allows companies to prioritize on what matters the most. Using gamification to give out prices to the best or most voted ideas would also encourage participation.
6 – Encourage your employees to go out for walks: People doing office-like work should feel the freedom to go for a walk while taking calls or participating in meetings, ensure team leads encourage this whenever possible.
Steve Jobs was known to have meetings with teams walking out in nature, this fostered creativity and collaboration. I introduced these in one of the organizations I worked in the past, and weather permitting meetings outside were refreshing and was surfacing great ideas.
7 – Promote exercising in your workforce: Doing exercise is an important contributor to our health. Introduce company wide challenges and giveaways to encourage participation. I think employees could appreciate agreeing on setting weekly a number of steps as part of their objectives.
8 – Enforce winding down and proper lunch breaks: Nobody can be productive one hundred percent of the day, we all have ups and downs. We do things that motivate us more than others or that we like more or less. Establish calendar blockers and empower your teams to not override them with other business meetings. Having a proper lunch break and using that time to get out of the office desk, have lunch, get some fresh air, will help recharge batteries to continue working more energized in the rest of the day.
9 – Maintain constant contact but balance video calls: While certain people feel more comfortable than others in front of a camera, Zoom fatigue, it’s a reality, and we need to accept that if someone doesn’t turn on their camera its because maybe they are exhausted. But its appreciated if colleagues turn on their cameras to increase the level of personal connection.
With all the social distancing, we need to feel that proximity that otherwise we would have at the office. There is a famous phrase “That could have been an email” its also true, having a call for every single topic when it can be a short 3 lines email is also OK.
Also make sure that you don’t jump into work related topics during your video calls, try to break the ice with general topics too, this will make everyone feel more relaxed and comfortable. And don’t worry, it’s ok if you hear a kid shout or play in the background, this is the new normal and it’s perfectly fine.
10 – Keep recognizing your people: Praise them, thank them, tell them they are doing a great job if they really are. Send them a present to their houses to show appreciation. Tell them that what they are doing in these difficult times its important.
I am a strong believer that we should try to have as much passion as possible with what we do for living. If your current organization is not what you love to do, do what you need to steer your work-life to what you really are passionate about. We spend a lot of time in our workplace (virtual or not) its not worth to spend it in the wrong place and doing something you don’t like.
While your organization should care for you, it starts with you caring for yourself, above all.
I would love to read your comments about what your organization does to support their employees. The more ideas you can share, the more we can help each other. Thank you for sharing!