Businesses have endured unprecedented levels of change, upheaval and relentless challenges, writes Noelle Murphy, with our research showing that 99.7 percent of businesses made changes to their work practices in response to the pandemic.
However, despite the turmoil and devastation, Covid-19 has also presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine the way we work.
The changing role of leadership
The Covid crisis has forced us all to consider our perceptions around many things, and work and working styles are no exception.
Employees have faced a host of different challenges through the pandemic and the effects of prolonged isolation, illness and lockdown have taken a huge toll on employee mental health, with research finding that anxiety and depression increased.
In response, successful leaders have had to adapt and evolve to become more compassionate and empathetic towards their employees and this positive shift is likely to continue to shape workplace relationships going forward.
At the same time, the pandemic brought a certain level of equitability to the employer/employee relationship, after all, it is a human crisis with everyone united against a common enemy.
As we begin the recovery from the events of the past two years, there is a growing desire among employees to feel that their contributions are acknowledged and appreciated and they expect to be recognised as significant stakeholders in organisations.
As businesses seek to attract and retain talent in a post-pandemic era, those that embrace this shift, allowing greater mutuality to grow in their relationship with employees will be the ones to thrive.
Diversity, equality and inclusion
The benefits of diverse workplaces are well known and one of the positives that we saw emerge during the pandemic was the potential for businesses to foster greater diversity, equality and inclusion.
Remote working, with everyone in the same position of sharing a space on a screen during virtual meetings, helped reduce barriers and going forward, offering greater flexibility will enable companies to cast their net wider, providing more opportunities for more people – including those who have previously faced many challenges accessing work and the workplace.
Allowing employees to work remotely will enable businesses to bring more diverse perspectives, backgrounds and ideas to the table. Our research found that 88 percent of businesses are in the process of or planning to implement new initiatives in this area, with mental health, gender and BAME status a top priority.
The role of the office
The closure of offices during lockdown forced companies to explore and implement new ways of working and as we return to the workplace, employers are rethinking the traditional 9-5, office-based workweek.
Many employees have grown accustomed to remote working, allowing them to forego the drudgery and unproductive time of the daily commute and create a better work-life balance.
For many businesses, a mix of in-person and remote working is likely to become the norm going forward, enabling them to retain the best parts of office culture without employees feeling tethered to their desk all week. As a result, the role of the workspace will undoubtedly change.
Business leaders will need to think about what their employees want from their workspace in a hybrid environment. A place where everyone can still be brought together will be crucial, but the focus will be upon creating a space for meaningful collaboration, innovation and connection.
Employers will also need to give consideration to how they can facilitate collaboration among employees while working remotely.
Leaders will need to consider how to maintain the sense of energy and connection that is so crucial to innovation and company culture when some employees are physically present and others are virtually present. Doing some work in this area will strengthen a hybrid culture.
From a point of initial crisis, we have seen a significant cultural shift in many workplaces over the past two years. Lockdowns gave everyone pause for thought and a chance to think about what is important in all areas of life, including work. Many workplaces have been given the opportunity to reboot – and organisational culture is part of that.
While wellbeing and engagement have been of critical importance for employers for some time now, it is the strategic role they now play in achieving business aims and objectives that has heightened. Nearly one in four (39%) employers agree that employee engagement improved during the pandemic as a result of the organisation’s response, while 56 percent of organisations say employee engagement is now higher on their agenda.
However, employee engagement and experience will come under pressure over the coming 12 months – a hot labour market, the cost of living crisis and the potential impact on world events closer to home mean that this is the time for employers to redouble their efforts around engagement.
The positive changes to the culture that have been seen over the past two years need to be reflected in, and supported by, hybrid working models.
There is little doubt that the pandemic has significantly altered and shaped employee expectations for the future and there is a huge opportunity for employers to take advantage of these changing trends and build better businesses going forward.
Noelle Murphy is Senior HR Practice Editor at XpertHR