They say that times of adversity bring people together. While that couldn’t be truer in the face of Covid-19, “togetherness” looks different than it has before and will continue to evolve long after the virus is under control. The way we individually experience these challenges may differ, but the struggle is universally shared.
I’m especially cognizant of the ways togetherness is occurring in a work setting and how our current reality will create both short-term changes and long-term transformations in the workplace.
While working remotely, many employees are making a more concerted effort to connect with their colleagues than they ever did in the office. From virtual lunches to video happy hours, people are taking the initiative to find new ways to connect with each other from afar. And many employees who normally work remotely feel more connected, because they’re not the only ones working from home anymore! Even in the unlikely case that we all permanently return to a physical office location, the importance of deepening workplace connections will remain — and HR professionals can help by creating opportunities for this to happen.
Employees are experiencing unprecedented levels of flexibility from their employers. This is currently out of pure necessity, but will soon become an expectation of employees. Whether due to productivity fears or otherwise, companies that have been hesitant to broadly introduce the ability to work remotely may need to rethink their approach in order to attract and retain talent. I believe that by and large, employees have proven they are adaptable to new working environments and can still produce results — sometimes more efficiently than in the office.
What this means for permanent physical office locations is anyone’s guess. The workplace of the future could mean more employees working remotely more often or entire companies going remote and coming together a few times per year. I could even envision a world in which flexibility permeates roles and responsibilities, creating a job-sharing environment. And I wouldn’t rule out the emergence of flexible working hours, either.
In whatever form flexibility takes after pandemic, the need for real-time connectedness will remain. HR and company leaders should keep this in mind when embracing flexibility. This could look like implementing virtual team working hours during which all employees should be online, wherever they may be connecting from.
Mental Health And Employee Empowerment
In this remote environment, work hours can easily become blurred. I know I’m not the first person to open both my eyes and my computer at the same time. Coupled with the weight of what’s happening in the world, no longer having a daily commute as bookends to the workday can take a toll on our mental health.
While we all operate in survival mode, companies are responding with empathy and taking their employees’ mental health more seriously than ever before, which is a silver lining. What will emerge is a permanent emphasis on mental health in the workplace that HR should prepare for. Something we are implementing is mandatory monthly mental health days to ensure that even if employees aren’t taking PTO or vacation days, they’re still getting the rest and relaxation they deserve. As long as they’re maintaining productivity, employees should feel empowered to set boundaries with work to preserve their health. We also expanded our mental health services so that employees support their mental wellness during this time.
Employee empowerment is another theme I see continuing beyond the Covid-19 crisis. Once the dust settles and companies adjust their policies accordingly, employees will be able to better determine the kind of working environment that’s conducive to the type of life they want to lead and find companies that align with their preferences.
Planning For A New Normal
In the workplace and beyond, we are not going to return to how things were. HR professionals should align with their business leaders and redefine the way they want their workplace to look and how they’d like their workforce to operate. It’s easy to put off making changes while business is as usual; these unusual circumstances provide a perfect opportunity to reassess.
A Few Things To Keep In Mind
The new normal will look different over the next six months, 12 months and beyond. Because “unprecedented” is the name of the game right now, you’ll want to balance short- and long-term planning while remaining flexible in your response to both.
When determining your company’s direction forward, it’s important to take into consideration your industry, customers, competitors, employees and leaders. Like most company initiatives, remember that the weight of this responsibility should not fall squarely on HR. HR can facilitate and lead the charge, but company leadership must weigh in on any new direction and be aligned on execution. Give employees a voice by allowing them to contribute ideas on how they’d like to see the company move forward.
Lean on your fellow HR leaders! What we’re going through is truly uncharted territory. No one has a playbook for it, but we’re in it together. There’s a consolidation of best practices available to you like never before; take advantage of it. Review how other companies are responding, and pick and choose what works for yours.
There’s never been a more important time to be in HR. How we respond in the near term will determine the workplace of the future — for better or for worse. But I’m willing to bet it will be better. (thanks to Rachel Ernst for the writing)
Share your thoughts if you experienced any?