The lockdown saw enormous disruption to businesses, how they operate and where their staff actually were, as many moved from office to home working. Enabling this transformation meant companies needed to focus on listening to their people to engage with them and successfully improve their working experience. As we now move towards a more open environment post-lockdown, engagement methods will need to change again.
The changing workplace
Most shops are now open, and employees are being encouraged to return to company sites. There’s a push to create a ‘new normal’ with businesses operating in ways similar to before lockdown, albeit within social distancing guidelines. While many consumers are still worried about the future, they now want to retain the choice and range of products and services that were available before the crisis hit.
All of this means companies need to evolve their operations to meet changing expectations, while ensuring they protect the health of employees and customers.
Putting engagement at the heart of future strategy
HR teams and company leaders spent a great deal of time during lockdown listening to employees and using their insight to inform both strategy and tactics. This delivered clear benefits – our own research found that most employees were happy with the response of their organisations. For example, 88% said they believed their leaders cared about their health and well-being.
As we move into the new reality employees will have very different needs that businesses need to meet, focused around four key areas:
- Moving to a hybrid workplace
Many staff were already partially working from home – and the experience of the pandemic is likely to lead others to want to join them. This will lead to a more complex, hybrid workplace with employees splitting their time between home and office, making engagement and reinforcing company culture vital for togetherness. At the same time we’re seeing a move away from hierarchical organisations to ones based on more agile and more nimble teams. Meeting the needs of employees who are embracing multiple different ways of working is a challenge, and can only be met through listening and understanding their requirements.
- Confidence in company leadership
We’ve already seen significant job losses as businesses reshape themselves for the future. Unfortunately, this is likely to be just the start as tough trading conditions lead many companies to fail or be acquired by rivals. These worries will be front of mind for employees, impacting their engagement and motivation. They want to work for organisations where they trust their leaders to be open and honest and do the right thing for their business and for their people. That means listening to employees, acknowledging their concerns and allaying unfounded fears will be vital, as well as being as transparent as possible about future plans.
- Demonstrating a clear purpose to staff
Employees increasingly want to work for employers that have a strong purpose, operate ethically and show social responsibility. The efforts of companies to give back during the pandemic and to support their communities shows the importance of this to business today. Showing purpose, and more importantly delivering on it, increases loyalty and engagement amongst employees, which will be vital to motivate them in uncertain times.
- Putting employee well-being and safety first
The coronavirus has not gone away and as yet there are no vaccines. That means employees will want to be reassured that they can work in an environment that is safe for themselves and others, particularly in industries that have a great deal of face-to-face contact, such as retail, transport, education, tourism and hospitality. At the same time there is an increased understanding of the importance of supporting the mental, as well as physical, health of employees, especially with disruption to working patterns and wider worries about the future. The strain of the lockdown on the mental health of employees should not be underestimated.
Increasing engagement through new ways of listening
Engaging staff has never been more vital – or more difficult. These new ways of working require new ways of listening, accelerating the pre-existing trend away from a single, annual employee engagement survey to more regular listening and engagement. The importance of feedback, two-way communication and experience are now front of mind for everyone, whether employees, managers or HR teams.
If they are to overcome the challenges they face, businesses need to start with their most valuable asset – their people – and ensure they are engaged, motivated and productive. They need to use their ideas to drive improvements in how they operate and that starts with collecting and acting on more regular, flexible feedback, with surveys focused on employees’ changing concerns.
All of this means that businesses have to implement (or extend) continuous listening programmes to monitor and quickly act on employee perceptions. They need to link regular feedback insights together in ways that make it easy for managers to close the loop by taking action, measuring the impact of changes and continually improving the employee experience.
Successful engagement in the new normal relies on companies implementing new ways of listening. This will ensure they can be ready for future challenges and have a motivated, engaged workforce that helps them continually improve and evolve. Predicting the future is impossible – so businesses need timely employee insight to ensure they can be flexible, agile and responsive, whatever happens in their industry.