Even with the prospect of a vaccine on the horizon, COVID19 is likely to have led to irreversible changes in the way we work and corporate expectations. It’s a massive opportunity to appeal to and welcome people that have faced barriers to access and participation, due to location, working hours or other requirements. It is a vital moment for companies to build trust with their staff.
We want to call this agile working. Not working from home, not flexibility. Because we want to transform the approach.
Organisations with a strong culture are going to find this easier, because they understand the value of human capital, of investing in people and the importance of a happy and engaged workforce. Good culture is underpinned by a strong, inclusive leadership and scaffolded by effective management that recognises that everyone needs objective frameworks but thrive with different types of support. But even these companies need to create structures of support and continuity.
Meanwhile, debates continue across the industry about whether we should return to ‘normal’ - the workplace - or pivot to a hybrid model working at least partly from home. It can be confusing for employees to know whether a preference that can bring more flexibility into their lives might be viewed as a career limiting decision. Some companies clearly communicated their expectations that staff should come back to the office, based on their organisational culture. However, this message was undermined by the need for a second lockdown.
It’s a tough place for companies to be, so the best thing they can do is ensure they are creating certainty where possible. The key area for this is in managerial expectations. This includes ensuring there are clear objectives and expectations for working from home or the office, with appropriate work-life boundaries. We’ve moved bedding panic mode now, and we need to recreate better working norms.
Managers may need support in this area, particularly when looking at performance evaluation. For example, some have exceeded performance expectations by thriving, or as a result of their home circumstances being relatively uncomplicated. Others have found it much more challenging for a variety of reasons - that are still very much in play. Even where performance has improved, some may be at the risk of burnout. And if we aren’t patient with those challenges, we will see talent being lost from the firm or the industry.
Communication is key in order to build trust and keep the right balance of work and the culture of work. The social aspects of the workplace must not be lost. As we are likely to see an inevitable shift towards more tracking, either due to productivity or security, it will be important to cultivate trust in employees alongside an objective performance framework or risk disengagement from staff. And of vital importance is inclusion; especially when not everyone is in the room together. This means strategies for including people in meetings, for accessible equipment and information, and for remembering everyone who wants to should get to participate.
Getting this right means transforming companies into places better designed for our futures - and above all we must remember t we have a great opportunity to change our companies with the ultimate goal of making them more open, more accessible and more successful.
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