I’ve recently had the pleasure of speaking with communications experts from our customers ranging from ADM and Dow, through to OSF Healthcare and PVH, about how their businesses have adapted in light of COVID-19 and the steps they’re now taking to prepare their employees for a new way of working in some shape or form. As we talked, I experienced this incredible sensation of hope and the realisation that despite everything we are going through we’re on the cusp of something transformational. Businesses across the globe are realising that people, their employees, really do matter. We’re witnessing a new dawn in employment where senior leaders recognise employees are the most critical element to business success and survival.
You only need to look at some of the headlines, such as: Twitter announces employees will be allowed to work from home ‘forever’, or that flexible working will be norm after lockdown, says Barclays and WPP bosses, and that Cisco is giving employees a mental health day, globally.
For too long CEOs have paid lip-service to their employees but this is different, this is genuine, and heart felt. Drawn together out of necessity and connecting in a way that has never been seen before, showing their gratitude and respect to one another and where possible, helping one another on the days when the reality of this new, complicated way of living and working is just too much. We’re all human and it’s showing in the workplace. Companies are quite literally putting back the “human” back into Human Resources.
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has acted as an accelerant for the adoption of cloud services and digital technology. But did anyone expect it to act as a catalyst for caring more about our fellow humans?
It’s not just that the traditional barriers of hierarchy within organisations have been removed as CEOs live stream company updates from their kitchen table, or colleagues have their video conferences interrupted by children stuck with their online maths class. As we become more accepting and supportive that our home and work lives have merged, the realisation that we couldn’t do any of this without the support of others is changing our behaviours, for the better.
We’ve heard of a number of businesses embracing and encouraging their employees to share the personal side of their lives. Vox Media’s CEO has reportedly joined in daily story time for employees’ kids. Jellyfish offered the services of its IT team to support other staff when setting up online learning for their children. Whether the gestures range from pub quizzes or bring your pet to work day (virtually), all of these efforts matter. They are the glue that helps to hold people together mentally, especially while they’re working remotely.
From the Amazon delivery drivers with our online purchases, our friends or colleagues stacking the shelves in the supermarket, people turning up to the factory day in, day out to make those vital ventilator parts or essential PPE or the bin men collecting our rubbish week in, week out, the list goes on.. Regardless of pay level, these are the people that really matter. Once regarded by some as minimum wage workers these people are our heroes that we can’t be without. Everything they do really matters and hopefully, for the first time, the equilibrium of employment is being reset. We would be nothing without one another, especially our key workers and that understanding is now, finally, spreading into the corporate world.
Business leaders are waking up to the fact that their organisations are all about people and that if their businesses are going to survive this tumultuous time then the one, critical thing that’s going to pull them through is their employees. Let’s be realistic, being cautious about how and where your people work is not an easy decision for today’s business leaders. With news channels reporting a global recession, they’re feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders, or at the very least, the responsibility for their entire workforce, whether furloughed, redundant or those working all hours to keep the lights on.
There’s no doubt we’re going to feel the effects of a recession and this is when leaders and their employees will need to unite as one and dig deeper than ever for their company’s survival. The motivation to work hard and support one another through these challenging times will come from how we treat our people today. It is the very foundation of how our businesses will evolve in a post COVID-19 world.
The rules of employment have been reset. We’re seeing businesses reacting fast to issues such as mental health and general well-being. As Christine Miller from Dow highlighted, “Leaders must alleviate concerns about employee safety and reassure their teams that they’re not rushing back”. Each person has their own challenges, whether in the workplace, in their homes or in their communities. This is taking the form of increased recognition and wellness programmes, as well as a focus on enabling leaders to communicate more with their teams. Or as Brett Lutz from ADM noted, “It’s important to acknowledge that it is normal for people to not feel normal”. Being open and honest with our workforces so that they can be proud of what their organisation is doing will pay dividends in the long run.
Building trust is critical. Our employees are our ambassadors and how we treat people now will determine our futures. Providing authentic communications from our business leaders, the kind that isn’t staged, scripted and polished, means people have a greater understanding of what their employers need from them and the chances for greater alignment are far stronger than ever before.
Being open and transparent, leading with empathy and being able to adapt in the current climate has never been more important. Employees expect it, they deserve it and in the long term they will demand it. Companies who take this employee-first approach will thrive through the pandemic and win in the future.