Whitney Benner, Chief People Officer at Dataminr
With the vaccine rollout well underway, many businesses and workers are wondering when – or if – there will be a “return to the office” anytime soon. While the pandemic has influenced a shift in views of what can be done remotely, workers are simultaneously compiling their unique wish lists for what they want in a post-COVID workplace. At this stage in the pandemic, there’s no question that understanding what the future of work might hold for all of us is high on every C-suite and human resources professional’s agenda.
As we all begin to wade into this new normal, it might be worth remembering that there is still agreement on many pre-pandemic goals – you want the right people, working on the right things, at the right time and you want to reward, retain and attract the best talent in an increasingly competitive market. The difference now is that achieving those goals will likely require more creativity and flexibility than ever before.
With the potential return to the office on the horizon and the growing need to address what the post-COVID workplace looks like, here are four key principles you may want to consider to help define your workplace in the next ‘normal.’
Don’t wait and see: do something now
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the information landscape is widening and it’s much harder to manually keep up with relevant news whether it’s global or hyperlocal. From the varying COVID response and vaccine rollout stages across the globe to evolving workforce preferences, every organisation is trying their hand at carving a path forward despite the destination itself being murky. Getting stuck searching for post-pandemic outcomes that may take years to be realised can cost organisations in a number of critical areas: from retaining top talent to alignment around your strategic goals, to a culture that may begin to deteriorate while you are waiting for green lights.
There is no way to determine exactly what the future holds, but if we don’t start thinking about and/or making small changes now based on the real-time facts on hand, we risk our workforces thinking leadership is out of touch with the fluid reality of the new world.
As Thoreau famously said: You don’t have to do everything, but you have to do something! So where do you start?
Organisations have spent years building new kinds of workplaces that encourage people to bring their authentic selves to work. In addition, the shift from a traditional “command and control” to more of a “learning” approach to developing and leading people is all about acknowledging that we are all on a shared journey. These are critical underpinnings for a post-COVID organisation that not just accepts, but values experimentation.
There’s no better message to share with your people right now than: “we’re going to get some of this right and some of it wrong, but we’re going to keep trying.” Experimentation creates a sense of positive, forward motion, even in times of uncertainty. It’s even better if you can engage your people in developing some of those experiments and assessing the outcomes as a team.
Consider deploying surveys and polls that will serve as a guide for leadership on employee preferences and needs but will also reinforce to your workforce that your company’s culture is inclusive and built on collaborating with them.
If one outcome of the pandemic is clear, it is this: your people will expect more from their HR leaders. Managing those diverse expectations will be one of the greatest management challenges of the post-pandemic era. That being said, there is no ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to the workplace of the future.
Flexibility is going to be the mantra of HR. Eventually, this will mean lots of changes to policies and procedures, but for now, it’s important to reach out to your people and connect the dots back to their individual productivity drivers and how their work continues to enable your organisation’s strategic mission.
When you take a collaborative approach, managing expectations will be easier.
Take an adaptive and creative approach to benefits
Benefits and perks are now an even bigger differentiator. Flexible work schedules, casual dress and mental health benefits will take on greater importance as workers – especially those in industries with talent shortages such as tech – shop around for the best roles with the best benefits. We’re in an era where benefits and perks have shifted to be a direct expression of a company’s culture and values.
It’s more important than ever for HR leaders to help organisations showcase just how they value their employee’s wellbeing and the role that they want to play in that. With personalised offerings and flexibility defining and separating “great workplaces” from the pack, now is the time to invest in understanding the new normal-induced preferences and where it may evolve. This also means that we will need to be ready to pivot quickly to respond to new evolutions as they arise and develop programs for those moments.
Taken together, the above principles will help to establish a solid foundation for the new normal workplace. And, as new and innovative people practices emerge, HR leaders will be able to command a more strategic seat at the executive table as they step up and lead their organisations confidently in the months ahead.