As the response to COVID-19 moves from short-term measures to a long-term shift in how and where people work, employers that effectively support the new ways of working can flourish. The conversation around employee experience and digital tools has rapidly grown stronger, moving beyond engaging and retaining talent to empowering and sustaining a fully remote workforce with capacities and technologies which are now regarded as mission-critical.
Moving forward, leading organizations must question long-held assumptions about how work must be done and the role of the workplace. The answers could look different across geographies and businesses and it is inevitable that tough choices will arise. Rather than shrinking from the oncoming storm of change, employers must draw energy from it.
We recommend that employers take the opportunity to return to work by reimagining the future of work and embracing the new possibilities arising from the COVID-19 crisis.
1. Making Humans and Technology Work Together
COVID-19 has made it clear that while technology can supplement work, it cannot replace what humans do. The crisis has given people a greater appreciation for the fact that humans and technology are more powerful together, as a team than either can be on their own. For example, consider how telemedicine has drawn on the strength of integrated human-machine collaboration during the crisis.
As employers prepare for the return to work, they have an opportunity to innovate in the ways they integrate humans and technology. There is a need to change the outlook from the usual ‘replacing humans with technology’ to using technology as a part of a collaborative strategy. This will allow employers to not only streamline costs but also create value and provide meaning to the workforce.
2. Building a Culture of Actionable Knowledge Sharing
The phrase ‘knowledge is power’ in essence showed that in times of uncertainty, the right information at the right time can make all the difference. As people around the world were consuming whatever information they could get their hands on around virus spread rate, vaccine development, safety measures and more, agile organizations used institutional knowledge to augment their adaptability, as they were able to rapidly deploy workers into new roles by leveraging that existing knowledge.
As employers encourage new ways of working, the time is apt to leverage the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to build a culture of valuable knowledge-sharing and knowledge development that bolsters organizational connectivity and resilience.
3. Investing in Workforce Resilience
Through this crisis, we’ve seen how quickly workers assumed new roles across different functions and fields. This reinforces that it is necessary to understand what workers are capable of doing rather than assess their potential based on their current skill set. Therefore, as employers get ready to return to work, they should encourage workers to adapt and grow based on their capabilities.
Now is certainly not the time to delay workforce development initiatives but to intensify the commitment to build a strong workforce that can adapt in the face of perpetual change. Organizations that encourage and embrace a future orientation understand the importance of not just optimizing for today but also creating value for tomorrow.
4. Redesigning Work Toward Output
In the midst of COVID-19, many employers reacted quickly, doing what is required to keep the lights on and their employees working safely. But this pandemic has brought a new challenge as personal commitments and roles can no longer be separated from work. With more hours in the workday, many workers are facing stress and exhaustion as they try to balance personal and professional demands.
Since many workers are experiencing burnout, employers need to do more than just encouraging open dialogue around well-being. The time is just right to make well-being a top priority and embed it into every aspect of work itself. Fundamentally redesigning work toward output instead of activities will open up opportunities for workers to perform their best.
5. Creating Deeper Connections
To motivate people, connecting their work contributions to a greater purpose is very effective. For instance, in the midst of COVID-19, workers at many consumer products companies found meaning in their jobs as their companies increased production of, and some even started developing sanitizers and disinfectants. People genuinely want to contribute to their employers when they realize how their unique strengths and talents impact larger goals.
Employers, before creating a roadmap to return to work, must seize this opportunity to create clear connections across individual jobs, team goals, and their mission. To boost the link between belonging and organizational efficiency, it is imperative that deeper connections are forged by demonstrating to workers how their contributions bring a real change not only in the organization but also in society.
Building a Sustainable Future
The pandemic has stress-tested many employers’ ability to blend people and technology in the most disruptive business environment many of us may never see again. Though such moments of crisis can lead to unprecedented actions, these actions’ sustainability will actually determine whether progress is being made.
Post-COVID, organizations have two choices—returning to a world that is an upgraded version of yesterday or creating one that is a viable version of tomorrow. As employers around the world experiment with getting their employees back to offices, the leadership should act now to make sure that workplaces are safe and productive when they return.
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