As the pandemic continues to define and redefine working trends, it is forcing organizational leaders to take a closer look at the work patterns previously believed to be optimal, namely, the 9-5 office culture.
In order to navigate the pandemic and the restrictions brought about by it, employers had to rethink their workforce management and planning, as well as broader organizational strategies. In order to mitigate the risks posed by a crippling global economic crisis, organizations have been forced to take a number of unprecedented measures, many of which have affected employees for the better or worse.
Over the last 30 odd months, working from home has gone from being a luxury to becoming the norm, with an increasing number of companies moving towards a hybrid working culture. As such, the employer-employee relationship has become ‘digitized’ to an unparalleled extent. Companies find themselves at a crossroads: those that successfully adapt to and capitalize on the post-pandemic trends will be better poised to retain their best employees and even lure the top talent in the ‘new normal’. On the other hand, organizations that continue to display rigidity and denial will be more vulnerable to financial distress, layoffs and downsizings, and even closures.
The Redefined Dynamics of the Employer-Employee Relationship
The pandemic has produced a host of unique challenges for employees and employers. Besides, the subsequent COVID-19 waves further exacerbated these challenges and problems. To overcome these obstacles and improve relationships with their organizations’ most valuable assets, employers have taken a number of measures that have affected employees considerably.
The pandemic forced a large majority of businesses to shift to either partial or complete remote working. These measures were taken to ensure the continuation of business activities and improve employee productivity amidst the pandemic. However, remote working brings with it a number of challenges that may affect an organization’s efficiency. The government, too, has failed to deliver any clear guidelines or regulations with regards to remote working.
The WFH (Work from Home) or hybrid culture is evolving and is already beginning to become an integral part of the current and future corporate world. That said, as far as remote work is concerned, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and organizations must figure out what works best for them.
New Skill Requirements
The number of skills required – both soft and technical – to effectively do a single job is exponentially increasing, with old skills rapidly turning obsolete and making way for modern ones. In a study conducted by a renowned staffing organization, 29 percent of skills required in a typical 2018 job posting will have turned obsolete by 2023.
This need is further highlighted by a lack of collaboration between workers brought about by remote working, resulting in greater self-reliance. For this reason, organizations are under huge pressure to devise and deliver the resources and processes that will help employees acquire new skills.
Catering to Employees’ Varying Emotional Needs
An effective way to survive in the face of these never-seen-before challenges brought about by the pandemic is for organizations to develop more humane employer-employee relationships where the needs of the workers are heard and prioritized.
Every HR leader, regardless of sub-function, has a role to play in ensuring that the EVP (Employee Value Proposition) treats employees as human beings instead of as mere resources.
Greater Trust in Employees
Emergence of the hybrid or WFH culture can only be successful if employers start trusting employees in a way they have never done before. It is important to establish new expectations based on increased trustworthiness accompanied by elevated responsibilities and greater accountability. Intrinsically motivated employees thrive when entrusted and empowered, and this increased trust and responsibility could translate to higher productivity and reduced needs for micromanagement.
Entrusting employees with greater responsibility could include being requested to undertake extra managerial tasks when managers are overloaded with work, or being asked to guide and mentor coworkers due to their current expertise, or experience with hybrid working.
Creating a Support Framework
To manage your organization effectively during the pandemic, one of the first things you need to do is create a comprehensive support framework. Your framework should be based on elements like confidence, connection, calmness, competence, and cover. Use these fundamentals to determine what your team needs to continue working productively and efficiently; to feel valued and cared for and to feel connected to their team members and the rest of the organization.
Coordinate with other members of the management as well as your mentors to come up with the best ways to support your employees in the required manner.
Offering Safety and Health Resources
It is important to provide up-to-date and authentic health resources should your employees struggle to find them on their own. These resources could include the CDC’s guidelines, and any national or state travel restrictions. Help your workforce reduce stress and stay healthy, and offer professional assistance for employees dealing with mental health issues brought about by the pandemic. At the company level, make sure that all employees are informed about any pandemic-related updates (plans to extend WFH, for example).
Providing Extra Assistance
Based on your support framework and the available health and safety resources, identify the kind of extra assistance (if any) that might be required by your employees. The pandemic has affected everyone differently, so make sure to have flexible plans capable of catering to each individual situation.
Generally, though, extra assistance can take the form of additional PTO (Paid Time Off) or flexibility for workers dealing with high-risk family members (children, elderly, or those with existing health conditions). You could also consider extending the number of paid sick days for employees who have contracted or been exposed to the virus and may require quarantine and/or treatment.
To sum up, COVID-19 is here to stay, for at least the foreseeable future
As such, it is up to the employers to see the changes brought about by the pandemic either as unassailable challenges or as an opportunity to reshape the working environment in a way that benefits both the employees and the organization.