In response to COVID-19, organizations have had to adjust their business models, procedures, policies, and workplace strategies to survive and thrive in these uncertain times. Although the global pandemic continues, businesses are at a critical inflection point as they inform, implement, or delay their post-pandemic workplace plans. As a result, leaders are faced with major decisions around adapt and embrace these adjustments as the new normal, revert back to pre-pandemic practices, or use a mix and match approach.
When it comes to informing the most effective workplace strategies for their unique organizations, taking both a data-driven and people-centric approach is one way that savvy business leaders can ensure a successful post-COVID workplace. The best workplace strategies are ones that balance business objectives with employee needs, as well as ensure the safety of employees returning to on-site work.
In addition to providing transparency and clear information on return-to-office safety measures and procedures, the best strategies take cognizance of what helps and how to drive positive workplace experience by optimizing things like collaboration. To help organizations accomplish this, let’s take a look at some examples of highly effective tactics for ensuring successful workplace strategies.
Focus on Collaboration and Culture
For most companies, especially those that primarily worked in an office pre-COVID, remote work and the precautions required in a pandemic work environment introduced a myriad of new challenges around maintaining effective team collaboration and an engaged, fulfilled workforce. Without the benefit of interacting and working together in-person, many important elements, such as team building and culture, deteriorated rapidly in some workplaces.
In particular, new employees that were hired and onboarded during the pandemic may not be sufficiently embedded in or conversant with the culture of the workplace. “Weak Ties”, colleagues that an employee may not depend on directly for their work but interacts with more informally and infrequently, were also significantly impacted as a result of the transition to remote work. Implementing strategies to help restore and grow these less frequent but invaluable interactions should be a top return-to-office priority, as research shows that these “weak ties” are crucial for fostering innovation and engagement within a company, As employees gradually return to physical workplaces, encouraging safe, in-person interactions among employees can help restore comradery and build meaningful connections across the organization.
It’s also important that HR organize events and targeted communications to familiarize old and new employees with the layout of the workplace as well as any amenities, benefits, and services offered on-site. Organizations can quickly put in place these amenities to help employees re-acclimate to an on-premise work environment.
Furthermore, initiatives such as trainings, mentorship opportunities, workshops, and professional development can be reintroduced to build culture and drive collaboration. It will also be crucial to restructure these initiatives in a way that prioritizes safety and COVID-safe protocols.
Deploy the Right Technology
One positive offshoot of working from home during COVID-19 has been the widespread development and adoption of new technologies that help facilitate increased productivity, efficiency, and collaboration in a remote work setup.
Technology and data were already at the core of business continuity before the pandemic, and will be even more essential when it comes to successful post-COVID strategies.
In particular, workplace analytics solutions have successfully helped some leading businesses inform the right hybrid or flexible work arrangements and make data-driven workplace decisions with speed and certainty. Such solutions can also provide intelligent insights to help inform effective return-to-office strategies by enabling business leaders to:
- Create a dynamic, in-office plan based on objective, behavioral metrics to determine which teams benefit most from working virtually vs. in-person.
- Develop a holistic workplace strategy that balances business goals with employee needs
- Identify what teams/departments need in the workplace to deliver their best work
- Coordinate work schedules to ensure optimal utilization of workplace space and amenities. For instance, one large European bank found that poor office layout was negatively impacting collaboration. Analysis of office layout data (from high-performing and low-performing branches) showed that poor office design was restricting communication patterns and limiting opportunities for collaboration throughout the day in the low-performing branch.
- Coordinate schedules and drive collaboration based on capacity availability and which teams benefit from being in the office together
- Continuously monitor and address impacts on employees and the business with objective, behavioral metrics
- Effectively align management and HR efforts to deliver the best outcomes for the organization and its employees.
- Uncover unique collaboration styles and less obvious workplace needs
These types of intelligent insights from workplace analytics can help HR, corporate real-estate, and business leaders overall create data-driven, people-centric workplaces and empower employees to succeed. For instance, a leading multinational technology firm used the Humanyze Platform to improve the employee experience and drive efficiency through physical space by measuring and quantifying the impacts of several changes, including a physical office expansion.
Continually Invest in Employee Experience & Growth
Employees typically stay longer with organizations that value and invest in the growth of their careers. Business leaders must prioritize motivating employees and increasing their engagement levels by providing them with opportunities to grow/improve their skill sets. An important piece of this involves having a clear understanding of how employees feel, what they need to succeed, and how they work best. Things like workplace analytics, which provide objective insights into how work gets done, can be combined with the use of subjective tools, like surveys, to give leaders a holistic view of how they can drive better people outcomes.
This goes hand in hand with rewarding top performers in the way that makes the most sense for the employee/team and engenders healthy competition. Rather than always bringing in new talent with highly sought-after skills, organizations must also empower current employees to grow these skills and prepare them to rise through the ranks. This demonstrates that management cares about and invests in individual growth.
The changing nature of the global marketplace, evolving employee expectations, and the aftermath of the pandemic is placing new demands on business leaders and workers alike. As organizations prepare for an eventual return to some semblance of normalcy, the most effective workplace strategies must be flexible and responsive to changing conditions and prioritize the safety, success, and well-being of employees.
By supporting employees both from a personal and professional perspective, leaders can help their organizations thrive in times of change by optimizing workplace decisions in a way that boosts employee experience, collaboration, and productivity.