The brick-and-mortar workplace was more than just the heart of the business. It was also the setting that defined and nurtured the meaning and purpose that the company provided to employees’ lives.
It is hard to believe that this pandemic has been around for just over a year, considering how easily employees and operations can be done in a remote-first environment. The pandemic’s most significant impact has not been the transition to remote working but the transformation of the workplace and the entire employee-employer relationship.
A collision of priorities
A physical workplace was the place where an employee could give their full attention during workdays. The office was synonymous to work. It provided a backdrop for human resource priorities such as employee engagement, benefits, and more. The brick-and-mortar workplace was more than just the heart of the business. It was also the setting that defined and nurtured the meaning and purpose that the company provided to employees’ lives.
The entire employee experience, from onboarding to daily business, is now contained within a smartphone or laptop screen. Our screens are the entire office. However, the physical world of an employee is set among mundane household sounds (from the doorbell to the pressure cooker). Priorities at home and work. The average employee is maybe managing a highly structured meeting/review while still making breakfast. The urgent business imperatives and work deliverables are often intertwined with children’s classroom sessions, emergency visits to the doctor, elderly care, and the needs of parents/inlaws.
The bottom line is that priorities are often equally urgent and compelling. Even though they are feeling strained by the pandemic, employees must be enabled to prioritize their next actions in the most efficient way possible. How can leaders and managers of India Inc adapt to this new paradigm?
First, make conversation count.
Many thousands of post-pandemic employees have never met the culture that is part of office life. This “culture”, which companies express through their leadership interactions, cheerful office events, cafeteria and campus conversations, has almost disappeared. Their colour and accessories have been replaced almost entirely by online conversations. Leaders, people managers, and HR teams need to find meaningful ways to communicate the essence of their company’s culture with employees.
This means getting back to basics. These simple touches can help bring some comfort to a life that can sometimes feel unfocused and overwhelming. Leaders will only be able to connect with employees who are often distracted or have multiple priorities.
Second, to enable people to bring out their best every day.
People and communities around the world have experienced the pandemic as a disorienting experience. It is not over. It has disrupted our collective way of living and presented hundreds of complex challenges for employees all over the world. People are increasingly looking for ways to make work and life easier. The needs of employees after the pandemic – financial support, teleworking support, healthcare – are similar. However, the needs of employees are different for each segment and person. Employers have many options to meet their employees’ individual needs, such as pet care, eldercare, salary advancements, and childcare.
Third, you must be a good example of wellness.
This is a sad statement. Employees don’t make the most of employee wellness opportunities. While it is clear that wellness has a significant impact on productivity and effectiveness (and the pandemic only reinforced its importance), employees cannot fully utilize the resources available to them. Why is this? They need to see their leaders and managers use these resources first. They can then feel confident using this social license because they have set a precedent. It also promotes the notion that physical and mental well-being is not something that should be a distant goal or something that people should strive for, but something that they can achieve.
Fourth, to serve as a bridge between opportunities.
In response to the many difficulties created by the pandemic, a whole ecosystem has emerged of wellness, elder care, health and childcare, and personal growth startups and offerings. This ecosystem is a testament to humanity’s determination to overcome difficult circumstances and pursue opportunities in adversity. So that their teams can take advantage of the opportunities, companies should create pathways for experts and teams to do incredible work in different domains within the ecosystem.
Fifth, recognize the people.
Managers behind the people
Many people outside of the HR industry don’t realize that managers are not qualified to perform as quasi-frontline workers within their organizations. They were not expected to perform this role. This role is being performed with agility, and effectiveness by many should be fully acknowledged. Senior HR leaders and corporate leaders must also recognize India Inc’s young talent in HR. They have taken on the new role with enthusiasm and focus, despite not being familiar with the profession. These young people are at once an employee and a partner in HR. This is a job that can be done 24×7, even during a pandemic.
The pandemic is the most rigorous test of corporate and human values. It has brought to light the true DNA of companies and their ethos. Customers, employees, and markets all pay close attention to how companies treat their people. Companies that live up to the high standards they set will have greater respect for, admiration, and social license within the communities where they work and serve. India Inc will be remembered for its leadership in guiding its employees to a better future.