Prioritize people during cultural transformation in 3 steps

In recent years, companies have focused on finding technology and processes that enable their employees to work from home. But as C-suites and HR professionals invest enormous resources in tools and processes, many do so without fully considering the most important part of an agile organization – the people.

To optimize performance in this new era of agile work, boost employee morale, and hire and retain the best talent amid a global hiring crisis, companies must also consider the needs of their workforce.

As more employees voice their needs and concerns about their work life, here are three ways to prioritize the people in your organization.

1. Create flexibility for knowledge workers

More than ever, employees are demanding flexibility in when, where and how they work. The last two years have shown that workers don’t have to sacrifice their personal commitments to do their jobs well.

[ Related read: 3 ways to foster team connections in a hybrid workplace. ]

In fact, our recent study found that nearly half (49 percent) of post-pandemic workers prefer a hybrid or remote-only work environment. Eliminating commute time allows employees to spend more time on personal and professional tasks. Smart companies know how important it is to give their employees the ability to set their own hours from anywhere in the world, as long as they get the job done.

In addition, employment according to the motto “one size fits all” no longer works. Defining value in days or weeks no longer makes sense for knowledge workers, and employee demand will force employers to adopt new work patterns. Plan flexibility will become as commonplace as 401(k) plans for knowledge workers going forward, and employers must continue to offer flexibility to their employees in new ways.

Plan flexibility will become as commonplace as 401(k) plans for knowledge workers going forward, and employers must continue to offer flexibility to their employees in new ways.

You must also be able to spot stumbling blocks. While organizations can easily claim that they are flexible, the acceptance of employee flexibility falls primarily on the shoulders of managers, and a single manager demanding a fixed 9-to-5 work day from his team can embolden an entire team’s flexibility initiative thwart business. As such, the C-suite must practice top-down flexibility and maintain commitment to ensure all managers follow suit.

It must also be ensured that the cooperation does not end with increased independence of the individual employees. In fact, it’s probably more important than ever to maximize the value created in work time. That means making sure everyone on your team has the hardware and software tools they need to collaborate successfully in a flexible environment.

2. Show your employees that you see them

While remote work increases flexibility and even productivity in many cases, it can also result in an avalanche of emails, Slack messages, and meeting invites, leaving employees feeling lost in the rubble.

As the hybrid workplace is here to stay and a worrying number of people say they feel anxious and invisible to their peers, business leaders need to act. Just as company offsite meetings were once the typical course for employee retention, scheduling company onsite meetings in the remote work world is an effective way to connect distributed workforces.

Monthly or quarterly on-site meetings, where the entire team can meet at the office, in a shared space, or even at a local entertainment attraction, can buy valuable face-to-face time for employees. As traditional business travel has drastically declined in modern times, many organizations can better afford the cost of having to fly employees multiple times to a given destination.

[ Related read: The new CEO: Chief Empathy Officer ]

Also consider regular virtual happy hours, team movie nights, viewing parties, and other social events. While many of us certainly feel Zoom is having burnout, video remains an essential tool for distributed teams, and visual communication can go a long way in fostering personal connections.

3. Focus on the well-being of the individual

The general well-being of your employees is also crucial. Many workers who are actively looking for a new job say they are doing so because their current position has negatively impacted their mental health and well-being. Employees increasingly value their well-being over their salary and job title.

This isn’t a new problem, but it has taken on new urgency since COVID pushed millions of workers into the remote workplace. For example, a 2019 Buffer study found that 19 percent of teleworkers said they felt lonely when working from home — not surprising given most of us have been forced to keep our social interactions strong outside of work to restrict.

Leaders can help counteract this by taking measures as simple as introducing more one-on-one meetings, which can boost morale. One-on-one meetings are essential to encourage ongoing feedback.

When teams worked together in an office, communication was more efficient, largely because employees and managers could meet and interact organically throughout the day. With teams now spread across the globe, we all need to schedule our meetings to discuss projects, brainstorm ideas, and overcome potential bottlenecks.

Leaders should take care to show empathy for what their team members have been going through over the past few years. Making connections and expressing concern for employees in the digital workplace takes more effort and it’s harder to “read the space” and identify the climate of the teams we work with.

Strong communication and the right tools can go a long way in overcoming these challenges. For example, in the age of digital work, having a third-party messaging tool for communicating with teams is essential—but be aware that too many tools can be overwhelming and create fatigue and confusion.

As organizations move from survival to revival, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate how you communicate with employees and determine whether technology is empowering productivity—or killing it.

[ Leading CIOs are reimagining the nature of work while strengthening organizational resilience. Learn 4 key digital transformation leadership priorities in a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. ]

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