The global disruption caused by COVID-19 has caused many changes to how and where we work. One of the most significant changes in the post-pandemic workplace is the rapid adoption of remote work setup. Armed with only an internet connection, and a laptop or smartphone, workers can now do many roles in a work-from-home setting.
However, there are many challenges that hiring managers and upper-tier executives must consider as they rally their company following the coronavirus disruptions. Burnout and poor mental health are prevalent among remote workers, but managers and leaders can combat these issues by taking steps to build a better workplace for staff.
Flexible work policies
In 2020, the Society for Human Resource Management released the results of its Future of Work survey of employers throughout the world. The survey showed that many employers expect flexible work policies to be a significant differentiator in efforts to attract talent.
Providing flexible work arrangements for employees demonstrates concern and authentic care better than any amount of words. Common examples of flexible work policies include alternative work schedules, compressed schedules, remote options, split shifts, and unlimited vacation time.
Increased data collection on staff performance and engagement
In 2019, Pew Research observed that 81% of consumers believed that the potential risks of data collection by companies outweighed the benefits. At that time, many people felt powerless to control their data and avoid becoming part of at least one data breach’s fallout.
However, many consumers have moved from an attitude of fear toward one of discretion. Recent research by Gartner shows that 96% of employees are fine with their data being used to personalize human resource services to fit their needs and circumstances. The differentiator between whether people love or hate data collection efforts is how you use their data. Only collect what you need and be honest with employees about how you use their data.
Expanding employer role in employee support
One positive outcome of the pandemic has been an increase in empathy and genuine compassion in the workplace. In 2021, a CNBC news article highlighted how many employers had begun offering stipends to employees to cover childcare costs, including babysitting and tutoring costs.
McKinsey’s 2021 American Opportunity Survey revealed that only 39% of respondents with an annual income under $50,000 could afford childcare. Employers who pay for, and accommodate, practical employee concerns like childcare will see more applicants arrive and fewer employees leave.
Pay attention to the working environment
Prior to 2020, the term “workplace” evoked images of isolated cubicles and multi-story office buildings. Now, however, people are working from any place with a reliable internet connection. But despite the change in location, the workplace environment has remained a critical factor in staff productivity.
Many workplace design trends have emerged in recent years to replicate elements that workers miss during long hours indoors. One promising example is biophilic design, which incorporates natural lighting, greenery, and walls of plants into workspaces. These nature-inspired environments have been shown to increase a worker’s sense of well-being by 15%. Workplace adjustments like these will continue in the years to come, as companies seek to build places where people love to work.
Remain empathetic as a leader
A 2020 whitepaper by the Center for Creative Leadership revealed a positive link between an empathetic environment and staff productivity. Empathy is often confused with sympathy, but the two are very different. Being sympathetic means that we feel pity for another person’s circumstances, whether or not we truly understand it or not. Expressing empathy, on the other hand, means that we can imagine ourselves in another’s position and understand their emotions and opinions.
When the people around us are taking time to communicate with us and work together, we’re more likely to give our best effort in our jobs. From a managerial perspective, staff will be more likely to listen to our opinions and ideas when we’ve set a pattern of doing so with them. But empathy shouldn’t be seen as a manipulation tactic; it’s an essential part of modern leadership that we must all strive to demonstrate in the workplace.
Essential traits for leaders
Within my accounting firm, MBS Accountancy, I’ve learned much over the last few years and grown as a leader. One of the biggest lessons has been this: Honesty and integrity are essential traits for leaders. Leaders with integrity don’t recite worn-out phrases and meaningless jargon to show their support for employees. Rather, they take action to demonstrate it in every aspect of their leadership.
As leaders, we must stop relying on pizza parties and meaningless platitudes like “employees are our most valuable resource” to communicate our care and concern. We must take decisive, compassionate action toward bettering the lives of our employees. Only then will our words matter.