Insights Discussion: The Next "Normal" - How Do We Transition Back to Work? [VIDEO & RECAP]

By Perceptyx - April 30, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has shifted the expectations employees have of their organizations.. Personal and professional lines are blurring. Employees are overworked, stressed, and concerned about their job security. Leaders at the most effective organizations have come to realize that maintaining an effective workforce requires a culture in which employees are given a voice and can be vulnerable and honest. Communications from leaders need to be aggressively transparent; creating a sense of belonging has become just as important as monitoring key performance indicators. Deeply-rooted paradigms around where and when employees do their work have shifted, but the biggest impact to employee experiences will be HOW work is done. 

During this week’s Insights Discussion, we sat down with Josh Bersin (global HR industry analyst), Tanuj Kapilashrami (Group Head of HR at Standard Chartered Bank), and Gio Twigge (CHRO of IDEXX Laboratories) to discuss the return to work and what both employees and employers can expect moving forward. Both Tanuj and Gio manage diverse, global workforces, and reminded everyone that there is no “one size fits all” approach to resuming business operations, even in the same company.   

As Gio noted, “this is HR’s moment.” Wherever there is stress and difficulty, there is also opportunity, and this week our panel focused on opportunity for the future, and how HR leaders should seize the opportunity to shape their organizations.  This is the opportunity for the HR function to transition from being responsive to building resilience. 

Opportunities for Employee Listening

Managing the needs of employees in complex, global environments requires a willingness to meet the needs of individual employees where they are. Developing a culture of trust and personal and psychological safety, communicating honestly on the most relevant personal and professional topics, and responding with appropriate action is critical. As Tanuj noted, the mindset of employees in the West is often very different from those in Eastern countries; their needs and perceptions of what may be acceptable in the return to work will vary greatly due to culture.  While employees in the West may choose the option of working at home to avoid using public transportation at this time, employees in the East may not have the infrastructure to do so; they are willing to brave public transport so they can be more productive at work.  

HR should never assume that they understand the experience of employees, especially in uncharted territory like we are experiencing now. Gio and Tanuj emphasized the importance of listening to employees, and both organizations have deployed multiple employee surveys in the last 6 weeks to listen to the diverse and changing needs of their employees. Listening to employees during turbulent times creates a culture in which feedback and listening are appreciated, expected, and implied. This feedback will give leaders tremendous insight into the needs and expectations of employees. The data may reveal some expected findings, but new truths as well. Gio’s advice here is perfect: “There is no playbook here; lean in and make it happen.”  

Opportunities to enhance the strategic role of HR functions

Josh Bersin highlighted a major discrepancy between what issues HR leaders believe are most important to employees and what is actually most important to them. Fortunately, listening channels such as employee surveys help leaders at all levels of an organization understand what employees need now.

COVID-19 has prompted many senior leaders to become more employee-centric. This is a huge opportunity for people analytics to further shift their thinking and decisions. Senior leaders are more open than ever to the guidance that HR can provide, so coming to leaders with data will help the organization make decisions and implement actions that could fundamentally change the way employees work and the organization functions.

Opportunities for Growth and Skill Development

All panelists felt that this global shared experience has fundamentally shifted leadership skills and competencies. Leadership today will require empathy and consideration. Employee expectations will undoubtedly change in the road ahead, and leaders must learn to respond to these unique needs with a genuine attitude of vulnerability. People managers play one of the most important roles in organizations, and in the post-COVID-19 economy, selecting managers with these skills and ensuring existing managers learn and leverage these skills will be one of your keys to success. 

The ongoing unpredictability in the environment requires major agility and adaptability from employees as well. Organizational responses to COVID-19 have dramatically changed business priorities and operations. Employees who were on the sales floor two weeks ago are now stocking shelves or learning new systems essential for operations in the short-term. While people are remarkably adaptable, change is still difficult--especially during this stressful season. Listen to your employees, accommodate their needs, learn and leverage their strengths, and provide development opportunities not previously available.

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