The impact of COVID-19 on workers and workplaces across the globe have been unforeseen and it has interrupted the norms of normal, be it work culture, employee experience, social interaction, or life in general across the world. Having said that, the challenges of the pandemic did offer organizations the prospect to reimagine and modify their work culture to be future-ready. Technology has time and again, played a crucial role and the pandemic has accelerated the process and the acceptance of the same. In 2020, some trends and ideas have stood out, and they will continue to be the foundation for the evolution of organizational work cultures in the future.
Practicing participative leadership and empowering employees for a greater sense of involvement
Leadership today isn’t about bringing every aspect of the organization’s operations under one’s control. Instead, it is about focusing on the bigger picture, sharing a thoughtful leadership with the team members, and letting them focus on the task at hand, while offering guidance and advice when needed. This has become particularly important in the context of the pandemic when it is necessary that employees continue to feel connected and involved in a ‘remote work’ setting.
Today, organizations ensure that their employees are empowered to make decisions within the boundaries of their role and are encouraged to explore roles and responsibilities beyond their job description and of their interest. Empowered employees feel a sense of belonging and they tend to be more responsible and productive. Participative leadership is about involving employees in decision-making processes and giving everyone the opportunity to voice their thoughts without fear of being judged or targeted. The final decision is, of course, the responsibility of the leaders, but encouraging a free f low of ideas contributes to transparency and fosters a sense of togetherness, where employees feel they belong and matter.
The bigger role of HR in hiring, upskilling, and acclimatizing to change
The role of human resource (HR) professionals
is rapidly expanding beyond its conventional definitions. HR teams are actively involved in helping employees become accustomed to new processes and ways of working, while at the same time, ensuring that the mental and physical well-being of the employee is cared for – a responsibility that is earning HR professionals a place in leadership-level meetings and decision-making processes.
Meanwhile, the process of hiring has undergone a change, as have the metrics for performance evaluation. This is because in-person interactions have been limited since the pandemic began, while the use of audiovisual tools and communication apps has increased manifold. When hiring people, HR teams need to ensure a good fit not only with the organization’s values and business objectives, but also with the candidate’s willingness and proficiency in working in a technology-enabled environment. Furthermore, HR teams are ensuring that the learning-and-development initiatives for employees continue as before, with greater emphasis on acquiring digital skills that could be important in the future.
Hybrid, decentralized workplaces allowing for greater diversity in the workforce
In 2020, concepts of ‘flexible working’ and ‘work from home’ became the norm rather than exceptions. While there are jobs that require people to be physically present at the workplace, others can be performed remotely. Many companies are considering permanent or long-term ‘work from home’ policies that allow ‘non-front line’ employees to continue to work from home or adopt hybrid working models. Another consideration for companies is that that many working professionals feel lonely and demotivated after a while. Many such employees, in fact, look forward to going back to office, just so that they may enjoy the company of their friends and colleagues while they work. This has led to organizations considering hybrid working models – a mix of working remotely and working in office.
Diversity is essential for innovation and creativity – two values that have assumed even greater importance since the pandemic began. A ‘virtual’ office setting enables companies to tap into diverse talent pools in terms of demographics and abilities. It is no longer necessary to hire people from the same region where the company is located. Moreover, a ‘remote’ and flexible working structure enables the inclusion of a wider talent pool – such as parents, caregivers, or differently abled people – who would otherwise be constrained by time and the need to travel.
Stronger focus than ever on employee well-being
The pandemic has led organizations to play a more active role in helping employees maintain physical and mental well-being. Many organizations are investing in online tools that facilitate meditation, yoga, relaxation, and healing sessions for employees. Working from home should not result in unnecessarily long working hours; otherwise, it can lead to burnout and resentment. The organization must watch out for such signs and show greater empathy, understanding, and care during these trying times. It is also important to continue appreciating and recognizing employees for the good work they do, and to keep them motivated and agile.
As lines between the physical and the virtual world, continue to blur, it is important to place people firmly at the heart of all the new processes and ways of working that emerge. Technology and business are ultimately meant to serve humans and, so, the workplaces and work cultures of the future must be people-centric, more than anything else.