After consecutive pandemic years, companies and their employees are grappling with the consequences of disruption. Most notably, a once-in-a-generation pandemic coupled with social strife, geopolitical conflict and other factors has helped usher in an unprecedented reprioritization and restructuring of the workforce as people reimagine their professional lives in light of their lived experiences during the past 24 months.
This retraction of the status quo is both a challenge and an opportunity for businesses to rethink their process and priorities to empower their people to thrive in the months and years ahead. Simply put, cultivating innovation, collaboration and productivity will require companies to throw out their current playbook while creating new ways to invest in people to foster holistic success moving forward.
Here are three ways to begin that process today.
1. Make Meaning Matter
The Covid-19 pandemic forced many people to slow down their lives. Rather than rushing to the office for a morning meeting or staying late to connect with colleagues, people worked from their homes while attending to personal matters that felt more pressing and important. In other words, keeping up with the professional Joneses no longer felt like a sufficient reason to stick with a company.
According to a Mckinsey & Company survey, nearly half of respondents indicated that they are reconsidering their work because of the pandemic. As a result, the study bluntly asserts, “Help your employees find purpose or watch them leave.”
At the same time, helping people find meaning in their work yields profound bottom-line results. People who feel they perform meaningful work are 75% more committed to their organization and 33% more productive than their less-inspired peers.
Companies can help employees find meaning in their work by demonstrating the impact of their work, especially as it relates to:
• Personal success
These days especially, employees expect their work to be meaningful; it’s critical that companies help them create the connection.
2. Remain Flexible
Many leaders are working overtime trying to strategize an effective return to the office plan. Meanwhile, most employees don’t want to come back, at least not full-time.
A recent Morning Consult survey found that “fewer than half of full-time remote workers want to return to the office.” At the same time, many indicated a preference for hybrid work arrangements, making this flexible work arrangement an obvious solution for companies looking to restore in-person functionality while addressing the concerns of their distributed teams.
However, companies should consider taking this one step further by allowing employees to choose when they work as well as where they work. Several prominent companies, including Automattic and DuckDuckGo, have implemented flexible work schedules to optimize employee impact and satisfaction.
Describing the process to the New York Times, Azad Abbasi-Ruby, the senior market research analyst at DuckDuckGo, said, “I think it’s really a shame that more companies don’t take advantage of it. We get so much done, and I think a lot of it has to do with this flexibility, letting people work when they’re most productive.”
While some jobs require people to be in a certain place at a specific time, many do not. Instead, leaders often pursue rigid schedules as an extension of the status quo or because they are worried about employee productivity.
This is a solvable problem. Today’s technology provides executives, managers and team leaders with insights needed to understand employee productivity, maintain accountability and embrace flexibility. Focus on people and their creative processes to support long-term sustainability in the new normal and leverage technology to assist these efforts.
3. Help People Work Smarter
When companies moved off-campus during the pandemic, employees worked longer and harder than ever before. One employee survey from the pandemic’s first year found that 70% of professionals who transitioned to remote work also started working on weekends, and nearly half reported working more hours than before the pandemic.
Short-term trends have a way of becoming long-term norms, and the results can be devastating. According to a recent analysis by the American Psychological Association, 79% of employees reported work-related stress, and almost three-fifths “reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy.”
Companies must respond. Some are digging into the data to help make a change. For example, Microsoft analyzed data from its employee monitoring initiatives to understand employee productivity cycles. After determining that people were most productive during a particular three-hour window, Microsoft banned meetings during this time to allow people to optimize their work time.
These changes can be more nuanced and targeted as well. Most companies deploy some iteration of employee monitoring software, and leaders can leverage this information to have collaborative conversations about workflows, best practices and other optimizations to help people manage their work schedules and restore work-life balance.
It’s Time To Take Action
It’s been a challenging two years for businesses and their employees, and the professional landscape is inextricably altered. Fortunately, leaders have an opportunity to respond. They can take action to support their people as they embrace the new normal, ensuring that teams are positioned to communicate, collaborate, innovate and thrive in the months and years ahead.
This article was originally published in Forbes and reprinted with permission.
Leverage technology to embrace the new normal