2020 was one of the most turbulent and unstable years that many of us have experienced in our working lives.

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic and reassess the future of working, one question is at the forefront of many executives’ minds: how do we engage and motivate our employees going forward?

Within the new normal it is clear that retaining talent and developing skills are the priorities for many business leaders, however when asked to sum up their workforce many use words such as tired, fatigued, or anxious. Given the unpredictable nature of working in 2020 this is unsurprising, however we now have a unique opportunity to assess how we act as employers. When we look back on 2021 it will surely have been a clear turning point in the world of work, perhaps even as pivotal as the introduction of email or five-day working weeks. The pandemic and the ensuing changes to working life have caused employee expectations of work to shift dramatically away from the traditional nine-to-five roles that have been expected and accepted for the past 40 – 50 years. But are we ready to capitalise on it?

This turning point brings both opportunity and risks. For companies that do not ride the wave of this change, the risks include potential reductions in employee satisfaction, drops in engagement and productivity, and higher levels of attrition. Companies that maximise the opportunities for flexible or hybrid working, proven to be a viable working model during the pandemic, could experience benefits such as happier and therefore more productive employees, a broader (and potentially much more diverse) talent pool and an increasingly agile, delivery-focussed way of working.

However, to make flexible or hybrid working a viable option for managers and employees, organisations need to:

  1. Switch from an ‘hours worked’ mentality to an ‘outcomes-based’ system. This relies on building trust with employees, and training managers and supervisors to work in potentially new ways – setting and monitoring deliverables, rather than physical presence.
  2. Ensure equality between those working in the office and those working remotely. This means embedding work practices that support a hybrid model, making sure workplaces don’t return to the ‘old normal’ of pre-pandemic life. A simple example is continuing to hold video-calls for key meetings, even when several participants are in the same office.
  3. Support employee wellbeing. It will remain particularly important to help employees who work flexibly to protect their personal life and down-time, enabling people to switch-off and recharge. It’s also important to find ways to continue to connect and engage employees with each other, even when they rarely meet physically.

Whilst the road into the new world of working may be a somewhat bumpy one, for those businesses who can forge a path, the benefits will far outweigh the costs of implementation. The key to successful enactment of these changes is communication. This begins with asking what our employees need from their work environment going forward, providing spaces where people can ask direct questions to those able to answer them, maintaining open lines of discussion throughout the change process and accepting that we might not get it entirely right first time. The benefit of flexibility is that it’s agile – so we must try, ask, listen, fail and try again. But whatever we do – we must not return to the pre-pandemic ‘normal’ just because it’s easy to do, for this is giving up the opportunity to shape a new generation of more effective, flexible, and inclusive working.

Written by

Caitlin Kinsella

Caitlin Kinsella

Director of Employee Engagement & Inclusion, Capita Group

Caitlin is a people-centric leader with over 15 years experience in engagement, inclusion, project delivery and change. She’s worked across both the public and private sector in Australia and the UK, and describes herself as a problem-solver who delivers high-quality business outcomes without compromising on equality, respect or values. She’s currently working on creating a more engaged, inclusive and productive workplace for over 55,000 Capita employees around the globe.

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