As technology advances, new businesses are being created and employees’ expectations shift, the workplace will naturally evolve. However, in the last 30 months, the world has witnessed unprecedented circumstances, where the COVID-19 pandemic has forced rapid change, disrupting the business landscape and dramatically speeding up the rate of evolution. This has forced employers and employees, alike, to embrace flexibility and compromise, cooperating to focus on maintaining work output and workplace safety.
“In June 2021, in the midst of lockdown levels and social distancing, an estimated 50% of the South African workforce was working from home full-time.”
1. The Workplace: The pandemic has changed the workplace ecosystem
In June 2021, in the midst of lockdown levels and social distancing, an estimated 50% of the South African workforce was working from home full-time. Now, facing the hybrid workplace, the central office will still exist, it will just have a new purpose. Here is some of the impact that the pandemic has had on the workplace:
- The shift to work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid workplaces: Employees have proved during the pandemic that working in an employer-controlled workspace is not necessary to ensure their productivity or engagement, with the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changing employer views on where and how people work best. “The office” is no longer situated in a particular location. Rather, the workplace is a broad ecosystem of offices, homes and other places such as cafes and co-working spaces, which are utilised
- The shift to work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid workplaces: Employees have proved during the pandemic that working in an employer-controlled workspace is not necessary to ensure their productivity or engagement, with the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changing employer views on where and how people work best. “The office” is no longer situated in a particular location. Rather, the workplace is a broad ecosystem of offices, homes and other places such as cafes and co-working spaces, which are utilised by employees in support of their flexibility, functionality and wellbeing.
- The rapid implementation of technology: As businesses sought to eliminate or severely limit human interaction to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the pandemic forced employers to adopt more digital and automated solutions almost immediately.
- The pace of technological advancement is quicker today than has ever seen before, and as a result the need to upskill and reskill employees has become a matter of success or failure.
- The divide between work and personal life has blurred as supervisors and employees have become accustomed to seeing each other in their personal environments via online meeting platforms.
- With many remote workers, organisations are now having to deal with the security challenges of many remote devices and vulnerable networks. Thus, increased cybersecurity is required.
“…the pandemic forced employers to adopt more digital and automated solutions almost immediately.”
- A greater awareness of Occupational Health & Safety: COVID-19 has shone a light on worker health and safety in all industries, not just those renowned for being hazardous.
Employees: The pandemic has been a catalyst to elevate personal purpose and values
In October 2021, Gartner surveyed more than 3,500 employees around the world. The figure below charts their findings:
Take outs from this research include:
- People want purpose in their lives: This includes finding purpose in their work. The more an employer limits these things, the greater the employee’s intent will be to move on.
- Employees are motivated when they feel valued and empowered to create impact: It turns out that people want acknowledgment, growth opportunities and to feel valued, trusted and empowered. Appropriate remuneration is part of this equation.
- A human-centric approach makes employees more productive. This provides employees with more control over their work and work environment, and requires employers to rethink their approach. Examples include, making hybrid work models human-centric as opposed to location-centric, and providing employers with the flexibility and autonomy to balance their work and personal needs to achieve desired business outcomes.
- Leaders and managers will need to focus on eliciting sustainable performance without compromising long-term health. In surveying thousands of employees and managers, Gartner found that sustainable performers (rather than those who were overworked and under-supported) were 17% more productive than other employees — and 1.7 times more likely to remain working for the organisation.
The world of work: The pandemic has been a catalyst for reinventing work principles in key areas
The pandemic has precipitated the need to reinvent key work principals in terms of where, when and how employees work in order for organisations to create sustainable working conditions that maximise their engagement, collaboration and productivity. In their article entitled Make the Future of Work a Win-Win for People and Organizations published in June 2021, Gartner sees these pillars as:
- Human-centric work design: Making individual employees more productive by giving them more control over their work and work environment.
- Reforming the culture: Evolving organisational culture to maximise the benefits of hybrid working.
- Managing in a hybrid world: Developing and promoting the skills that managers will need to oversee employees in a hybrid work environment.
- Digital enablement: Prioritising technologies and practices needed to optimise hybrid work in the short term and boost organisational prosperity in the long term.
- Shifting talent and skills: Identifying, acquiring and developing the skills and competencies that employees will need in the digital future.
- Rethinking the workplace: Creating a workplace strategy for the post-pandemic, hybrid work era.
Adapting to workplace change should be tempered by empathy
Rapid workplace change has proven to be quite challenging, especially for employees who have worked in offices or positions that previously were more constant than they were dynamic. Leadership needs to understand how rapid and ongoing change brought by the pandemic has affected employees’ mental and physical health, impacting their performance and productivity. Empathy has always been a critical skill for leaders, but in light of the pandemic it is taking on a new level of meaning and priority as employees experience multiple kinds of stress due the ways their personal and work lives have been turned upside down.
- Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán