An unending debate has been surrounding the need to and urgency for a safe 'return to work' strategy. As organizations contemplate the pros and cons, employee safety is unarguably the biggest priority. How are employers navigating the return to workplace dilemma? What is key to enabling work and efficiency in the post-COVID workplace? And what does the workplace look like today?
In a recent panel discussion hosted by People Matters, in partnership with ServiceNow, Laura Cole, Head of HR Digital Service & Employee Experience, Standard Chartered Bank; Rudy Afandi, Chief Human Capital Officer, PT XL Axiata Tbk; Sasha Wight, Founder and Employee Experience Lead, Wrkflow; and Radha Shreeniwas, VP Global Talent Partner, APJ, ServiceNow, came together to reflect on the essentials of a strong return to workplace strategy, explored the rise of employee experience platforms and discussed the challenges and opportunities for leaders as they piece together what the new ‘now of work’ looks like.
Read on for highlights from the session!
The perfect environment for innovation
Kickstarting the session with insights from the Work Survey, conducted by ServiceNow, in partnership with Wakefield Research, Radha Shreeniwas, VP - Global Talent Partner, APJ, ServiceNow, highlighted some critical statistics on how employees and executives perceive the post-COVID work landscape. Some key findings include:
- 38% of employees and 33% of executives don’t think companies will take necessary steps to ensure safety
- Despite 55% of employees wanting to maintain new ways of working, the priority for 46% of executives is to return to pre-COVID ways of working
- 95% of executives and 92% of employees express real concerns about how remote working will impact work
Suggesting that we are not going back to the way things were (backed by 52% of employees stating it’s essential for companies to provide flexi working hours and guaranteed remote work (45%) or else they'll walk), Radha shared, “Employees value their personal safety over older traditions. So leaders will need to help them by taking away complexity, providing transparency and helping employees navigate the new normal.”
Radha emphasized that employees also need to know that their businesses care for them, which is why the firm has been thinking a lot about moments that matter. “Right from when a new hire joins our organization, to when they leave and everything in between, we really look at moments that matter to help drive talent retention. This is an important time where employee experience begins to matter significantly.”
Moving on to COVID becoming a catalyst for innovation, Radha shared that 90% of executives as well as employees say their company transitioned to new ways of working faster than they thought possible. While 89% of executives acknowledged that COVID-19 forced them to rethink how they worked, 91% of employees said it was an improvement.
While 2020 was about an overnight shift to remote work, 2021 will be about gearing up and strategizing for a hybrid working arrangement. To enable this shift, digital workflows, as Radha puts it, are the “key to recovery”, yet the Work Survey found that 91% of executives admit that they still have offline workflows.
“Without fully integrated workflow systems or without the conscious redesign of workspace, we will struggle and companies will risk falling behind. It will be useful for organizations to build this foundation and witness those productivity gains overtime,” suggested Radha.
Addressing the return to workplace dilemma
With a sizable chunk of the global workforce hanging in the balance about whether they will continue working remotely or be called back to the workplace, the unanimous answer emerging across geographical boundaries is hybrid.
Sharing that both employees and employers have little appetite to return to pre-COVID days of working, Rudy Afandi, Chief Human Capital Officer, PT XL Axiata Tbk said, “Remote work works. And it is now very important to define the future of work. ” He added that it boils down to efficiency and effectiveness.
As employers gear up to enable hybrid work arrangements, ensuring both efficiency and effectiveness, there are certain core principles that must be addressed first. On being asked what are some key considerations for them as they make decisions regarding the return to the workplace, the panelists agreed on the following key themes:
- Employee safety
- Retaining company values
- Flexibility and Productivity
- Employee engagement
- Diversity and inclusion
- Building connection and cross-functional collaboration
Sharing her approach, Sasha Wight, Founder and Employee Experience Lead, Wrkflow, said that the focus is on creating an agile strategy, being able to respond very quickly to changes, and regularly reviewing the digital service experience strategy to identify gaps if any, in how employers are leveraging technology to enhance experience.
“Having a strategy that is flexible enough but structured enough to give people reassurance that we have a plan is really key, and I see that sentiment a lot,” Sasha added.
While HR spearheaded the shift to remote work, going forward, there needs to be an outlook of shared responsibility to address the bottom line - productivity. “Our approach to hybrid work has not just been HR driven. We have led it as an employee experience driven initiative across HR, Property and Technology. And that’s been very powerful. It isn’t just an HR part of the process - it is about what your office environment looks like, about whether you have the technology to enable collaboration when employees are in the office or work from home,” said Laura Cole, Head of HR Digital Service & Employee Experience, Standard Chartered Bank. Another focus for SCB, added Laura, has been balancing employee needs and choices vs business needs. She emphasized the significance of employee surveys here to really listen to the voice and sentiment on the ground.
Managing workflows in a hybrid work environment
As the world of work transitions to the hybrid working model, ensuring the right infrastructure to enable the workforce irrespective of where they choose to work from will remain crucial. While 2020 was an overnight shift to remote, recent months have provided organizations with time to reimagine the fundamentals of working, and analyzing what possible avenues of support are needed to resolve their biggest concern with remote working - productivity.
Speaking of tools and technologies to support the workforce function in a hybrid work environment, Laura Cole suggests following a triangle approach - Property, HR and Technology.
“It is really important because organizations need to provide collaborative tools and ways in which people can connect, and facilitate that connection, as you will not get those serendipitous moments like before when people went to the office,” noted Laura.
Sharing that technology will be critical to enabling productivity in a hybrid workplace, Rudy Afandi brought to fore the need to equip the smart workspace with the right technologies to dodge the mounting cybersecurity threats. Prioritizing what’s needed and what’s feasible to strike that balance between new business models and continuous employee engagement is key, said Rudy. An interesting take that he brought to fore here was the aspect of fairness, and how technology must be leveraged to help even the landscape as some roles are forced to be present at the office or on the frontlines.
Emphasizing the key role of a people leader in a hybrid workplace, Laura Cole noted that a people manager must look into if employees have the right kind of ergonomic setup at homes, from a health and safety point of view. She further advised leaders to think about the employee life cycle and narrow down ‘moments that matter’, to be able to identify which experiences do organizations need to support better in a virtual work environment.
The rise of employee experience platforms
Employee experience is going to remain a key differentiator as the war for talent intensifies in the road from recovery to growth. As hybrid emerges to be the new norm, technology will play an integral role enabling a seamless shift. But what are some essentials that employers must cater for in this transition? And how will the hybrid impact the ongoing experience transformation?
“Digital platforms are becoming more intentional in terms of employee journey design, providing employee experience teams, whether that be cross-functional or specific to HR, with the opportunity to step back and really think about the employee from a design perspective,” said Sasha Wight, as she explained that if we are going through a transformation of digital service experience, we need to put the employee at the heart of that design.
“I definitely see that becoming much more of a focus - personalization of EX as a design focus.”
Suggesting that 2021 will also witness greater focus on data around digital platforms to understand the returns on employee experience investments, Sasha noted that there’s going to be both a surge in terms of technology capability, but also a surge in the discussion and debate around how we measure employee experience.
Sharing her thoughts on the future of EX, Laura Cole said that while measuring EX will gain greater focus, employers will also start to connect EX to CX. “With the acceleration of hybrid working, organizations are more keen to measure productivity, and have begun to leverage tech to analyze aspects like behavioral insights and workplace connections. So when you have that sort of insight, plus you add in service experience insights, and then add in EX measurement, and then overlay that with customer experience, the proposition becomes really compelling."
A rising challenge and at the same time focus area for leaders will be to make the evolving employee experience strategies and platforms more inclusive of individual circumstances, limitations and preferences, especially for a distributed hybrid workforce.
Rudy emphasized, “All the ongoing change isn’t just about technology, it is about company values and behavior first, and then moving to process and technology.”
As organizations across the globe continue to unravel the hybrid future, equipping the workforce with the right workflows and infrastructure to enable work and crafting personalized employee experience journeys will be crucial to empower both business and people to thrive through disruption.
To access detailed insights from the Work Survey, click here.
If you would like to view the complete panel discussion, click here.