In what could be dubbed as the world’s biggest ‘work from home’ experiment, the COVID-19 pandemic changed how we think about work. While early research showed that employee productivity was remarkably resilient, as months went by, workplace stressors associated with the blurring lines between work-life priorities increased. In fact, studies showed that employees were working longer hours, and were likely to be at the receiving end of mental health related issues. Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index report showed that one third of the workers in Asia Pacific cited increased rates of burnout over the past six months.
A remote working environment brought other challenges too, like managing employee expectations – while some were ready to use their free time productively, still others struggled to create a balance. There were also challenges of creating dedicated workplaces and creating routines that included regular communication and breaks from work.
“We’re having a pandemic of isolation, and it’s becoming extremely important for companies to reach out and figure out ways to stay connected to their employees,” said Vivek Ravindran, Sr Director, Modern Workplace APAC at Microsoft. “In this changed context, we need new ways of thinking about employee experience – and that means well-being and productivity need to be data-driven and central to the business.”
Here’s how to leverage technology to better:
1. Align ‘upgraded’ human capital management technology to a new workplace
Giving a seamless ‘customer grade’ experience for your employees that empowers them to take charge of their work life is one of the most impactful steps that you can take. In response to the accelerated pace of digital transformation during the pandemic, Microsoft announced a series of updates to Microsoft Teams to support and promote individual well-being and organizational resilience.
With the goal to reimagine teamwork, culture and social capital – digitally, the new updates focused on reimagining meetings and workplaces that unlocked new forms of collaboration that helped people and teams stay engaged and connected.
2. Leverage data on health and well-being
The physical and mental well-being of employees has never been a bigger priority for business continuity. Regular pulse surveys that tracked the mood of employees can help the HR function design action steps to help employees stay engaged.
Studies by Microsoft’s research group showed that in Asia, 73 percent said meditation could help decrease their work-related stress. The company’s partnership with Headspace offered workers the ability to schedule ad hoc time for mindfulness breaks.
“Technologies can be leveraged to understand the level of productivity of a team, the ability to collaborate, to share inputs on manager effectiveness. And that means supporting a workplace with a focus on well-being,” Vivek said.
3. Introduce workplace guidelines that create new norms
Data from Microsoft Teams showed that even after six months of work from home, employees are in more meetings and they’re managing more incoming chats than they did before the pandemic. In fact, chats between five pm and midnight also increased. While there was a 48 percent increase in ‘Teams’ chats per person overall, there was a 55 percent increase in the number of meetings and calls per week. This trend of increased communication and fewer boundaries is bound to have an adverse impact on employees overall productivity and well-being.
“As more people report digital fatigue – which is a direct outcome of being online the whole day, there’s a need to be empathetic,” Heesun Kang, Chief Learning Officer, APAC Microsoft said. “In the context of learning, that could mean experimenting with different learning formats – and introducing new ones like Podcasts that can help reduce time spent in front of the screen. And encouraging one to one learning interactions virtually.”
In light of these shifts, HR teams need to focus on creating guidelines at work that foster a better relationship with digital technologies at work, reduce burnout and stress at work. There’s a need to help people reinvent, learn and grow. Companies should also leverage technology that can help automate processes and workflows to increase discontinuous innovation.
4. Redefine equity for the new work paradigm
Through her People Talk videos with wellness experts and HR leaders, Microsoft’s Chief People Officer and EVP of HR, Kathleen Hogan highlighted key learnings that stood out and were relevant to navigate the challenges of 2020. One such learning that struck a chord was the need to redefine equity and be thoughtful in building processes that extend opportunities to not only onsite employees but also cater to the needs of remote employees.
Speaking of redefining equity, Hogan recalled a conversation with a Harvard Business Professor who stressed the importance of equity through a question - “Is equality about equal treatment, or is it about “equal access to thriving?” - and encouraged leaders to embrace the latter. Kathleen helps leaders understand this in the context of the pandemic, “Let’s say you meet with onsite employees, whom you see all the time, once a week. Consider meeting with a remote employee—who doesn’t benefit from serendipitous in-person interactions—twice a week. It’s a simple, practical suggestion, but it shows how we can be thoughtful about helping all employees thrive by considering their access and correcting for inequities.”
Listen to the conversations on how to reimagine work here.