Looking ahead to the post-pandemic workforce - comment

Employers can bring out the best in their staff as work environments evolve, says Alistair Fraser, CEO of the corporate division at professional services firm Marsh.

Huge digital and working practice transformation has been implemented quickly, says Fraser. Picture: Joe Giddens.

As businesses navigate the new normal, and manage the impact of Covid-19, employee engagement and wellbeing have been front and centre.

Many businesses have reinforced how fundamental to their success an engaged workforce is, and the necessary move to remote working has elevated employee engagement as a crucial business function.

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This will result in a shift post-Covid 19 too. Those that have been able to work from home will have proven they can fulfil their roles without being in the workplace and without the consistent in-person management – which has historically been perceived as a necessity for maximum productivity.

Fraser joined Marsh 12 years ago and is responsible for more than 650 colleagues. Picture: Mark Shenley.

Huge digital and working practice transformation has been implemented quickly out of necessity for those industries that can work remotely.

Now, more companies are using and feeling comfortable with tech capabilities like Skype and Zoom. While this change was unsettling for some initially, humans are habitual in nature – we get used to new routines and form new habits. Businesses are unlikely to roll this new found skillset back completely once lockdown has ended.

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This technological advancement will see businesses consider how they can use remote working tools to facilitate the human experience at distance and therefore build a more flexible and responsive workforce as a result.

Remote working and with it greater workforce flexibility will also increase the need to support wellbeing and keep staff motivated and effective.

Leaders will need to consider how the new world of work plays into retention and reduced absence. Businesses are already grappling with these issues, of course, but they will become more systemic as the year progresses. Despite employees’ physical distance from leaders, the duty of care for staff including ensuring they are working in a safe environment remains.

Employers need to ensure they find ways to continue to connect to staff to avoid mental health issues driven by isolation, anxiety and disengagement. We may see that the requirement of the physical office environment will change over time.

Humans are social animals, so there will always be a requirement for employers to offer an opportunity for in-person working environments, social interaction and environments for teams to work together and meet clients.

Positives will come from this pandemic – it will allow for greater diversification of the workforce through an appreciation of the benefits of flexible working.Working parents that want to return to work can, with better flexibility than ever before, and high-calibre talent in remote locations will be selected by what they deliver, rather than where they are located.

Technology

We may all become more thoughtful of our travel as well, whether that’s reducing the weekly commute or considering whether a meeting can take place with the support of technology, rather than face to face. These small changes could collectively make a big difference to the environment, and to overheads too.

With these potential changes to consider, there are things employers can do now as a business to support staff through this transitional time.

Try to encourage employees to use the usual commute time as time for themselves. These are habits they were used to, so you should encourage them to form new routines, with the aim for greater work-life balance in the long term.

Social interaction is part of what makes us human so try to replicate this experience where possible and invest in technology that connects people, and encourages interactivity. As part of this, think about what you can implement that could continue in the workspace.

As always, it’s important to lead by example – so senior staff members need to become better at using various forms of communication and embrace this new way of working. Be creative and consider what will keep people both engaged and informed.

While the potential changes set to come may give business owners and managers “food for thought”, if businesses support staff properly, then they will actually help with retention as people have a better work/life integration.

A post-pandemic workforce is one that needs to be built on connectivity and trust. It is likely to offer a workforce not bound by geography and provide talent that suits our businesses’ needs.

We will likely benefit from a more authentic, empathic experience, both inside and outside of our businesses, as the pandemic has made us realise we’re all human. As always, the future work environment should be a blend of the best of old and the new.

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