I work with many clients whose business has been rooted in traditional ways of conducting business. They were impacted hard by the pandemic, but often in surprising, unexpected ways. For example, a patient services client had always conducted business on site and had never even considered a change to virtual, flexible work arrangements before the pandemic. Then, their large call center operation was forced to go virtual. This was a completely new, untested situation, where there was a high possibility that operations would be disrupted.
However, to management’s surprise, there was an uptick in performance, and management received overwhelming positive feedback from their employees that they favored the new arrangements and wanted hybrid or flexible work arrangement to continue beyond the pandemic.
The employee population was predominantly made up of minority women, who reported that working virtually—while still maintaining their shifts—allowed them to balance work with home responsibilities. In addition, removing the daily commute to the call center freed up precious time—a non-renewable commodity, desired and valued by all people.
One of my clients also had a worker that shared similar thoughts: “As a single mom, I was thinking of leaving the company due to the inflexible hours and impractical ways of working. But now, I have decided to stay because of the hybrid work movement that the company has started.”
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As my clients look to a post-pandemic future, the work environment is no longer a clear-cut reality, with clear demarcations, be they in the digital, physical or human realms. It is rather an environment of constant change that may depend on unusual business situations. In this context, businesses need to move with agility and flexibility, with a focus on adopting change readily to sustain a culture that drives the empowerment of people, while responding to their workers’ needs and desires.
There are 3 steps that all businesses can follow to get started on this journey:
1. Actively adopt new ways of working when the operating model changes
The pandemic may be one of the recent and major forces driving change in companies’ operating models, but it is not new or the only one. Global systemic changes can also cause significant operating model shifts. For example, when a large portion of a client’s company moved from a regional model to a global-and-local model, the adoption of local/global mindsets and behaviors became the framework for a new way of working. Leaders had to adapt quickly to roll-out a new operating model to enable behavioral changes that accommodated global time zones. They supported employees in deciding how to best utilize their time, and, as people experimented with new ways of organizing their days, leaders role-modeled the behaviors they wanted to see implemented by their workers.
2. Be flexible and creative to solve long-standing business requirements in new circumstances
For the patient services client I mentioned above, minimizing liability risk and staying compliant meant to embrace the challenge of virtual work by being agile and creative. Going virtual for the first time, the client equipped their staff with the necessary technology to work from home, but remote work also brought up the problem of meeting the requirements and challenges of keeping their clients’ information secure. This necessary compliance had always been ensured by having employees physically present on site. But, in the new conditions imposed by the pandemic, the company came up with the solution to require each worker to self-certify that they could operate in a private space to keep clients’ information confidential. While fully depending on a premise of trust between employee and employer, this self-certification created autonomy and a sense of ownership for workers, who were trusted to do the right thing while working in a safe home environment during the pandemic.
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3. Use data for assessing workers’ needs and feelings in real time
Analytics can either provide you with data on your workforce’s current sentiment (e.g., through pulse surveys), or with information on how to design, track and measure the success of long-term changes, constructed with the help of behavioral science. For example, a client was looking to increase agility, productivity, worker well-being and team effectiveness. We helped the client create internal campaigns that could provide an influx of data, based on self-reporting, team behavior tracking, and engagement data. By implementing Microsoft Teams as a collaboration tool in the summer of 2020, the client supported their workforce in the transition to remote work. In the first six months since implementation, collaboration between team members and managers increased five times, resulting in increased productivity for a global team that needed to work together digitally, on different time zones. Overall, engagement increased more than three times. Our analysis also revealed that only 50% of their workers felt that they had enough autonomy. But the increased connections between teams and managers, allowed teams to make faster decisions, which, in turn, increased autonomy for the majority of workers and resulted in improved satisfaction on the job.
As organizations focus more on outcomes and on empowering their people rather than on maintaining rigid demarcations and boundaries for how and where work is performed, they will encourage the development of a workforce that can be productive anywhere. This shift in mindset—detailed at length in our recent research report The Future of Work—will be a major differentiator in attracting and retaining talent.
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For more insights on empowering people in the future of work, read David Hole’s blog Why people will thrive in a hybrid future of work.
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