Right now, it is difficult to predict what the workforce landscape will look like post–Covid-19. The pandemic required many organizations to adjust quickly, as employees transitioned to working from home and adopted a new work environment almost instantly—especially if the company did not already have remote-work policies in place. Now, as our society and the economy adapt to the “new normal,” companies must determine what their workforce will look like long-term, when they are likely facing a different business environment, changing employee preferences, and new safety measures.
Employers need to determine how they will re-engage employees and make sure workers feel like their concerns are addressed. Being proactive in these discussions will help set companies apart and support their efforts to retain talent.
Return to Work or Stay Home?
As the option to return to the physical workplace is becoming viable for many businesses, some employees may be eager to get back to the office for more social interactions, better productivity, and more efficient tools and facilities. That does not necessarily mean everyone is ready to return.
Some employees have enjoyed the flexibility that arises from working remotely and would like to continue in that environment. Others who work in shared office spaces, ride busy elevators, or use public transportation may not be comfortable with the increased social interactions of returning to the office environment. Recognizing that many employees prefer to work from home will increase a company’s success in talent management going forward.
Regardless of what a company’s workforce looked like pre-Covid, it will be different post-Covid. Employers that manage and provide flexible work environments will enable employees to build an atmosphere in which they can work long-term and feel fulfilled. Allowing them to personalize how they choose to work over the long term, based on their changing needs, will help them feel valued by their employer.
Building a New Workforce Culture
Employers that choose to combine remote and traditional work environments for their workforce in the long term will need to rethink their procedures. For example, per social distancing guidelines, meetings in conference rooms may need more distance between chairs, and eating in the cafeteria may require processes that minimize interactions. The office may also need new health precautions, such as daily temperature checks and sanitization stations.
Alternatively, if the workload shifted in the remote setting, employees may feel disconnected from their employer, especially if there were layoffs and/or furloughs at the company. A virtual setting can inhibit communication, as there are fewer face-to-face interactions. Some companies have focused on HR initiatives like virtual employee “happy hours” to safely connect with everyone.
Both remote and on-site work environments will require additional HR resources to help employees manage their preferences and adjust to the newfound setting. It is important to recognize how employees feel and to focus on re-engaging everyone on what it means to belong to the organization. Finding any pain points and enhancing the work culture—which will necessarily look much different than the pre-Covid culture—encourages employees to stay committed and engaged with the company.
It is also important to ensure that any company news is communicated well and in a timely manner. Communications need to address the needs of employees and their families, in order to ease stress and uncertainty and help make transitions smoother. For example, the company might need a new solution for communicating based on worker preferences, such as a mobile-first approach.
Finally, the Covid-19 landscape requires employers to take responsibility for strengthening their workforce culture. HR personnel need to be stronger than before, with a thorough understanding of the changing landscape. Any gap, whether in culture or communication, must be addressed and resolved promptly.
Once built, the new culture can become an important and ongoing part of the company’s talent acquisition and retention strategy. Helping employees recognize that their employer cares about them takes talent retention to the next level. Flexibility in the new work environment will be crucial to building employee loyalty and engagement with the future company brand and culture.
Dinesh Sheth is CEO of Green Circle Life.