After a historic year of disruption and upheaval, organizations are moving on to making plans for the next twelve months and preparing their business and workforce for further COVID-related developments. While 2020 introduced hastily-made modifications to the way we work, 2021 will be the year when these fixtures are reviewed and become commonplace.
Many of these changes will still need to morph before settling into norms. The move to working from home was forced and sudden. But from this vantage point, they’re here to stay for the foreseeable future. Many new ways of working have so far been successful – in terms of keeping organizations afloat. As we continue our efforts to running businesses under huge change, there will be aspects of our work which we will keep, and some which we will re-assess.
The importance of employee experience in 2020
Pre-COVID, employee experience was a term that was intended as a ‘should-do’. Work on your Employee Experience, we were told, and see improvements in engagement, retention, happiness, and satisfaction levels. It was something that, for many organizations, took a back seat to more pressing priorities.
But in 2020, those who did have a focus on XP contrasted in sharp distinction to those who didn’t. Those organizations that provided an excellent experience for their employees have so far managed to effectively protect themselves from the brunt of the pandemic. When you have a business listening to its people, continuously making adjustments to how it handles its workforce, and taking on board feedback and suggestions – you have a business in tune with any tremor or imbalance.
Therefore, when companies had to make a sudden and immediate change, those who practised XP were in tune with every area of the organization and were able to quickly and successfully undergo transformation.
It hasn’t been all fun and games though: according to Forbes, fewer than one-third of enterprises conduct quarterly employee experience surveys, and only slightly more have a platform whereby employees are given a voice. When the pandemic forced employees home to carry on their responsibilities among domestic duties and childcare, these non-XP organizations were effectively blind to the needs and requirements of their workforce.
But as we get towards the end of this terrible 2020, the value of XP seems to be fully and finally appreciated by the majority of businesses, especially while the future of working is being forced upon us.
So, what do we expect from the next twelve months in terms of Employee Experience? Does 2021 promise more flux? Let’s dig a little deeper and highlight some key trends.
Flexible working goes mainstream
The mass migration to home working brought about a lot of concern for the future of the office. But home offices have helped business continuity and have been, overall, successful. We see continued home working in 2021, but with more balance with the office. When it is safe to do so, employers will offer more flexibility in regards to the work location.
A report from Forrester calls this the “anywhere-plus-office hybrid model”, where working outside of the office will be considered the norm – even outside of pandemic restrictions. This will mean organizations will need to review their entire model – from real estate to leadership – and find out how they can achieve long term goals outside of the physical boundaries of their traditional offices.
It seems a moot point that corporate messaging has a time and place in order for it to be relevant and effective. But by humanising we’re seeing a tonal shift in communication strategy coming from leadership, this including comms which speaks to purpose, history, personal character, sustainability (et al). All of this sits under the umbrella of humanising culture and XP. Most effectively we’ve seen these strategies used to drive home the notion of ‘all in this together’ during the pandemic. Moving forward we foresee similar strategies (with technology) to better serve wellness initiatives, better keep watercooler moments alive and providing confidence for employees to have a voice within the organisation
HR review policies
As HR review their policies to cater for their working from home workforce, employees will need to understand how it affects them. For instance, further lockdown restrictions may impact schools, nurseries, and childcare services, therefore consideration for, for example, workers with children should be given.
Whatever changes are made, information must be communicated clearly to employees in advance. Consider a central comms platform like your company intranet for this. Also, update staff handbooks to include new policies regarding working from home, assessment criteria, and all necessary arrangements.
Culture becomes reactive
The office may become secondary to the culture of work. In its place, the digital workplace will evolve further, creating an omnichannel environment where both the tangible and intangible elements of the office are brought to the employee in digital form. Social tools will become more intuitive and will provide areas for employees to enjoy – such as huddles, team gatherings, all-hands, and places of solitude to work in peace.
While culture was more ambient in the office, there may be a need for culture cheerleaders in a remote work setting. These will be employees who set up initiatives, instigate new campaigns, and trigger conversations. Organizations should focus on how they are building their work culture in a dispersed workplace in 2021.
And along with this, a Culture of Trust has risen.
While 2020 contained a lot of ‘firsts’, organizations had no option but to put trust in their employees to manage some kind of continuity at their home desks as they were in the office. The culture of presenteeism could well be over, as the relationship between employer and worker develops into one of trust and self-governance.
Organizations may want to trial some kind of software to monitor the productivity levels of staff. However, 2020 has shown that when managed correctly, and with the right communication channels in place, employees are applying the same levels of industry and diligence at home as they were in the office. The main challenges in this situation are loneliness and isolation, which must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis with the help of flexible working, commuting, or better reliance on comms platforms.
A more diverse talent pool
No longer will the job boards be applicable to residents of a given area. Any future vacancies should consider broadening their talent pool to a more global perspective. This increases the chances of high-quality employees regardless of location.
This requires an overhaul of your organization’s traditional employee lifecycle. From onboarding to training and development, every aspect of your company’s working life should be re-tuned to be accessible online anywhere in the world. Of course, this comes with new cultural and practical challenges, but managing a global workforce is something organizations should start getting used to.
The focus turns to IT
They were critical in making the huge switch to working from home, but 2021 will see even more pressure put on IT to focus on creating a better employee experience. They face two challenges – a cut in spending, as businesses tighten their belts to ride out the current economic downturn, and working out a better solution with existing software.
IT will need to work out ways to help with employee development and reduce the experience. Critical elements like social collaboration, information gathering, and security will all fall under the IT’s responsibilities. This isn’t the year for short term fixes. 2020 has forced long-awaited change by the hand, and businesses will have to work around these challenges with speed, strategy, and enterprise.
The events of 2020 have made us act at breakneck speed, reactively, and sometimes hastily. However, employee experience is a continual process that makes small, impactful changes across the breadth of the organization. 2020 has been the year of sudden decision-making but we’re now able to head into 2021 conscious of the fact that the new year will be the one of a more strategic and considered mindset.
This is why our employee experience matters more than ever. It is only by taking the experience of our workforce seriously, that we keep up with the speed of workplace changes and enable accuracy, innovation, and new opportunities – something businesses will need to focus on more than ever over the next twelve months!