It’s been just over a year since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the beginning of a virtual workforce for many organizations. Companies were presented with a number of challenges during the pandemic and had to adapt quickly. These changes created a new routine for organizations and their workforce. Now, a year later, how different will the workplace look when organizations reopen their doors? And what can employees expect?
CEOs Reflect on a Tumultuous Year
Last year was all about change and how to adapt to it. Our colleagues at Segal partnered with Chief Executive Group to conduct a recent survey of CEOs. In that survey, one-third to one-half of companies made significant changes since the start of the pandemic. Larger organizations were better prepared to handle these changes and had more resources than their smaller counterparts, but they all had to figure out how to adapt. Here are a few examples of how organizations responded to the changes:
- Increase in flexible and hybrid work arrangements—The pandemic brought a dramatic increase in remote work. There will be an expectation from employees that the option to work remotely will continue post-COVID-19. According to the survey, 68% of large organizations are considering making these arrangements permanent.
- An uptick in training programs—There was a need for more training to support the increase in digitization and changes in workflow. One-third of survey respondents introduced new training in 2020 due to COVID-19. Some organizations even indicated that they would redirect business travel dollars toward more training in 2021.
- Dramatic increase in employee communications—Communications played an important role as organizations implemented change during the pandemic. Sixty-nine percent of survey respondents said they increased targeted communications during the pandemic. They also changed to incremental, bite-sized communications rather than one major communication. Employees will expect the frequency of communications to continue post-COVID-19.
- Focus on the well-being of employees—Employees were stressed, anxious, and experiencing Zoom fatigue. In response, organizations focused on the well-being of their workforce. They implemented new programs to support employee morale, productivity, and mental health.
CEOs Are Applying Lessons Learned
It will not be business as usual this year, and CEOs are taking lessons learned during the pandemic to help them manage the challenges of 2021. One important lesson learned, according to a survey of CEOs and C-suite executives from The Conference Board, is the need for clear and transparent communications. Leaders will need to continue communicating with their workforce while demonstrating empathy, compassion, and self-awareness. This will be a challenge for leaders especially with the continued use of virtual platforms.
Coaching leaders will be a priority for organizations in 2021. Leaders will need to develop and enhance social-emotional skills and use empathy to support engagement and productivity issues that may arise. They will also need to acknowledge work and home stressors faced by their employees in all their communications.
What This Means for HR Communication
These survey results are consistent with the themes we discussed in a recent webinar. Here is how organizations can approach HR communications in 2021 to address the challenges they are still facing as they plan for a post-COVID-19 workplace.
New expectations for leadership
Employees will continue to expect to hear directly from their leaders and with the same frequency in their communications. Leadership will be expected to create interpersonal connections and provide clear and transparent communication.
Managers will also play a larger role post-COVID-19. Coaching managers will be a priority, so that they learn how to communicate with their virtual team and how to monitor productivity.
Build an inclusive culture…virtually
There will be a need to replace in-person interactions with an inclusive, virtual environment. Coaching and mentoring programs will help a virtual workforce feel less isolated. Training will also help employees learn new ways to handle stress, better use technology, and maintain productivity.
Gather feedback from your workforce
There are many tools to help an organization gather employee feedback. It’s an important component in identifying gaps and workforce needs. Organizations can modify their approach based on the information they gather. It will also be important for employees to feel that they are being heard and valued.
Focus on well-being programs
There will be more focus on the well-being of employees. The addition of well-being programs, such as mental health benefits, wellness programs, and child care solutions, will help a virtual workforce with stress and anxiety. Also, it will be important to ensure that employees are taking time to get away, unplug, and mentally refresh during a time when life and work are blurred.
New tools and technology
The pandemic brought about a rapid increase in the use of technology. Organizations have improved virtual work capabilities to keep employees connected, but the expectation will be even greater in 2021. It will be important to look for new ways to digitize and support employees.
While many companies have not committed to when or how their workforce will return to the office, it is clear that there will be significant changes. The key to a successful reintroduction is the continued use of clear employee communications. Frequent communication will also help organizations build trust with their workforce and help employees transition into the next phase with more ease.
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