The post-pandemic workplace is nuanced, full of unknowns and at times downright scary.
In short, it’s the perfect time to rethink work.
With old norms no longer valid, there’s the opportunity to step out from the chaos of the last 18-plus months with an employee value proposition (EVP) that fits modern business.
Yet the conventional EVP — the combination of rewards and benefits in exchange for work — is on shaky ground. Worse, as companies assess the changing nature of work and how they operate their businesses within this vastly changed environment, many make an unexpected discovery: they find that the technology and processes they’ve implemented have largely overlooked the work experience and the human-machine interaction. Instead of streamlined workplace efficiencies, companies find pockets of automation — and disconnected workers.
Rethinking how work gets done in this uniquely disruptive environment provides the opportunity to finally gain the full business value of technology and integrated end-to-end processes. By capitalizing on the technology advancements that they’ve invested in and tailoring processes and policies for a modern work experience, organizations can begin to reap the benefits that occur when people engage with and embrace technology and adopt new work processes. The guiding equation is work plus technology equals a meaningful employee experience — and business value.
The movement to redefine work
Workplace survey findings these days are enough to send a collective shudder through organizations. Leaders were initially bullish about a return to the office, but employees took a different view, influenced by health concerns and the benefits of remote work that in many cases outweighed the challenges. Many voted with their feet, with a record 12 million quitting their jobs in April, May and June. Those that remain make it clear that they’re eyeing the exits: Thirty-nine percent would consider quitting rather than give up working from home, with the figure jumping to 49% among millennials and Gen Z.
Welcome to the YOLO economy, which stands for “you only live once.” The acronym refers to workers’ widespread re-evaluation of their priorities. More of us are asking “Am I happy?” “Do I enjoy this work?” “Do I want to spend 90 minutes a day commuting?”
In response to a workforce possessed of a new mindset and the tight labor market, companies are finding that the optimal return-to-work model remains a work in progress, and the upheaval is triggering changes to how business is organized. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, one point is certain: Determining what the new business models mean for them will require a proactive approach that not only differentiates them in the job market but also fundamentally alters how work gets done.
Build work experience into the technology foundation
The pandemic’s emphasis on remote work highlighted that technology is only part of the answer. It also made it painfully obvious that technology that drives work experience is incomplete: Instead of fully orchestrated, end-to-end digital processes, many organizations found that they had implemented point solutions that add up to pockets of automation. While many benefitted from short-term cost reductions and some levels of productivity gains, they fell short of the step-change improvements in speed, agility and resilience along with widespread cost efficiencies and productivity.
For example, they deployed an automated marketing email solution — but didn’t integrate it into their martech stack. Or installed GPS sensors to assist supply chain operations yet skipped robotic automation for manual warehouse tasks. The quick deployment of technologies to support virtual work only exacerbated the situation. Too often companies failed to determine the quality of process before automating it, resulting in little added value and even more automation efforts that don’t align or advance corporate goals.
Now, disconnected workers are emerging as an unintended consequence of the gulf between point solutions and fully digital processes. Isolated tasks leave employees feeling disengaged from peers, managers and the organization, and the disengagement piles on to factors like videoconferencing fatigue that is already exacting a heavy toll on workers. A critical aspect of the new way of working is to restore the connection for employees in this dynamic environment. Every corporate culture is built on the interaction of people, and without the opportunity for employees to get to know each other in person — especially new hires and junior staff — companies risk becoming a loose federation of freelancers.
That’s why it’s critical for organizations to double-down on how work is delivered. That is, how can companies digitize end-to-end workflows rather than portions of tasks? What is needed to remake inflexible processes into fluid, intuitive and frictionless experiences? How will companies drive and measure adoption?
Data plays a key role
As companies move forward to determine what the new workplace looks like, data plays a key role. We advise companies to make data a foundational element in this new environment in the following ways:
1. Create a platform to amplify the voice of the employee.
Today’s workplace has two imperatives for organizations: Employees must have a voice, and companies must create a platform to ensure that those voices are heard. Engagement platforms do both. They provide an avenue for employees to air their needs, wants and concerns, and for companies to collect continuous feedback on the workplace’s engagements, projects and environment. From straightforward tools such as surveys, the platforms can generate a host of insights into what employees are feeling and seeing. With that data in hand, companies can measure and manage against real-time benchmarks and take actions that influence deeper engagement, satisfaction and retention. In addition, the data helps refine touchpoints and processes that include job candidacy, hiring, onboarding, career development and training.
2. Apply trended reporting.
With corporate loyalty at its lowest level in more than a year, the result is a full-on war for talent. Trended reporting is the leading indicator to identify issues before they become problems. Are we hiring with diversity in mind? Is recognition and reward extended to those who deserve it? Paired with recurring surveys, trended reporting lets companies take the pulse of their organizations. For example, by applying trended analysis to performance reviews, organizations can benchmark employees in terms of skills and training such as certifications. They can also proactively spot high-value employees and those at risk for attrition, and identify trends in demographics, pay equity and turnover that relate to corporate diversity and inclusion efforts. Trended reporting is also a useful career-development tool for mapping out paths that enable individual contributors to grow into managerial roles. Taking advantage of trended reporting data enables organizations to better understand workforce skills and apply them most effectively.
3. Communicate with the organization.
It’s important to keep in mind that while employee surveys and trended data analysis are important, they don’t create a more meaningful workplace experience on their own. They must be supported by communication. It’s critical that employees understand efforts underway to continuously improve the workplace experience, especially during times of great change. After all, we’re all still human, and humans are hard-wired to resist change, even if beneficial. That’s why communication with employees during times of change has a big payoff. When a medical device company underwent a major IT transformation, its employees faced shifts all around them. Our team created an employee-centric communication strategy with a schedule of messages designed to educate employees on the initiative’s intent, benefits and stages, and to ease anxiety. The messages’ open rate was 63.39%, and the company’s net promoter score (NPS) jumped from -53% to +25%.
4. Examine how work is structured within your organization.
Attracting top talent is only one strategy for creating a top-performing workplace. Organizations also need to nurture the talent they already employ. By migrating to modern delivery structures that offer more opportunities for learning, companies not only improve how work is conducted — and potentially boost their EVP — but also increase productivity. The new structures include technology guilds, communities of practice, and teams aligned to products and functions (think customer journey, product, platform, and all types of DevOps teams). Central to the new forms is empowering employees to determine the best way to solve for their mission. It’s a big change that accelerates time to value — and business impact. A leading financial services firm realized significant productivity gains when we partnered with them to pilot a modern team structure based on learning dojos. The dojos group similarly skilled employees who learn together how to collaborate in teams and embrace "ownership" of their work within a product-centric organization. The pilot effort paid off quickly: After eight weeks of training, the teams’ deployment frequency of software code went from every three months to less than two weeks, and the teams now release multiple times per week.
5. Redefine corporate culture to support work.
Everything is up for grabs in the post-pandemic workplace as companies examine how work is changing and factor in the human-digital context and its implications for roles and skills. With virtual teams firmly in place, leaders struggle to redefine work. Many find that being digital means more than access to videoconferencing and communications platforms. Screen fatigue has set in. Eight in 10 remote workers believe their career development has been negatively affected over the past year, with the top factors being burnout and work-life imbalance. By examining how employees interact with each other, managers can adapt their leadership to enhance virtual and hybrid work experiences. Measures range from the simple, such as setting up chat channels, to the more complex, such as hosting virtual events and establishing clear start and end times for the workday. Remember that experience is more than skin deep. Consider upgrading rewards systems and other outdated policies that hinder culture transformation, which mostly likely aligns with an organization’s more modern vision, goals, and objectives. For example, unlimited paid time off is a hugely popular benefit that more employers are considering.