Employer-employee relationships were changing. Millennials, a generation that craves a larger sense of purpose and a greater degree of flexibility, had been in the workforce long enough to begin attaining senior roles and influence. Generation Z was entering the workplace as true digital natives born into a world of technology and social media, and expecting technology to be facilitating and streamlining interactions and knowledge transfer. The writing was already on the wall for the traditional nine-to-five. And then the pandemic saw many more of us working from home, excluding the heroic frontline workers in all their guises. 

Organizational culture is now front of mind for leadership teams and HR departments. That culture will make all the difference to their competitive advantage. How have employers adapted, learned from the pandemic, and turned a threat into an opportunity? The answer will depend on the trust between leaders and employees. Some leadership teams manage through command and control and will insist that all staff come back to the office full-time as soon as possible, but this will be a missed opportunity for building a truly flexible workforce. Employees should be measured on outputs, not presenteeism, and the employers who build their cultures accordingly will attract and retain the best candidates and gain further business success. 

The series of lockdowns have allowed organizations to review and start to establish flexible working protocols. The next big challenge is to accept that flexible working cultures are progressive but not perfected yet.

We need to think about how we can ensure remote working employees are happy and productive and explore what true flexibility means. I will address all of these questions over the next two blogs.

The challenges of working from home

Luxurious though it may seem, working from home presents its challenges, especially around measuring and ensuring employee health and wellbeing. Rather than using home working to take it easy, my experience is that employees have generally worked harder, all while scrabbling to find the space to work and balancing that with concerns about their health or that of their loved ones. For some people, enforced home-working represents an unwanted intrusion into their personal space. And it’s all too easy to not switch off from work when your laptop is next to your bed. 

One of the most obvious examples of homeworking driving unhealthy practice is Zoom fatigue. When a meeting is only a click away, we can cram in more than we can cope with, forget to take breaks from our screen, and give ourselves unsustainable meeting schedules - simply because it feels like it should be easy and we need to be always ‘on’ and available for work. 

Another problem is isolation. I know of people, and I’m sure that you do too, who have been in a new post for six months or a year and have not met any colleagues face to face yet. How do we replicate the water cooler chats in these new models of working without making it feel forced? 

It takes more effort to understand how remote workers are feeling, and some managers think it will be harder than it used to be to get a sense of how employees are performing if they’re not visible on-site next to you. Overall, I think managers have done a great job checking in with employees throughout the pandemic; a habit they have acquired during a challenging period that I hope they maintain. 

Experienced managers recognize that there is a psychological contract between an employer and employee that builds upon the contract of employment. Great managers create an environment that provides psychological safety: where employees are trusted to do the work but have check-ins to ensure they don’t burn out. People who love their jobs will put in the hours, but it is important that their workloads are managed effectively and that they are looked after. 

Right now, people are still fearful for their health, their family’s health, and their friends’ health. They are continually beset by unsettling and upsetting news. Things are continuing to be in partial flux, and what is the right thing to do going forward? They need to know when to stop, to unplug. They need technology to work smarter for them for personal and business benefits. And from an HR perspective, anything that can help with those conversations is welcome. 


In Part 2 I will talk about new generations of talent, the importance of knowledge-sharing, truly flexible cultures and more. 

Microsoft Viva Services

About Microsoft Viva

Microsoft Viva is a workforce connectivity solution that enhances your employee experience and improves workforce wellbeing in a fragmented era. At a time when people are isolated and unsure where to go for help or resources, it can provide actionable insights into workforce productivity, alert managers to the danger of employees over-working, enhance collaboration and provide intuitive knowledge retrieval. Proventeq can provide seamless onboarding into company-wide use of the system through implementation and user training. 

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