Organizations have gone through profound transformations in the last twenty months. Likely, you’ve experienced some disruption to your company, such as remote work, layoffs or furloughs, and technology failures. And more recently, the struggle to find the right “return to work” strategy.
Leaders are now contemplating how to rebuild company culture to allow team members to feel safe, supported, and excited to get back to work. While culture took a backseat during the pandemic as many companies struggled to survive, it should be top of mind as the world starts to reopen.
One positive thing to come from the past year of tragedy and disruption is that COVID-19 opened our eyes to new ways of working and brought forth some critical questions for business leaders to consider:
- What can we do differently to adapt to this “new normal”?
- How can we best take care of our people?
- What is our purpose, and how can we re-establish trust?
The pandemic has made perks like working remotely or having a hybrid model more common. In fact, these conditions are more like table stakes now than they are perks. And with the transition to remote work, millions of Americans decided to pack up and move. In fact, according to a CNBC article, 31% of young adults moved permanently to be closer to friends and family or to find a more affordable living.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for organizations when planning a return to work. However, having flexibility and empathy for people’s needs is crucial during this time. While some team members may find that they are more productive in an office setting, some are still without childcare and need to be at home to take care of family. Or, they just want the option to come into the office as they wish.
Letting employees know that their needs are heard is important. Flexibility is key to retaining employees and attracting new ones.
Take care of your people
Employees are looking to organizations for more than just a paycheck and health insurance. They want safety and support, and an organization that provides growth opportunities. This can be achieved by offering coaching and training, implementing policies around work-life balance, and flexible work schedules.
Here are some benefits to consider:
1. Additional paid time off
This year was the year of burnout. While most people aren’t traveling like they used to, the need for personal days is critical for self-care. It may sound contradictory, but paid time off can boost engagement. In fact, Harvard Business Review stated that 94% of planned vacations do wonders for someone’s energy and outlook when they get back to work.
2. Flexible work schedules
Work-life balance was a hot topic this year. Many employees are homeschooling their kids, taking their family members to doctor appointments, or just trying to find time for their own needs. It’s no wonder there is demand for a flexible schedule.
3. Coaching and training
The need for upskilling has drastically increased during the pandemic. While the world went remote and layoffs and furloughs were common, employees were forced to take on additional work seemingly overnight, often outside their area of training and expertise. Not surprisingly, the need for training and coaching emerged.
4. Keep purpose at the core
Leaders not only need to be resilient in times of crises — and after — but they must also have the courage to take action and lead their companies in the right direction. A company without a North star — its purpose — can quickly lose its way. Every decision a leader makes should be analyzed against the organization’s values.
5. Empathetic communication
Empathy in the workplace strengthens connections and makes work feel more “human.” We’ve all had a personal situation that impacted our ability to work, and in 2020, I don’t think anyone was spared from disruption. Therefore, we all know that a little empathy goes a long way.
Summing it up
The 20 months have been hard. And while there are still challenges ahead, there are even more opportunities to bring your workforce closer together despite being far apart. There is no better time for leaders to ask themselves what is best for their employees and clients. And there is no better time to create a positive work environment by allowing employees to have a say on what they want their work experience to look like.
A strong culture sets the foundation for everything an organization does, and it must be worked on continuously. Leaders need to be empathetic, provide flexibility, continually recognize individuals for living the company purpose, and most importantly, lead by example.
Authors Note: A version of this article originally appeared in Benefits Pro.