We keep hearing that the world of work will look vastly different post-pandemic, but any change will need HR teams to be bold and forward-thinking for their organisations.
In June, our HR Lunchtime Debate with Culture Amp asked a panel of people professionals how businesses can best prepare for the cultural change we now all face. With a finger on the pulse of employees’ sentiments, HR is well positioned to help business leaders decide how they want their organisation to look.
But will leaders take note of the past 18 months and adapt working structures to create a workplace that works for all? Or will they stick to what they know and revert to the traditional nine-to-five in the office?
Employees who feel heard and understood tend to be more engaged, which makes a compelling case for making organisations human-centric, yet it still isn’t the norm.
Melissa Paris, EMEA lead for the people science team at Culture Amp, said focusing on financial figures is the biggest barrier to leaders putting their people at the heart of all decisions.
She said: “Historically, data is the first point of call when organisations have to make important business decisions. Business metrics, money and sales numbers are all looked at before employee needs.”
Although it poses a significant barrier to many businesses listening to their employees and offering them flexible ways of working, Paris said she thinks this is now an old-fashioned way of thinking.
“We’ve now reached a point where businesses have realised that if the focus is put on its people, then good business metrics will follow.
“Focusing on people and culture is the best way to achieve financial success. Your people are your best assets,” she explained.
Listen to lived experience
Carol Frost, chief people officer at Metro Bank, said her business has a long history of putting its people at the heart of the business.
“We have a strong belief that happy people create happy customers, so we listen to and understand our staff as best as we possibly can,” said Frost.
“During the pandemic, we’ve of course carried out engagement surveys and focus groups, but we’ve also shifted focus to our employee networks.”
The pandemic affected different groups of people in different ways, she explained, and employee networks were the best solution to these new issues, as employees were able to speak to like-minded people with similar life experiences.
“Our LGBT+, parent networks, diversity networks and more have all seen a rise in interaction because, as leaders, we can’t understand every individuals’ experiences and these networks provide the perfect environment for our employees to work through them together.”
Frost said listening to employees’ lived experience will help HR teams create workplaces that can offer more inclusive support for people during different times in their lives.
“What people teams should do post-pandemic to ensure the workplace is fit for all is fine tune their listening to understand what employees really need, not just what they think they need,” she said.
Jo North, head of HR, people and engagement at Giffgaff, agreed with Frost and said business leaders need to apply empathy now more than ever when making decisions that will affect their staff.
“At Giffgaff, community is at the centre of our ethos and we foster a culture of trust. It’s only when you have trust that people feel they can open up and tell you how they’re feeling and, in turn, how they want to work,” she said.
North said Giffgaff’s people team continued activities such as after-hour socials to keep the lines of communication open during the pandemic and to ensure trust was still a fundamental component of the businesses’ approach to work.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the office or at home, the entire team needs to feel secure and safe enough to voice any issues with the leadership team, as that’s how we [HR] can create the best work environment possible,” she added.
Be brave and bold
Emma Leonis, executive director for HR transformation at LACE Partners, said leaders have had to make some decisions over the past year that have left some employees feeling like they have been treated unfairly.
“There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to designing a human-centric workplace, and there never has been, especially pre-pandemic.
“Businesses have instead strived for consistency, as it is the right thing to do for costs, schedules, etc, and overall, it was fair.”
However, to really engage individuals, Leonis said you have to do what’s right for them.
She said: “Leaders have to be brave and honest, and admit to staff there’s no precedent and they have to trial new ways of working. Some may not work and some might, but they have to be tested to know for sure.”
North argued that work does not need to be done in either an office or at home – it can be done anywhere.
She said: “We’ve been having conversations with our people about how they want to work, encouraging them to be honest so that they can work in a way that best suits them, but so we can also plan for collaboration days.
“It’s still important to have team members collaborate with one another, so we need to plan strategically and mindfully.”
Frost explained that throughout, as well as beyond, the pandemic, it’s important to be mindful of the impact tough leadership decisions can have on employees.
“When it comes down to it, we as leaders cannot decide what will be most beneficial for every individual, but we can empower them to make those decisions.
“We live and work in a world with strong hierarchy and rules, and we tend to apply the same rules in different places.”
The pandemic has made society challenge these tendencies, said Frost, and now HR teams must work to create better balance in the workplace.
“Work environments need to work for everyone, and no two people have the same lived experience,” she said.
“Now is the time to change mindsets and make long-lasting changes to the way we work.”
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This piece appears in the July/August 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.