Newton’s law of inertia explains the tendency of objects to continue in their current state. For decades, the way the workplace operates remained fundamentally unchanged. It remained business-centric, functional, physical, efficient. Then, in one fell swoop, everything changed. The physical environment, how people communicate and collaborate, where leaders spend their time, and how we find, recruit, engage, train, and evaluate people. What started as a mad scramble for business continuity is now here to stay.
A hybrid work environment presents its own set of challenges and opportunities for individuals, businesses, and leaders. So far, leaders have been focused on workflows, processes, policies, and taxonomy. The pandemic’s fallout laid bare the inequalities of the workplace and provided the opportunity for a more human-centric approach. This blog explores what leaders need to focus on as they move into the new paradigm.
In a 2021 survey by EY, 9 in 10 employees feel that empathetic leadership inspires positive changes in the workplace, while 85% report that empathetic leadership increases productivity. However, in the same survey, nearly half (46%) of the respondents feel that their employer’s efforts to be empathetic are dishonest, while 4 in 10 feel the employer does not follow up and deliver on what they promise. Pandemic has brought empathy into sharp relief by laying out inequalities and laying bare our vulnerability, grief, and struggles. Now, more than ever, when we can no longer take physical proximity for granted, leaders are left with the question of how best to understand needs, frustrations, challenges, and aspirations of talent and direct their efforts to resources accordingly. Some actions which can help create a supportive, collaborative environment require a shift in mindset and a soft touch.
- Conversations: Candid, open, frequent, one-on-one conversations
- More personal: Experience sharing around both professional and personal fronts
- Health primacy: Vocal advocacy of holistic well-being and effective assistance programs to walk the talk
- Involvement: Additional democratization of ideas, insights, innovation. Create with people, not just for people
- “Whole person” approach: Responsiveness to facts, feelings, and emotions – negative or positive – and willingness to have tough conversations and work towards solutions
As Atticus Finch states: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”. Businesses are transforming and pivoting to the new ways of working, and empathy must be a leaders’ highest priority to foster innovation, boost productivity, inspire growth, and enhance resilience.
All of us constantly strive for a balance, an equilibrium, whether between the personal and professional, or head and heart, present and future, or myriad others. These have traditionally been personal choices. Hybrid work environments, though, have nudged leaders and organizations into the equation as well. Essentially, more permutations and choices mean organizational priorities, employee preferences, and cultural factors all play a part in policy and strategy. While each organization is unique as to these parameters, acknowledging some of these, often competing, choices can help leaders strategize better.
- Availability: Without the physical act of leaving office, and thus work, comes the expectation, deliberate or not, that the ideal employee should be constantly available. Leaders may need to reinforce the balance between a more flexible work schedule and the pressure to be always on. Mandating offline hours, limiting after-hours emails and meetings, and other initiatives to lower the expectation of constant availability can prevent possible burnouts.
- Privacy: We crave connections and shared experiences. The isolation created due to the lack of a shared working environment left many emotionally exhausted. Technology stepped in, with video conferencing and virtual collaboration environments connecting us again. In the process though, spaces that were formerly safe and private became visible to colleagues, customers, managers. Leaders need to protect employees’ privacy, at the same time encouraging connections and interactions. Common video conferencing backgrounds, audio-only meets, scheduled social chatter time within teams can all go a long way in dispelling loneliness while protecting privacy.
- Recognition: Studies have shown that while employee-friendly, flexibility-promoting policies have been around a long time, employees are often penalized if they take advantage of such arrangements. Conversely, those working long hours and being constantly available are perceived as more committed and rewarded. Leaders may need to set personal examples in such cases by taking advantage of such arrangements and acknowledging and addressing these biases wherever they exist.
- Inclusivity: Work arrangements don’t work the same for everyone. Age, gender, race, stage of life all play a part in how we structure our work life, family life, and juggle our responsibilities. Traditionally, for example, women have struggled with visibility and progression when taking advantage of work-from-home arrangements. Women have also borne the brunt when essentials like childcare were unavailable owing to the pandemic. New norms, support structures, and networks are needed for an inclusive hybrid work environment.
Some experimentation, trade-offs, blue-sky thinking will be required by leaders to ensure the well-being and maintain the enhanced productivity that hybrid working environment promises. Acknowledging areas that need balancing is a good first step.
Flexibility and experience
Workflows, processes, and tasks which cross arbitrary organization boundaries have always presented a challenge in crafting impactful experiences. Hybrid working has fundamentally shifted touchpoints and placed the onus on organizations and leaders to craft exceptional experiences. Flexibility, opportunity, access, and experience go hand-in-hand.
- Different strokes: 40% of a survey’s 16000-odd respondents across 16 countries want flexibility where they work. 54% when they work. 22% want a return to office full time, while 1 in 3 would want a short workweek. Flexible arrangements mean different things to different people, and the ability of leaders to shape and fulfill these aspirations will be key to an effective hybrid working arrangement.
- Visibility: Physical, coffee machine networks are now less effective at providing access to information, scuttlebutt, opportunities, et al. Can leaders find a way to share relevant and timely information and opportunities within the organization?
- Safety: Where to draw the line between workplace and customer safety and freedom of choice for individuals? How leaders improve ability and agility in responding to safety incidents while encouraging responsible choices will be an important decision point in promoting an open and supportive culture.
- Journeys: How can friction be taken away from everyday workflows like onboarding a new team member, setting up home office infrastructure, rewarding high performers, and accessing opportunities?
How we deliver on the promise of flexibility while crafting memorable experiences is the only way around the Great Resignation, and how leaders can retain high-performing individuals and teams.
Technology is a great enabler for hybrid working. It must deliver on:
- Presence: Ability to communicate, access support, deliver services & information through multiple channels in natural, context-aware language
- Visibility: Provide a view to individual AND to leaders on talent pools, opportunities, metrics, skill sets, process health, and more with the ability to dig deeper
- Security: Secure sensitive data and monitor access to prevent misuse and comply with regulations. At the same time, promote accessibility and real-time availability of up to date information
- Personalized journeys: Craft meaningful journeys not only for the most commonly used workflows but also for more tailored ones. Did you have a baby? Want to submit a product idea? Or find a shared workspace at the office? Step by step guidance, across department, function, application boundaries would boost productivity for individuals, engagement for leaders, and agility for organizations
- Predictions: Leverage the past to predict the future- which of my high performers are at the risk of leaving, how will progression or compensation change impact performance, how will the org restructure impact expenses
- Conversation: Provide a platform for frequent planned and ad hoc connects and conversations with action items, tasks and metrics to ensure continuous conversations, feedback, and accountability
- Health and safety: Ability to quickly record, respond to, track, and report on safety incidents within the workplace and the workforce
- Community: Find and organize to get together in groups of shared interests to learn, volunteer, get fit, innovate and contribute
- Learning: Online, virtual, on-the-go, diverse, bite-sized learning and visibility for leaders to not only provide an opportunity for reskilling but also the opportunity to match the newly acquired skill with organization needs
Technology, which is intuitive, easily accessible, and relevant is the need of the hour.
As leaders gear up to adapt to the hybrid workplace and lead their teams & organizations to a glorious future, they must once again go back to first principles and put humans, connections and conversations at the center of all they do, regardless of leadership style. Acknowledging and accounting for the unique opportunities that are presented by the hybrid workplace will start them off in the right direction.
A note on HCL and Oracle HCM Cloud
Oracle HCM Cloud fits the bill to the T for making work more human. It enables leaders by connecting the organization with one class-leading, cross-functional solution- from a comprehensive HR solution to a full suite of applications for the entire business-- all within one place. It puts employee experience as the center, providing solutions that cultivate your talent-- with guided experiences, continuous 360-degree feedback, AI recommendations, and access to learning and career opportunities. Oracle HCM also provides leaders a configurable platform to turn vision into reality, create, design, and extend experiences specifically tailored to the ever-changing needs of people and organizations.
HCL and Oracle HCM Cloud solutions can help leaders and organizations be ready for this shift wherever they are on their HCM journey. HCL delivered the first-ever Oracle HCM Cloud engagements in both USA and India, has field-tested expertise and a stated promise of reframing the future- leveraging XaaS, AI/ML, IoT, everything-in-the-cloud vision for our customers. Numerous Cloud engagements and specialization in Oracle ERP, HCM, SCM & EPM cloud is a testament to our expertise. Our HCM in a Pod offering is designed for organizations to accelerate HR modernization with a self-contained, quick start, fixed scope, and price packages built-in with best practices utilizing the Oracle HCM Cloud platform.
As we navigate through this massive disruption, with the changes in ways our customers do business, we can help you by converging HR strategy, leveraging technology, embracing innovations to build a resilient, agile organization.