Supporting performance in the post-COVID workplace

We may still be a little shaky on exactly what the ‘new normal’ will actually look like other than it probably will include more remote working.

But crucially how can organisations plan for the best for productivity and performance is up for debate. How will organisations support leaders and managers to help encourage, manage and motivate their teams? One thing is for sure the pandemic has certainly caused significant workplace disruption that will be felt by many employers and employees for months to come.

Has enforced work from home worked?

When the pandemic hit organisations were forced to make significant changes to the way their workforce operated. From protecting their employees through COVID safe health and safety adaptations, to protecting their business through wage freezes, cuts, furloughing staff or sadly redundancy. But one of the most significant changes was the government enforced work from home government.

Some organisations had already partially been using flexible or work from home initiatives, so were in a position to adopt WFH quickly. Others struggled to adapt, both business wise and in a practical logistical sense. What were the results?

A CIPD report, published last year “Embedding new ways of working – implications for the post pandemic workplace” gave some useful pointers on the challenges and benefits of homeworking.

Employees had a very mixed experience. Some relished the chance of enjoying a better work-life balance (61% of those polled) and the ability to focus with less distractions (38%) and commute time.

For others working from home inflicted additional stressors such as fitting in home schooling, finding a suitable ‘home office’ space to work and grappling with unfamiliar technology. Many found the isolation, job uncertainty and understandable health worries took an inordinate toll on their mental health and wellbeing. 47% of the organisations polled citing reduced mental wellbeing amongst employees.

The impacts on managing staff during the crisis and monitoring performance were also seen as a big challenge including concerns regarding:

  • Reduced staff interaction and co-operation – 36%
  • Effective line management of home-based workers – 33%
  • Monitoring of staff performance – 28%
  • Staff motivation and engagement – 21%
  • Lack of or outdated tech – 25% not enough laptops or computers and 23% outdated technology

Working from home – the hybrid model

The CIPD survey found that before the lockdown, the UK had a relatively high level of occasional working at home compared with the EU average, at 18% of the workforce. But those employees who worked mostly at home were relatively rare, at just over 2%,according to Eurostat. There has been a major increase in home working over the course of the pandemic, with on average employers estimated 54% of the workforce was working continuously at home.

According to the survey data, working from home on a regular basis is expected to rise to 37% of the workforce on average, roughly double the pre-crisis incidence average of 18%. Employers on average expect 22% of their workforce will be working all the time at home after the crisis compared with just 9% before. Many employers look set to jump from a modest share (or no working from home at all) to much more extensive working from home on a regular basis – a more hybrid model. Before the crisis, just 15% of employers said that more than half their workforce worked regularly at home, but after the crisis some 40% of employers said they expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home.

What are the impacts of WFH on performance?

The way employees work has been dramatically disrupted during the pandemic. And the challenges for employers have been equally demanding. Organisations have had to find new ways to keep their employees, teams and leaders motivated, engaged and productive whilst often being physically separated. It has been a huge challenge during the pandemic but how will this translate for organisations as we all come out the other side of the crisis?

What do organisations need to think about and put in place to restore employees trust and wellbeing, and boost engagement and protect performance post -pandemic?

Cultivate open communications

Workplaces with open communication and support from managers, leaders, HR and internal communications is a prerequisite for building trust, confidence and to ensure employee productivity.

Keep employees connected and engaged

Whatever the future holds for where exactly your ‘workplace’ will be, being ‘connected’ with others will have a huge influence. The pandemic has had a major impact on employees’ personal, social and professional lives. Fears around health and safety, job uncertainty are leading to stress, anxiety and frustration and influence employee morale. Left unmanaged could lead to low productivity, poor quality of work and organisations ability to function effectively.

Focus on health, safety and wellbeing

The spotlight on employee welfare is more obvious than before. Putting extra effort into the things that build trust among employees will keep motivation and moral levels high.

Business continuity plan

What about the next crisis? Being able to trust your employer’s response and ability to tackle a crisis situation is very influential in giving your employees confidence in the business and security of their own position. Having a clear and transparent plan for your response before, during and after a crisis is crucial to build trust and business continuity.

Keep a ‘social’ workplace

Many organisations are having to rethink their cultures and core values and that includes boosting social interaction in their workplaces. COVID has been a big disrupter to friendships, business relationships and social connectedness which has a big impact on performance and morale in work. Organisations need to be sensitive to the fact that many of its employees miss the human connection element that’s a really important part of working. Management needs to actively plan for this to happen, whether that’s in person or remotely.

Listen actively and avoid one way communication

Employees who don’t feel heard are less likely to be motivated and do their jobs successfully. That’s especially true now as many employees may have many concerns and expect employers to show empathy. Regular employee surveys and tech that facilitates two-way communications are helpful to facilitate this. HR and internal communications teams should assist and enable managers in creating effective two way communications.

Support managers in leading remote teams more effectively

Managers need to work harder at communicating with their team members in remote settings, both via formal and informal channels. Some employees may find remote working isolating, while others may thrive in the environment. Being mindful of individuals requirements and tailoring support accordingly will help to protect productivity and engagement.

Set clear targets and expectations for teams and individuals

Performance expectations are still important in a virtual setting, and give the fuel to challenge employees productivity, commitment and motivation. Employees are able to act independently but within confined boundaries. Support with regular communications formally as well as informal chats.