Post-COVID Workplace Requires New Social Contract

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Fabio Principe

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the biggest overhaul of work since the Industrial Revolution. Almost overnight, the corporate world has transitioned to a de facto Work from Home (WFH) workforce. This is more than a shift in where work is done; it’s a massive workplace reboot.

As the CEO of a software company that’s been helping companies transition to a WFH business model for the past 10 years, I am often asked what the key ingredient is to make the remote workforce work.

The answer? Empowerment. It’s the key element that enables both employers and employees to confidently lead. Empowerment on both sides of the employer-employee equation creates a balance and ensures that workplace expectations are fulfilled on both sides.

For employers, this feeling of empowerment is the ability to navigate, shift and pivot to fine tune operations to match the organizations’ work capacity and talent base with the work volume and business requirements. And for employees, it’s having the right tools, processes, collaboration and leadership in place to enable them to contribute and feel a sense of satisfaction in their work life.

However, in the midst of scrambling to navigate the realities of COVID-19, we’ve thrown ourselves into the new WFH environment with each side promising to do “the best we can” and to “figure it out as we go.”

Now that we’ve gone through the initial adjustment phase, I would argue that we’re at a point now where we need to architect and clearly communicate a new social work contract. Because without a shared vision of expectations, neither employer nor employee can feel empowered.

New management models emerge

Employees can feel adrift in the new remote workplace. Workers need clarity on expectations and priorities; employers need accountability. The way to ensure both is to provide a digital workplace with the appropriate structure and guardrails so that employees have a clear understanding of work priorities and expectations. Equipping employees with the right tools to support productivity and engagement is every employers’ responsibility to ensure employees can succeed moving forward in the remote workforce.

How confident are your employees in their ability to succeed in the digital workplace? If you’re not sure, you should ask them. HR and IT leaders can team together to do a gap analysis to understand employee needs and requirements in this area so digital tools and resources can be deployed where needed. Analytics capabilities can also assist in revealing bottlenecks and even instances of workforce reallocations.

Being #alonetogether in the digital workplace shouldn’t mean employees are left devoid of coaching, mentoring, training and guidance. Employees require self-motivation and the ability to thrive on one’s own. However, a solid closed loop employee feedback framework is critical so if an employee struggles, management can bring the proper training, resources and support to their aid.

In a world where “management by walking around” is no longer possible, having the means to manage work in the remote organization is essential. Quantifying work activity can help businesses ensure continuity, productivity, and management effectiveness.

But while the need for work performance visibility and activity is real, so too is employees’ right to privacy. Savage employee surveillance via intrusive tactics such as screen scraping, keystroke capture, personally identifiable information (PII) sharing, or location tracking has no place in the progressive workplace. No one wants to feel as if they are under the watchful guise of a nanny cam at work. This perceived invasion of privacy can breed resentment — the antithesis of a productive values-based workplace.

Remote workplace wellness concerns

Working from home can be an hour-by-hour, day-by-day soliloquy when there is no office feedback loop garnered from personal interactions.

While the supervisor’s office or HR department may no longer be down the hall, the door should still be open for employee feedback. Employees need a dedicated digital channel to let their supervisors know if they are frustrated, or overwhelmed, or having other issues. Given the additional stresses employees are facing given shelter-in-place orders, keeping a pulse on employees’ mental wellness is critical.

Many employees are devoting the time they normally spend commuting to and from work to the execution of work itself. Our own data from over 200,000 remote workforce employees shows that the average employee has gained 30 additional minutes of productive work time each day since early March. Reallocating transit time to dedicate to work may be ok, but not having the separation of a physical office location can make it way too easy to be online working all the time. Over the long-term, this can have diminished returns in creativity and productivity.

Employers need to be vigilant about ensuring employees don’t fall into always-on never-ending Work from Home habits. Managers have an important role to play in ensuring employees “pump the brakes,” lest they burn out.

Are you primed for a progressive workplace pivot?

In these unprecedented times, business leaders need to embrace the opportunity to pivot to a more progressive workplace that allows everyone to succeed in the distributed workplace. We are now free to look beyond the corporate campus curtain and redraw the rules of work, to establish a clear vision of shared expectations that embolden a new sense of workplace empowerment.

Brad Killinger, chief executive officer of Sapience Analytics, a knowledge workforce analytics vendor used by over 200,000 users in over 90 enterprises across 18 countries, authored this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HR&DigitalTrends. Photo credit: iStockphoto/Fabio Principe