COVID-19 forced every organization on the planet to prioritise employee experience (EX), whether they had ever considered it before or not. Empathetic leadership, flexible working conditions and emotional support all came into play, immediately and universally. The task of keeping employees safe, well and working, rocketed to the top of every employer’s agenda.
Progressive organizations lost a significant amount of their EX advantage overnight. In 2019, Glassdoor cited Worldpay, Telefonica and Thomson Reuters amongst others, as ‘amazingly flexible.’ Most of the accolades relate to working from home or flexible hours, neither of which would differentiate their EX today.
Whilst attrition rates are very low at the moment, when the labour market stabilizes, EX will have a significant impact on talent retention and attraction. Those organizations that are proactive will be able to capitalize on the situation.
There is no silver bullet but at Prophet, we see a new employee experience equation emerging that can help organizations focus their efforts and regain their advantage going forward.
Flexibility is Here to Stay
The flexibility that COVID-19 has forced is irreversible. The pandemic segmented workforces according to parameters we hadn’t seriously considered. From ‘total isolationists’ to ‘contact cravers’ and everywhere in between, the enduring legacy will be flexibility and choice in how and where we work.
We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube – for many employees, it is now possible to work successfully from anywhere and shape whatever mix suits their preference. To compete for the best talent, you need to build flexibility into your operating model permanently and adapt your culture to support hybrid ways of working. From enabling sales teams to meet and sign contracts virtually to setting up a design club that creates forums to get peer feedback on work – the challenges and changes that flexibility drives are endless.
The good news is that flexibility increases your talent pool as recruits aren’t tied to geographical locations. However, the same is true for your talent competitors, increasing the importance of focusing on the employee experience you provide – ensuring that candidates contemplating joining your organization understand that well-being is a business and cultural priority.
Early movers in this space are Twitter and Spotify. Twitter enabled its employees to work from home ‘forever’ and Spotify is adopting a “Work from Anywhere” model, which will allow employees to choose to be in the office full time, be at home or a combination of the two. A word of caution when rolling out a hybrid model, businesses will be at risk of a two-tier workforce, with some colleagues having full flexibility while there will be certain roles that must remain ‘on-site’ – something that could lead to perceived inequalities.
Connection is Your Secret Sauce
Having lost our watercooler moments of social and work-related micro-interactions, the organizations that discover natural and sticky ways to create connections and build internal relationships will emerge stronger.
In the same vein as signature moments for CX, touchpoints for employee experience that connect your people to each other and to your purpose will serve to strengthen your culture, support motivation and keep productivity at a healthy level. Creating collaboration moments and finding new ways to have fun (beyond the Zoom quiz) will help organizations embrace agile working and break down silos. Taking a human-centered and strategic approach to ‘people technology’ is necessary to properly adapt the many tactical apps and solutions that came out of the pandemic.
Connection is not only important at a peer-to-peer level. Increased access to leadership has helped reduce hierarchical barriers. HP created a series of “Connect with Enrique,” talks with CEO Enrique Lores, which enabled connection with 85 percent of staff members in just a few months. “We have learned different ways to communicate to employees and collaborate,” says Tracy Keogh, Chief Human Resources Officer at HP. “I think those have been really positive.”
Wellbeing is Key to Employee Engagement
COVID-19 catapulted emotional and mental wellbeing to the same level of employer responsibility and duty of care as physical health and safety. The legal requirements haven’t caught up yet, but they will. Sustaining this level of care without reducing capacity in the workforce will be a critical balance for businesses to achieve. Flexibility and connection are as central to business growth as is a renewed focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
It will be critical to ensure fairness and equity for all employees to influence and improve the general measure of wellbeing. It’s not difficult to conceive that wellbeing will emerge as a key driver of employee engagement, becoming a leading indicator of growth, CX, revenue and profitability. Unilever, for instance, found that they get a $2.50 return for every $1.00 invested in employee wellbeing.
Turning the Employee Experience Equation to Your Advantage
The EX equation will not be solved in one move. This is a continuous journey and the trick is to run at two speeds – taking a proactive, long-term approach to EX whilst starting now with some symbolic, signature moves to signal your intent to your workforce. To cover both the near and far horizons, we recommend three simple things to get started:
- Get OD professionals, IT, creatives and service designers together to reimagine connectivity and create meaningful and sustainable connection moments.
- Prepare leadership for their role in the ‘new normal,’ agreeing that as EX continues to evolve, there will be more adjustments to the operating model and changes in responsibilities of the leadership team.
- Start a boardroom conversation that puts emotional and physical wellbeing as a key pillar of your people strategy, to be measured and improved as a key business indicator.
As Ben Whitter of the World Employee Experience Institute says, “We want people to be at their best and deliver their best work. Any option or choice that helps with that is in scope.”