By Vishal Gupta,
COVID-19 has changed the way we work forever. It has led to the next great disruption – remote work – that organisations will have to cope with in a post-pandemic world. While work from home was a possibility for many before COVID stuck us, it has become a reality with which we will have to live for a long time to come. With organisations such as LinkedIn, Google, TCS, and many others announcing that work from home is going to continue for at least this year, it is important that organisations brace themselves to rethink how they will engage and motivate their workforce in a hybrid work environment where only a few people will come to work and the rest (a large proportion) will work from home.
A recent study by Microsoft of 30,000 people across 31 countries has revealed some encouraging as well as some worrying insights about remote work. The encouraging effect is that talent is everywhere. It is no more needed for people to leave their hometowns, cities and migrate to few big cities to work. They can work from anywhere. However, this way of working has some worrying impacts on the workforce. The study revealed that about 67 percent of respondents want more in-person time with their team members, 42 percent say that their employers do not help them with office essentials and one in 10 do not have a stable internet connection. Gen Z (those new to their careers) are struggling and are unable to cope with the isolation that remote work brings, and also do not have proper financials to make proper workplaces at home. Over that, almost 20 percent survey respondents mention that their leaders do not care about their work-life balance, 54 percent feel overworked, and 39 percent feel exhausted. Most alarmingly, it is estimated that about 41 percent of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year, the proportion of Gen Z is even higher (54%), and about 46 percent are planning to make a major shift or transition in their careers.
These results show that organisations need to adopt a thoughtful approach to preparing themselves for the world of hybrid or remote work. The decisions leaders make today is going to impact their organisations in the coming years and a very important aspect of their job is to set the right values of their organisation’s culture. Based on my research with knowledge organisations, I believe the values of learning (L), enjoyment (E), autonomy (A) and performance (P) will be extremely critical in enabling the organisations achieve a LEAP at their business in a post-COVID world. I briefly explain the values and their significance below.
Learning (L): In a world that is changing so fast, leaders must ensure that they promote a learning mindset in their organisations. Employees must not only be asked to work but also be encouraged to learn new skills, technologies, or even new hobbies. Continuous growth and development, both personally as well as professionally, must be encouraged. ‘Learning breaks/offs’ need to be constituted in order fight the boredom and exhaustion that employees feel at work.
Enjoyment (E): When some people are in office and others are working from home, how do we create a workplace that is enjoyable and fun to work? As organisations decide to promote either remote or hybrid work, it is important to also design spaces, activities and events where the team members can come together and bond over things other than work. We are all social animals, we like to talk, gossip, discuss ideas and have fun. Leaders will need to think of ways to create opportunities where employees could have personal interactions in an online (partially online) world and where they may bring and share their whole selves and not just the one that logs into the computer to work. Enjoyment is going to be the antidote for isolation in the new world that we are inhabiting.
Autonomy (A): Freedom to take decisions about when they will work, how they will work and from where they will work is going to be extremely crucial if we would like to have a workplace that will be inclusive and motivational. Leaders will have to be more empathetic towards the needs of their employees and will have to understand that remote work is not easy – especially for women. Working from home has its challenges, ranging from electricity cuts, poor internet connections, and managing children, household and office work at the same time. Organisations must encourage a balance of both synchronous and asynchronous forms of meeting. Everything does not need a live (Zoom, Google meet, etc.) call and a lot of work can be done over mails and shared docs asynchronously. Employees must be given the opportunity to opt out of meetings that are mere informational and such a decision must not be taken as an indicator of their commitment towards work or the organisation.
Performance (P): Performance is sacrosanct and employees must be held accountable for producing results and meeting expectations. However, organisations must also ensure that the learning, enjoyment and autonomy aspects of work culture are emphasized before employees are evaluated for their performance. Such an approach will lead to organisations that are perceived to be more inclusive, considerate and motivating to work in.
The world we live in today is rapidly changing. The way we will work in the future is not yet clear and is continuously evolving. Organisational culture has always had an important role in unlocking the potential of employees, and that role has been amplified during the pandemic. Organisations of today will need to adopt the L-E-A-P model of culture because when learning, enjoyment and autonomy are present in balanced proportion at work, employees will be able to make a ‘leap’ at work by maximising their work efforts and achieving their potential in a hybrid work environment.
(The author is an associate professor at IIM Ahmedabad. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily that of Financial Express Online)