Next Normal in the Workplace

The Covid -19 pandemic is still ravaging nations globally, and there is no clear evidence, or signs that it will abate soon.

Human kind, therefore, has to adapt as the next normal obligates all of us to heal the world through our collective efforts.

The world has been disrupted, and ample evidence of the pandemic’s impact on business has been remote working; the dislocation of people that occurred at virtually (pun intended) every company.

Spurred on by their experience during the Covid-19, governments are responding to the pandemic.

A vaccine has been found and wealthier nations will always take the first mover advantage, while Africa for all its sins and plagued by governance challenges will lag behind.

As a next normal emerges over our human horizon, the definition of what it means to lead others will evolve.

Human leadership, emotional intelligence, social skills and a redefinition of performance will take centre stage.

However, at the forefront of the global business recovery are people. So, in essence the novel coronavirus is not entirely a health challenge, but it has morphed into a human crisis.

It is the people who will accelerate the global business recovery. It, thus, becomes necessary that companies must develop bonds with their employees.

Holistic and human-centred actions

For employers, it is all hands-on deck to deal with this crisis, and we have to elevate the people-agenda by rolling out new ways of working, including home-working. In this vein, leadership has to trust employees to be productive. Regular check-ins must be mandatory.

The need for holistic thinking and human-centred leadership is never greater than at times of crisis. Those in leadership positions should be spending sleepless nights on:

How to support people more

How to re-purpose the jobs so that everyone has meaningful work

How to co-create solutions and proactive actions with their teams

How to leverage resources at their disposal (including technology) to maintain a healthy connection with staff.

The link between employee experience (EX) and customer experience (CX) should be understood. This outbreak is showing the huge experience gaps that have opened-up between companies that have or have not focused on their people as a priority.

The economic impact cannot be understated. Those companies that have re-purposed, re-tooled and up-skilled employees will harvest a better competitive advantage.

There is a need for leveraging on technology, re-skilling and redeploying of hundreds of employees from advisory jobs to customer experience roles.

The biggest challenge to the next normal is what happens to the majority of workers who cannot work from home.

Organisations have to morph into hybrid structures that accommodate those staff members, who may not work from home, and other roles like front-line workers and factory staff, who will be required at the coal face.

This presents another challenge and companies have to adapt.

Meetings will now be held virtually for workers in an office, and those working from home. They should not be treated differently.

Thus, more and more needs to be invested in emotional intelligence, social skills, trust and flexibility in order to manage effectively in a hybrid structure.

The future of work is bright and blended.

Companies with an enduring learning culture will emerge stronger, and as industries continue to pivot, new skills will become more and more relevant.

Remote working will inevitably raise the bar of expectations for many hiring managers as the search for knowledgeable workers will no longer be confined to the local community, but the global village.

Companies will harness the access to global talent pool, notwithstanding language barriers.

The combination of independent contractors (gig workers) accelerated by digital evolution, thanks to Covid-19 and the traditional full time employment will prove to be the greatest disruptor to the employer and employee relationship post-coronavirus. It is acknowledged that gig workers, powered by virtual work, have increasingly become pervasive across industries and Covid-19 accelerated it.

Drucker (2000) posited that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”; but what begs the question now is how do companies build an enduring and authentic culture with a highly dispersed and hybrid structure. Covid-19 has taught leadership the ever importance of trust and flexibility in the way they handle their staff.

The coronavirus pandemic’s office exodus risks diminishing company culture unless leaders take action to support it. Culture is the holistic and somewhat mysterious force that guides actions and interactions in the workplace.

Despite a company’s best efforts to capture culture in words, such as the stated values or commitments posted on the wall, there has to be a lived experience.

A time of disruption presents an opportunity to remind employees of aspects of an organisation’s past — founding ideals, stories, and commitments — that have shaped both its culture (how we get work done and think about our work), and are central to its identity (who we are as a company). Building up these core elements of culture can remind employees of an organisation’s strengths and help them navigate tough times.

In today’s world of abundant online collaboration tools, there is often no substitute for co-presence when communication, problem-solving, and creativity are called for.

In part, this is because as humans, we make sense of the world and our interactions through our body language, emotions, and embodied experiences, all of which are much different in a virtual world.

The potential costs of remote work are real, and worker burnout is one of them.

Employers must continue to develop programmes and policies that are employee centred and engender an empathetic culture grounded on employee wellness.

Employee clinics have been commissioned by NSSA, and other companies may also be challenged by this noble idea.

Business must reinforce the people-agenda.

This crisis is all about people and experiences.

It is about creating and maintaining connections. It is about caring for and demonstrating a deep commitment to people. Interestingly, at times of crisis, the best and worst of humanity come out, as well as the destructive power of fear and selfishness.

In the long-run, businesses that uphold their true values during a crisis will come out stronger, richer, and healthier as a result.

A caring, decisive, and proactive approach from employers is required.

Milton Nyamadzawo is a former Mwana Africa Football Club team manager and a human resources chief advisor to a leading global book publishing company. He writes in his personal capacity, and can be contacted on [email protected]

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