Everyone is talking about the ‘new normal’. But should we really be talking about a better normal?
The way we see it, businesses have two choices as they emerge from lockdown into a corporate landscape that is very different from the one we all knew in 2019.
They can learn from their experiences in lockdown and build a better way of working: one that benefits their employees, their managers, and their businesses.
Or, they can try to hold on to their old ways of working, falling quickly back into old habits and entrenched attitudes.
The choice is theirs. But we strongly feel that this choice is going to be the biggest differentiator between businesses that can adapt and succeed in the coming weeks, months and years, and those that struggle ‘ or even fail.
Here, we explore what a better normal could look like for businesses in the near future ‘ and identify the secret weapon that every business will need to make it happen.
If this was the largest work from home experiment in history, two of its biggest findings were that most employees can work from home, and that rigid ‘9-5’ hours don’t always get the best results from everyone. It wasn’t always easy, but with the right communication, the vast majority of businesses found that flexible working didn’t need to impact on productivity or engagement.
And this was against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Imagine the difference if employees (and their managers) were working flexibly on their own terms?
Now that employees have this experience, it is going to be very difficult to return to rigid workplace attendance and working hours. Flexibility is going to become a key part of the employee experience, and businesses that want to attract and retain the best talent will need to make it part of their offering or lose out to their competitors.
Trust and accountability
There’s nothing like a sudden shift to remote working to highlight issues with trust and accountability. How could managers tell if people were working? Were employees really taking accountability for their work.
But were these issues down to the employee and their work ethic, or the manager and their trust/control issues? Either way, businesses are going to need to continue to confront these problems and develop a long-term solution if they want to build a better normal.
Employees cannot go back to being micro-managed after months of managing their time alone at home. And managers shouldn’t need to go back to looking over shoulders and checking up on teams after switching to a more developmental, people-first leadership role.
As we’ve said before, there’s more to employee experience than pool tables and craft beer on tap ‘ and it’s time that every business recognised that. What good is a cool office if you’re too stressed and overworked to enjoy the perks? Or a vibrant work social life if what you really want is to see your family and friends more?
In a better normal, employee experience will need to be more focussed on personal experience: development, confidence, support, recognition, trust and purpose. Our experience at work should fundamentally boil down to how we feel about our job: do we leave at the end of the day with a good feeling? Or do we feel anxious, bored, or under-appreciated?
Creating an employee experience should become more about conveying the ‘why’ and providing a positive work experience through better management and communication ‘ regardless of whether (or how often) employees are based in the office.
The secret weapon: People-centric management
The businesses that fared the best during lockdown were those who already had a people-centric approach and solid communication throughout the business. They already had a culture of open, honest conversation between managers and their teams, and were able to communicate, adjust and adapt to individual challenges.
But these businesses didn’t just benefit from this approach during a crisis. It has already allowed them to attract and retain the best talent, get the most out of their teams, boost productivity and increase engagement. You can read Gymshark’s case study to find out how people-centric management has had a long-term impact on their brand here.
If you want to build a better normal within your business, people-centric management will be your secret weapon ‘ but you’ll need to make sure that your managers are supported with the right coaching and the right tools to make a difference.