By Andrea Goodkin

The pandemic has opened the door to transformative change for the U.S. workforce. Employers need to think about maintaining momentum to keep things moving forward. Here’s what to consider as you shape your culture and workforce of the future:

1. Engagement signals a strong culture – and it trended up

One unexpected outcome of the pandemic has been an increase in employee engagement. In late April, 2020, research showed that 84% of companies said engagement was up and 83% said their employee experience was better. McKinsey & Company recently shared that employees are four times more likely to be engaged and six times more likely to report a positive state of well-being, if their organizations responded well to the crisis. That’s worth cultivating when you consider the role of an engaged workforce in driving a strong culture, which in turn is more likely to drive business performance.

Several forces will help continue to push engagement:

  • The necessary changes to the way employees perform their work has forced an organizational transformation that’s put workers front and center, with an emphasis on resourcefulness and well-being. Look to increased investment in human resource and talent programs, which will help to reshape onboarding and recruiting, development and performance management.    
  • Trust in leadership has increased, because they’ve stepped up. But to keep employees engaged and focused on business priorities will take a continuing evolution in leadership.
  • In continuing to adapt to the crisis, organizations should seek to address the most critical needs of the workforce such as safety and security, relationships, culture, and purpose.

2. The greatest learning opportunity ever?

The pandemic has, out of a necessity, opened the door to a whole new environment for learning and not a moment too soon as fewer than four in ten employees are very confident they will be able to meet the requirements of their job successfully should the outbreak continue. Alternative training strategies should be developed now, via integrated virtual platforms and using blended approaches, like peer-to-peer learning to encourage collaboration.

Right now, employees need ongoing support and feedback, and the emotional stressors of today’s environment mean “coaches” may be more needed here than “bosses.” Strategies might also be informed by Gallup research indicating a future behavioral skills gap in building relationships, leading change, communicating clearly and creating accountability. Above all, as they select training content, organizations should keep in mind that now’s the time to work on topics that really matter and share new ideas.

3. Rethink performance expectations as teams take on more autonomy

With home and work still united under one roof, the power of collective thinking through teams has accelerated as a necessity. It’s enabling employees to listen, talk, work and help each other – and to connect more than ever before given the higher values placed on relationships.  

This will encourage a different understanding of performance, especially when outputs will take precedence over face time and the basis of metrics will be what gets done well and the work’s value. That will require clearly articulated, outcome-driven expectations and performance metrics. Similarly, employee motivation will require modeling and measurements. Leaders should beware of performance management pitfalls in this new environment, whether it’s thinking longer workdays trump more productive ones or misunderstanding the use of technology.

And finally, the pandemic has been a critical test for remote work. Management should be considering future investments as it proves out as a flexible and agile operational model. Ultimately, the challenge will be aligning business goals to the new cultural standard.

4. Successful recruiting when unemployment has jumped into double digits

The pandemic left millions unemployed, some organizations hiring and others not. It’s forced a diametric change in how recruitment and onboarding are managed. There’s a big need for highly skilled remote workers. But there’s also an extraordinarily high number of applicants for every open requisition. It’s going to take recruiting teams to get the job done, supported by tracking systems managing the volume and flow of candidates. It’s essential for hiring managers to sharpen their preparedness so that candidates know what to expect in the job as well as the organization’s pandemic-related protocols.

5. Pandemic begs the question: why do in person what we can do online?

Moving forward, the issue is whether technology will help or hinder momentum. Poorly performing technology or technology departments will hold the organization back. The goal is to get to the cutting edge of remote working and better anticipate the next inevitable disruption. Sharpening this edge also will enable employers to advance and improve their digital recruitment and onboarding, and monitor and respond to workforce’s engagement, productivity and well-being.

For all the pain the pandemic has caused, it has also created potential for transformative organizational change. And the process has only just begun.

HUB International’s Human Resources Consulting professionals offer employers a comprehensive range of human resource strategy and support services in such areas as, human capital management, total rewards and HR technology. 

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