By Catherine Kampa, People Science Lead MENAT
As COVID-19 continues to spread around the globe, government regulations are in place to slow down the infection curve and lessen the impacts on the society. Many of these regulations have completely transformed the way businesses are operating with remote working being the new norm in many markets, including across the GCC. As a result, a plethora of challenges has arisen from technical and operational difficulties to internal workforce management, all of which pose risks to business continuity. Technical and operational impediments can often be overcome swiftly with many solutions being made available to businesses, however, perhaps one of the biggest challenges today’s business leaders are facing is how to keep the workforce sentiment positive and motivated amid uncertainty of their respective industries and jobs. While it is clear how this will affect current business operations, in the long-term, how employers manage the employee experience through this difficult time will also set a foundation for long-lasting professional relationships with highly motivated and loyal employees post-crisis.
In the middle of a global pandemic, front-line employees are naturally facing high levels of anxiety for their wellbeing and of their families, which may hinder productivity levels. Between remote work, crisis response meetings, and new work-life balance challenges, managers are facing difficulty in being present and connected to their teams. But communication, clarity, and connection are critical needs right now. If employees experience a communication gap, they may fabricate an inaccurate narrative about internal and external problems and priorities. Now is the time to communicate clearly and frequently about where the organization is going and how it will get there. It is also the time to fully comprehend how the workforce is feeling, what their concerns are, and what support they need right now. The key topics that must be addressed are:
1. Safety: To what extent does the workforce feel physically, mentally, and financially secure right now?
2. Community: Do employees feel they have the information, social support, and sense of connection they need to focus on work?
3. Performance: How is this pandemic affecting work routines, decision-making, collaboration, and organizational effectiveness?
4. Change: How does the organization need to adapt and evolve during and after this pandemic?
As the situation persists, the responses to these questions will continuously evolve. Moreover, reactions, sentiment and challenges will differ from one employee to another with varying intensities. For instance, some may be finding difficulty managing increased workloads, while others may be facing technical difficulties and others still may be struggling to focus with distractions at home. On another level, some employees may find difficulty concentrating at work while consumed with worry about vulnerable family members. Managers must be aware of where their teams stand at any given point to be able to navigate these obstacles through training, mental coaching, general advice, IT support or more flexible working hours. To do this, lines of communication must remain open and team members must be regularly encouraged to share their feelings and challenges. This continuous listening approach can be done with regular pulsing surveys, digital focus groups and informal discussions.
However, the emphasis on the employee experience must not be limited to line managers. To build a resilient workforce that will be capable of coming out of the crisis stronger and more committed to their companies, empathy and support must be demonstrated through all levels of the organization: starting from the very top. Business leaders are also responsible for being in tune with workforce sentiment and needs and they must be able to respond to these swiftly as appropriate. This may involve finding alternative technical solutions or being open to more flexible working policies on a company level. They must also work closely with line managers to identify common concerns, find ways to navigate these and ensure a tailored employee experience. Furthermore, the new working environment and industry trends might also force business leaders to rethink how to better utilize their talent to facilitate professional development and business continuity. For example, skills can be transferred to a new line of business that is more relevant to the new market reality, or new skills can be acquired to support the business change direction.
While COVID-19 has certainly created many unanticipated challenges for businesses, it has also presented a unique opportunity to come out of the crisis with a stronger and more committed workforce ready to drive business activity at full speed post-crisis. Meaningful communication, supportive management, trust in leadership, a positive work environment and growth opportunity will all contribute to a positive employee experience. This will result in higher levels of engagement, productivity and involvement from employees. In fact, companies that invest in employee experiences will outperform those that don’t and will recover faster from the impact of this outbreak. However, to reap these benefits, investment in time and resources to support employees and the wider community will be necessary.