6 Ways Employee Experience Is Better Since the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic transformed business practices and forced companies to reconsider how they relate to customers and employees. Although it is easy to focus on the negative repercussions of the pandemic, in many ways it has improved the employee experience.
Here are six ways that employee experience has been positively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis:
Remote Work Became Normal
The trend towards the remote and distributed workforce is not new, nor is it strictly a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A Global Workplace Analytics report revealed that the number of people who work remotely has increased 173% since 2005. The increase is expected to continue, according to a March 2020 Gallup survey that indicated that 74% of CFOs plan to transition more onsite employees to remote workspaces permanently after the pandemic ends.
A June 2020 Stanford report revealed that 42% of the U.S. labor force is working from home, and predictions that this remote workforce would bring reduced productivity and engagement have largely been proven false. In fact, a March 2020 McKinsey report on employee experience indicated that employees working remotely see more positive effects on their daily work, feel more engaged, and have a stronger sense of well-being than non-remote employees.
Managers have learned to take the time to check in with remote workers to ensure they have what they need to do their job effectively, and to find out how they are doing personally. Team leaders have been more attentive to the needs of remote workers, and have learned to work out any bottlenecks that come up. To be clear, companies are still adjusting to the move to the remote workforce, but even with such a rapid transition, they have kept employees and customers safe while remaining operational.
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More Transparency in the Workplace
Transparency — being open and honest about policies, layoffs, expectations, goals, and values — is something companies have come to embrace when dealing with employees. The uncertainty and stress that came with the pandemic caused employees to put higher value on leadership transparency.
Mindi Cox, senior vice president of people at employee recognition and engagement provider O.C. Tanner, oversaw the transition of more than 1,200 global employees from in-office to remote working. In doing so, she was reminded of the importance of communication and transparency from leaders to employees as a critical factor in maintaining a healthy culture.
“This has caused companies to get rid of ‘show culture’ and rely more on vulnerability from leaders," she said. "Since the start of the pandemic, companies have been forced to be more transparent and honest, even when they don’t want to, about things like customer and employee loss, a decrease in sales and other fiscal woes."
According to an April 2020 O.C. Tanner COVID-19 culture pulse survey, businesses that increased transparency since the beginning of the pandemic have seen an 85% increase in employee engagement and a 17% increase in employee retention.
Michael Davis, head of strategic services at Ally.io, a software provider that specializes in goal tracking, said many leaders turned to goal-setting frameworks to increase transparency and trust in their workplace. “Clear goals provide a sense of purpose and transparency," he said. "People knew how their efforts contributed to the business, but also how they and their teams were tracking towards it. It led to less micromanagement and more trust.”
Emotional and Mental Health Are More Important
The pandemic created an atmosphere of uncertainty and stress, and the feelings of isolation and depression that came with lockdowns, school closings and business shutdowns affected almost everyone.
A November 2019 Gallup report indicated that isolation and loneliness are a problem for almost 25% of employees working remotely. That was before the pandemic. A 2020 Cigna study indicated that 61% of those polled said they felt lonely, a 7% increase from those who said they felt lonely the previous year.
Companies have come to realize the emotional health of employees is as important as their physical health. As a result, many have augmented their policies and benefits to boost mental health and well-being and increased awareness of employees’ mental and emotional health.
One result is companies are now eagerly listening to the needs and expectations of employees. A report from Qualtrics showed that 46% of employees polled said their employer has become faster at acting on employee feedback since the pandemic began.
It's also important that companies deal with the downsides of increased productivity. The transition to the remote workforce resulted in a productivity increase, but that comes with the responsibility to ensure employees remain emotionally and physically healthy. “The time people saved from not commuting — roughly 5-10 hours per week — unlocked an entire day of productivity," said Davis. "But productivity takes energy. As employees increase their productivity, they must also increase the care and attention given to their own emotional and physical well-being.”
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Increased Collaboration and Communication
The COVID-19 crisis showed companies just how important collaboration and communication platforms are, especially to remote employees. With an increase in the number of remote workers came an increase in the use of collaboration and communication tools.
In December 2019, there were 10 million daily Zoom users, but by April 2020, the number had increased to 300 million. Likewise, in November 2019, there were 20 million Microsoft Teams users, but by April, that number had increased to 75 million daily users. The increase in users and the importance of communication and collaboration tools for remote workers encouraged Microsoft and other software companies to add additional functionality and improve the features of their platforms. This explosion of tools pushed managers to rethink how they approached communication and collaboration.
“The pandemic forced business leaders to learn how to better communicate with their teams," Davis said. "It’s not to say they weren’t good communicators before, but with teams and leaders spread across multiple locations, juggling the blurred lines of work and personal life, something as simple as translating a thought or goal became a herculean task.”
More Flexible Work
Rigid work policies in place before the pandemic began to be replaced with more flexible policies that allowed employees to determine their own work hours and break times. School closings required parents working from home to deal with children who were bored, lonely, frightened and not used to being stuck at home for months on end. Businesses found flexible work policies allowed employees to have the freedom required to take care of their children, and actually increased employee productivity. As a result, companies are better able to judge employees on their output, rather than the hours they sit behind a desk.
The pandemic resulted in the traditional 9-to-5 schedule being replaced by a “work when you can” schedule, to most employees' delight. A recent SHRM report showed that 78% of those polled said a flexible work policy would allow them to live a healthier life, and 86% said they would be less stressed. Buffer.com’s 2020 State of Remote Work report showed that 32% of employees indicated that a flexible work schedule was among the top benefits of working remotely.
“People can work flexible hours and manage their own environment without any office crisis or drama,” said Sahin Boydas, founder and CEO at Remoteteam.com. “This is a big improvement of work-life that we can never leave behind.”
Leading With Empathy
Dr. Gero Decker, CEO and co-founder of Signavio, a business transformation suite provider, said the struggles the pandemic brought affected people in many ways, and companies cannot begin to know what customers and employees are dealing with on a daily basis. That means they need to cultivate a relationship that’s based on empathy and understanding.
“No relationship worth its salt should be approached without empathy," Decker said. "Everyone has their own struggles and challenges in their personal lives, things going on behind the scenes that are unbeknownst to the brand.”
In 2019, BusinessSolver published a report that indicated that 82% of employees would consider leaving a job for a more empathetic employer, and 78% said they would work longer hours for a more empathetic employer. Fortunately, business leaders are increasingly coming to understand that people come first, and the mental health of employees is crucial to the success of business. By creating a culture of empathy, they show employees the employer cares about them as individuals, which fosters a sense of personal satisfaction and loyalty.
"The main change the pandemic caused is that value has shifted from the money to the people," Boydas said. "People have become more valuable than any company share or profit. Companies choose their employees over high profits and help them move forward and get used to these circumstances in many different ways."
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging but many of the changes that occurred as a result have been beneficial for the employee experience. The remote workplace has been shown to encourage productivity, engagement and increase job satisfaction.
Employers have learned to be more transparent and empathetic in their dealings with employees, and to be more aware of employees’ mental and emotional health. They re-learned the importance of effective communication and collaboration, and many are finding a more flexible work schedule can boost productivity while also making employees' lives just a little bit better.