COVID-19 learnings - We need a people-enabled transformation in the new workplace

Nerys Mutlow Profile picture for user Nerys Mutlow June 23, 2020
Nerys Mutlow, Evangelist within the Chief Innovation Office at ServiceNow, says that COVID-19 has taught us that people need to be measured on the value they bring in the workplace, not just their presence.

Image of someone working from home during COVID-19
(Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay )

As lockdown restrictions start to ease, there is much talk about the safe return to the workplace. It's an issue that impacts millions of workers, but I expect I am one who faces a slightly more unusual situation.

That's because, back in March, my ‘day one' at ServiceNow was a visit to the Staines office to pick up my laptop - and from then on, my working life has been at home.

As a new starter during the COVID-19 crisis, the phrase "getting back to work" really means "getting to work in the first place".

My situation has led to me reflecting on what the last few months have been like, what I have learned about myself and what we need to consider as companies in supporting and empowering our workforces.

Learning from the WFH experience

The first month working entirely at home was strange, and in stark contrast to what I was used to. In my previous role at Fujitsu, I was constantly on the move, chiming into the conversations around me in the office, never good at sitting on the side-lines.

Lockdown meant I lost that connection to the bigger world that I worked in. Conversation felt a bit more contrived and less spontaneous, and I missed the buzz around me.

I realised how much I valued face-to-face contact, not only bumping into people in communal areas, but coming together for account planning sessions or throwing some ideas up on a white board in a meeting room.

In those first weeks, my activities were far less ad-hoc and ‘in the moment' and I became super-structured in how I approached my working day, making sure I was doing everything to be as busy and productive as I could be.

But prolonged lockdown and the experience of working from home has brought time to reflect on how we use and plan our time.

Yes, I loved meetings in the office, because I enjoyed being with people. But we were wasting so much time when matters can be dealt with far more efficiently (and effectively) on a short video call.

On the other hand, we're overcompensating for the lack of ad-hoc face time by bombarding colleagues with quick questions on email or chat sessions with reams of complicated (and sometimes unnecessary) information.

Out with the old…

As we move to a new phase of the COVID-19 crisis, where lockdowns are easing, there is much to learn from our experiences at home as we return to the workplace.

We face a unique opportunity to create a new employee experience - one that drives productivity, positively impacts wellbeing and empowers us all to do our best work.

So, in this period of transition, as we embrace increasingly diverse working practices, let's make the most of that opportunity.

Meetings should be about decisions and sharing information - looking forward and not talking about what's already been done. So, let's prepare in advance so the time is as productive and focused as possible.

We should also make a conscious effort to stop sending those emails for quick interactions - save emails for formal communication, like requests or information dissemination. And, use chat tools or quick video calls to keep connected on more ad-hoc (and less formal) activities.

But let's not stop the initiatives that worked in lockdown - the virtual all-hands meetings, online socials and team chats over video. They have opened up our organisations and encouraged greater inclusivity across geographic borders.

An organisation's culture is the glue that holds the company together and gives employees a sense of security - and that's what we need now more than ever.

A new definition of work

Most importantly, lockdown has taught me that we need to think differently about what ‘work' is.

I can tell you that it isn't about looking busy, being visible to everyone in an office or turning up to every meeting just to show you are committed.

My focus over the last few months has been ‘this is what I need to achieve this week', whether that's working, home schooling, food shopping or spending time with my family. So let's throw off the ‘presence' discussion.

We need to be recognised and rewarded on the value we bring and the contribution we make - not the hours we work or whether we are ‘seen' at a desk.

As we navigate the new world of work post-COVID-19, we need to create the vision of this new employee experience, driving the right culture, with the right support, enabled by the right technologies.

In doing so, we can make the return to work somewhere safe for all our people, where they are empowered to be at their brilliant best.

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