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Getting back to work

by maria

By: Simon Hayward

Can we get back to work safely? How do we do it? How much will we need to change about facilities and employee management in this post-COVID world? What are the consequences of getting this wrong? What does getting it right look like? These are just some of the big questions that leaders are asking as they look to get their organisation back to work.

Be it an office or factory, a retail outlet or a service provider, building trust between employee and employer has never been more important, and any data strategy not built from the ground up to do just that will fall short in the new post-pandemic world we find ourselves in.

Understanding the workforce challenges in a post-pandemic world
As economies open up and people return to old haunts, including their workplaces, re-entry anxiety has emerged as its own category of stress. This stress can have a knock-on effect on employees’ performance and commitment.

In fact, there is a research-based curve for the impact of anxiety at work, known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law. In essence, the Yerkes-Dodson law suggests that workplace performance improves with physiological or mental stress, but only up to a point. After that point, when stress and anxiety exceed optimal amounts, performance tanks.

The task of employers, then, is to make the return to work as stress-free as possible, not only for the well-being of their workers but for the health of the company as a whole.

On top of this, there are long-lasting implications for corporate culture and employee trust as businesses navigate how and when to bring their workforce back. If organisations demand that people return to the office, they risk losing talent. On the other hand, if they continue to allow employees to stay at home, they may have to battle with sustaining a culture that was developed in person.

As companies look ahead to life after the pandemic, they are choosing among three basic options for returning to the workplace: a total return to the office, a hybrid model, or adopting more fully remote opportunities. As the risks COVID-19 poses continue to evolve, companies will need to maintain flexibility in how they reshape their workforce strategy.

How technology will play a crucial role in the future of work
We know that employee wellness and safety is not at odds with business continuity, but getting the mix right is crucial, and that requires strong technological infrastructure, paired with executive commitment.

Many leaders are calling upon digital tools to support higher levels of remote working, such as productivity analytics and collaboration suites to bridge the gap between people who work remotely and those that regularly work in the office. According to research from PwC, going forward, nearly half of CEOs say they plan to increase their long-term investment in digital transformation by 10% or more.

One thing for sure is that any conversation about the future of work is going to require data. Data plays a critical role in how leaders structure their reopening plans, identify metrics for reopening and measure effectiveness. It removes human assumptions that can lead to both time and resources spent solving issues that may not exist.

So how do we get the data we need, in a way that optimises employee buy-in and trust?

Unlocking your post-COVID strategy through data
Data can help inform your reopening strategy, but the key is to embrace platforms that integrate a variety of metrics so that executives have the full picture.

Some key data points that employers are collecting include, but are not limited to, regional legislation alongside coronavirus cases by location, data around space utilisation to reduce risk, as well as survey data analysing employee mental health and wellness.

By approaching these metrics in conjunction, executives can see which tools workers prefer and make investments accordingly. They can see if workers are remote or on-site, and measure how that impacts overall company KPIs. They can see the overall impact that COVID-19 has had on the company and do so while assessing overall productivity and employee wellness.

Similarly, employees will be looking to leadership to get the facts. Opting for a data-backed approach to tracking processes like temperature checks, building foot traffic, sanitisation, employee productivity both at home and in the office, and, of course, compliance with all new protocols will decrease the risk of confusion coming from multiple sources and instead instil confidence in the workforce as it adapts to post lockdown working.

While there is no playbook to help companies navigate the pandemic, we do know whatever we return to will not be the same as it was before. This is true no matter the workplace – be it an office or factory, a retail outlet or a service provider. Building trust between employee and employer has never been more important, and any data strategy not built from the ground up to do just that will fall short of the moment in which we find ourselves.

Those with the ability to combine and analyse data at the tips of their fingers will be in the ideal position to evolve their engagement strategies and ensure that what is important to their workforce is top-of-mind for their business.

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