Sustaining Real Organisational Experience In COVID-19 Pandemic: Positive Work Environment

In our previous article, we shared on Trusting In Leadership, one of the six components that contribute to providing employees with a positive employee experience that is key to attracting, inspiring and retaining valued employees and talents.

Even with the UK and Russia being among the first nations to introduce mass vaccinations, much remain to be seen as to what the situation might turn out. In the meanwhile, practically the entire world and billons of its people are still subject to the new norm that applies to social and business settings….wearing masks, social distancing, limited number people in face-to-face meetings, telecommuting and so on.

Research continues to show that positive employee experience contributes to an organisation’s ability to retain their people without whom nothing gets done.

In this article, we will be sharing with you some tips on how your organisation can still provide positive employee experience through Positive Work Environment in COVID-19 times.

Positive Work Environment: A Key Component In Positive Employee Experience

1. Flexible Work Environment

The concept of flexible work environment has existed since 1967 in Germany allowing employees some individual choice as to starting and quitting times.

In April 2003, the UK Government introduced the 'right to request flexible working' which historically applied to parents and certain other carers. The legislation includes all employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous employment, regardless of parental or caring responsibilities.

The Civil Service is the single largest employer in Singapore, introduced the flexi-time scheme in the 1970s. For years, our government has been encouraging businesses to allow for flexi-hours to be extended to the workforce so that able-working mothers do not have to give up their career while raising their children, among other reasons.

Based on our observations on organisations here, many have not fully adopted a flexi-hour work environment where employees are extended with the option to choose a timing that suit their career growth while helping to meet with their domestic demands.

We had a German colleague who requested to work from home not long after she joined us as she needed to attend to her partner’s ailment at the time. We were culture-shocked by her bold request to shake the norm of our operating hours. With a little hesitation, we took the chance to allow her to work from home for a period of time in Singapore and on another occasion when she had to be back to Germany for personal reasons. Credit to her, she kept her promise to really work remotely and delivered what was required. That incident was among the first (since a while) that we extended flexibility to our employees who needed it when it mattered. The bi-product of the arrangement increased our mutual trust and somewhat set the tone for our organisation to adopt flexible work environment for other team members as well. When COVID-19 struck earlier this year, our government imposed WFH requirements for all sectors except those in essential services. Many organisations were trying to get use to the WFH concept and wondered if it could really work. 1 year on since the pandemic, many people have gotten use to WFH and but organisations seem to struggle with the WFH concept despite having seen it worked for them. So we still see employees being grouped into Team A and Team B coming back to office work. A local survey commissioned by The Straits Times shows that 8 out of 10 people working in Singapore prefer to work form home as they not only get used to WFH but also fear catching COVID-19 from daily commuting to the workplace among other reasons.

A survey by Standford on 16,000 workers over a 9-month period indicated that working from home increases productivity by 13% due to more calls per minute attributed to a quieter and more convenient working environment and working more minutes per shift because of fewer breaks and sick days.

Organisations can leverage COVID-19 pandemic to create that needed flexible work environment for their employees to thrive and yet feel safe for their well-being. Today, some of our staff are on flexi-hours and flexi-days, working remotely from home. Last month, our Korean colleague wanted to resign to be back with her family. We offered her to work from her Korean home and today she is happily working from home and has been in touch with us daily. We have not experienced loss in productivity but instead see an increase trust with our employees and colleagues with this flexible work environment.  

1.1 Job Content Flexibility: Another strategy to foster a flexible work environment is having job rotation for the employees. Over the last 2 decades, we have had many employees taking different roles to find their fit in the organisation. Undergirded by a coaching and mentoring culture, we saw many of our employees discovering and thriving on some roles that they never knew they would be able to do. Granted that some found the learning curve a little steep, they eventually rose the occasion to deliver and found meaning in their work that serves the organisational purpose, that is, Advancing Real OD Practices.

COVID-19 presents opportunities for organisations to challenge their status quo, doing things differently to stay competitive and relevant. Organisations can seize this opportunity to redesign the job content or perhaps allow their people to try new roles that befit and thrive on the challenges the situation presents. Employees that are exposed to different job contents that they find meaningful will experience growth in the process.  

1.2 Grant Time Off: The demands from the Organisational Development Sector can be insurmountable at times. To diagnose, design and deliver OD interventions requires a great team to support the key consultants serving the clients. Our supportive team members from the various functions are self-driven to deliver alongside the consulting team and had on many occasions, worked longer hours to render their support to meet deadlines. Instead of taking annual leave when they need to, we grant our people time off to appreciate the extra hours they had contributed to get things done effectively. They could also come in later the day after should they work late on the day before.

2. Humanistic Workplace
The term humanistic denotes relating to or supporting the principles of humanism. Hence a workplace that is subscribed to humanistic practice literally treats their employees as humans not just another “human resource”, “human capital” or another headcount to achieve KPIs. For a long time now, Abraham Maslow Hierarchy Of Needs is recognised to appreciate how the people meet their order of needs that are met in the order of the hierarchy towards a task motivation. The motivating needs are ranked lowest to higher as follow: Physiological needs, Safety needs, Belonging needs, Esteem needs and Self-actualisation needs. Organisations that embrace a humanistic approach to treating their people will certainly create a positive environment that adds to providing them with positive employee experience. The following questions provide will you a quick assessment on how your organisation fares on being a Humanistic Workplace.

2.1 Physiological needs: Are your employees basic needs for food water, shelter (home) sufficient rest from work, basic well-being and overall health taken care of? Are the lowest paid employees in the organisation able to afford these basic needs?

2.2 Safety needs: Do your employees have physical safety, emotional safety, mental safety and financial security? Does your organisation promote Container-building that provide psychological safety for all at the workplace?

2.3 Love and belonging needs: Do your employees have the opportunity to connect with other people at the workplace? Does their job give them time to connect with their families and friends? Does the workplace foster an inclusive environment for the employees to meet and socialise (even with social distancing being in place)? Does the workplace facilitate the employees to contribute to and belong to a team that forges a team identity?

2.4 Esteem needs: Does your organisation provide opportunities for the employees to be respected? Do leaders help their people to feel dignified? Are people recognised and appreciated for job well done? Are employees given a “voice” to share their ideas, opinions or perhaps ask questions?

2.5 Self-actualisation needs: Are the employees given opportunities to grow through education, training, development to excel their performance? Are people given stretched projects of their choice to test their ability to do greater than they current are?

The notion on human hierarchy of needs has been much understood by many organisations but perhaps not quite practised consistently over time. Meeting employees needs will be great start to humanising the organisation. Too often, transactional managers either lack the know-how or simply fail to make the workplace more humanistic apart from their focus on achieving KPIs which understandably, are important for organisational growth. It is ironic that the key humans that are instrumental to contribute to organisational success are treated as a mere resource.

Fostering a flexible work environment and making the organisation a humanistic workplace will add to making employee experience a positive one for your people.

In our next article, we will be featuring Growth Opportunity to sustain positive employee experience in COVID-19 Pandemic.

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