Tough for anyone to remember the last time we sauntered into an office building, punched our entries and shared work desks with fellow workmates, mask-less. ‘Work from Home’, ‘Work from Anywhere, ‘remote working’, and other such epithets have now become more than esoteric jargon in a changed work dynamic, that is here to stay. Many companies globally have gone ahead and declared that their employees can work remotely forever; while others have slowly transitioned to the hybrid mode; each company resorting to its own way of crawling back to ‘near normal’.
Different stages, phases and modes of transitioning into working from office notwithstanding; most companies are limping back into the now not-so-normal way of working. A lot has transpired in the past one year and the pandemic has left its physical and mental scars on families and impacted the overall functioning of the workplace, by mandating new practices in place, almost overnight.
At such a stressful time, faced with a new reality; both the employee and the employer have to hand hold and lead each other into a new-found workplace realm. Here are a few aspects and instances of easing out work that companies can look into, as the employees, albeit not in full strength, get back into the office groove.
A safe workplace
Navigating the pandemic realities have made ensuring basic safety precautions, a given. The measures would include following the precautions mandated by healthcare workers to the T. More than that the companies have to ensure that the message of ‘Zero tolerance’ to defaulters of safety protocols is adopted. Those who risk the lives of others by either being anti-mask or anti-vaccine, have to be checked and the message from the top has to be unequivocally in favour for the larger health benefit of the employees. This messaging has to be visual and out there, in the form of posters and Pandemic prevention awareness raising information, displayed prominently around the office premises. An optimal return back to work, will require this signalling from the top and around to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread and secure everyone’s safety. Keeping in mind the practical aid that companies can extend to their employees in Covid-19 times, Euronics India covered the cost of the treatment of the employees and of their immediate family members who were hospitalised. Additionally, free vaccination camps were organised for employees.The company also provided a free corporate subscription to the Practo health app to those diagnosed with Covid or suspected to be having the symptoms of the disease.
Social and mental well-being
The pandemic mandated isolated work-from-home module, spread across geographical boundaries limited everyone’s face-to-face interaction. Left to remote networking, collaborating and communicating, coupled with lockdown implications of staying at home, our collective social skills of small talk, body language a.k.a, non -verbal communication have all taken a hit. Along with this, the professional and personal loss, with salary cuts, job losses, in some cases, bereavement; the general uncertainty and a pall of gloom all around has also taken a toll on the employees’ mental health. A sound organisational strategy that welcomes back the employees in this hybrid model, would most certainly have such policies in place that tend to these key aspects of the new normal.
Ravi Maithani, Head of People and Culture, Tide (IN) shares, ‘As an HR Leader, for me, the pandemic has brought a paradigm shift in thinking, in terms of engaging employees. We have seen a radical shift from 'one size fits all' to people-centric policies and a need driven approach (these include setting up a Covid-19 help desk, constant focus on mental well-being, add-on health insurances for employees and their families, etc) and these policies will change as per employee needs. The pandemic has seen employees looking up to HR to help them survive the crisis; as boundaries of professional and personal issues have fizzled out, by helping them evolve as Employee Partners from being Human Resource professionals. Not just in terms of existing employees, but potential employees as well, we are shifting our focus from manageable high-performing candidates to self-managed, high integrity ones-- TRUST is turning out to be a more dominant part of Successful Cultural Value. Despite being connected to each other 24x7, in the WFH model, we make sure employees find enough room to separate work and personal time.’
Remote working model has also brought into sharp focus a need to constantly upskill and re-skill employees in manoeuvring digital skills for a smooth functioning. These skills need to be updated all across the employee base, from digital natives to digital migrants, millennials or boomers et al, irrespective of the work experience or professional expertise. For collaborations across time-zones to be smooth and glitch free, these skills need to be regularly updated, especially cyber security and humanising tech-interfaces. Communication skills also require attention at this time, as the lexis of the Pandemic affects the inflection in our voice and the tenor of our written communication.
Mindfulness, sensitivity and awareness of the context of the sender and receiver, become all important at such a time.
Continuing to offer flexible work, identifying vulnerabilities, keeping an open communication, lending a supportive voice and solution-based work environment, were never this crucial, as now. The writing on the wall can be ignored , only at our peril that globally, workplaces will not be the same, neither will be the work practices and beh
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