In the last couple of months, businesses have had to rethink their strategies and consider the best way forward for their companies, post-COVID-19. Performance management has become an important topic among HR managers, as flexible working will become the norm in the ‘new normal’ workplace. In our first webinar, “Redefining the workplace – changing HR strategies for the ‘new normal'”, we discussed what the new normal will look like in the workplace with Steve Shutts, CEO of Astriid and with Toni Georgieva, HR expert. Find actionable insights on how to create strategies for performance management, how recruitment will change and steps leaders need to take to reinvent their businesses.
- Embrace flexibility. Have contingency plans in place for this process and recognise that change will not happen overnight, it will take time.
- Performance management needs to change. Companies should be measuring output and not hours put into the work. They should find ways to ensure that the quality of the work stays the same or improves, rather than focus on prescribing strict working hours.
- There needs to be more training for managers, so they can learn to guide employees who are struggling with mental health issues.
- Recruitment needs to change. People with health conditions have had to isolate for years. They have experienced working from home, they know how to manage their conditions and they know how to stay productive. Companies will need their expertise and skills as they move forward.
- People need quality leadership right now and managers and leaders need to have a clear vision and an action plan for their businesses in the short-term.
What will the new workplace look like and what defines the ‘new normal’? What have you seen so far from your work with companies?
Steve Shutts: There will be a greater awareness of mental health issues and a greater focus on this. There have always been conversations around this topic, but now I think there will be a greater acceptance of people talking about their issues within companies. Research across some large companies such as Shell, Marks and Spencer, John Lewis and BT reveals that 79% of these companies have seen an increase in demand for mental health support. This will have great implications for HR and management (including performance management).
There needs to be a recognition and an understanding of the mental health issues people face and then a will to do something about it. This is not news to employees; we all know the statistic that 1 in 4 of us is likely to face a mental issue at one point in our working life. It is just that companies have woken up to this fact. In terms of how to bring about change, there needs to be a greater focus on training. Line managers need to receive training in how to support people. Recruitment also needs to change; the ability of recruitment agents to change and flex their business model is really critical. They will need to adapt to the new normal quickly.
Another thing that will have to change is the businesses’ approach to remote working. There is research showing people are happy with how they are working right now. Shift patterns will need to change, and remote, flexible working will stay. A few things will have to change but I would say the top three things will be: recruitment, the way people work and an increase in training to better help people with mental health.
Toni Georgieva: I would add that above all we need to embrace flexibility. We need to have a ‘scenario’ approach to how we implement this and make sure we build contingency plans. It is really important to mention that flexible working is possible, only around 11% of advertised jobs in the UK say they offer flexibility. Offering the option of flexible work needs to become more prominent (needs to become the norm). If I would have to advise leadership on the changes that need to happen in the workplace, I would say that companies should focus on implementing flexible working. People are measuring output and not hours put into the work and that has been the case for forward-thinking companies for some time, but now it is something all companies have had to adapt to. It is important to communicate about the phases that we are going through right now, make sure to go back and communicate about the changes that are happening to those phases and recalibrate where necessary.
Mental health also definitely needs to be on the roadmap of HR as we are moving forward. We are all facing the same anxieties about going into a home working environment, returning to the office, job security, health and safety in the workplace. There is a lot that needs to be covered and these topics should stay on the agenda in the new normal. We need to create a culture that allows these conversations to happen.
How can all companies, no matter their size, quickly adapt to the new normal? What are two or three steps they can take to ensure that their employees continue working and that they are safe?
Toni Georgieva: I would say the most important thing companies need to understand is that they should go through these changes with people. Having a general approach to this will not help since everyone reacts differently to change. Companies need to realise that this process is not just moving from face to face meetings to Zoom meetings and that if they give employees the technology they need to keep working, the process will be finished. Never underestimate the impact these changes have on people. This is a long process; it is not just a quick win.
Managers need to be trained in this. They need to know how to have discussions about business and KPIs, but then they also need to have conversations where they simply ask “How are you today?”, “What boundaries can I remove for you so you can work more efficiently?”. Managers should develop their soft-skills and work on leveraging the existing skills in their teams to help everyone through this transition.
Another important thing is clear communication and strategies that are tied with employee wellbeing. There needs to be internal training for helping with mental health and as a company; it is important to listen to actionable feedback from employees. We did this through surveys and the insight we gained is extremely valuable since we could make the changes that people needed. Try and stay as close as possible to the employees; everyone has a different situation, but everyone needs to feel cared for and listened to.
How can companies integrate remote working into their strategies and into their new normal?
Steve Shutts: Recruitment. You are looking to significantly broaden your workforce and bring in people that will help you with remote working. In the past, companies would say that remote working was not something they would do, or that it was something they were aiming to implement by 2025. At Astriid, our case for change is that if companies open their minds a bit and apply themselves to making remote working possible, 11 million people who are managing a health condition or are caring for someone with a health condition can be brought into their workforce. It would also be a cost-effective way for companies to increase their workforce since they would not be paying for travel or for office space. All the businesses that will survive the pandemic, will not be able to say that remote working is not for them anymore.
The other thing that is needed now is performance – and performance management. Now is the time for bold and courageous decision-making. People are looking for real leadership, which involves a different style of management and communication, that is perhaps less collegiate, slightly less about coaching and more about having a clear direction. Managers and leaders need to be clear about how they want things to work in the short-term. There are many creative ways to put people at the core of what you are doing in a way that does not undermine the success of your business. This goes back to the values and culture of your company. How can we call out behaviour that cannot be tolerated more often? How can you embed stories from your company’s history into your vision, values and culture that will help you create a more caring and inclusive organisation?
Why do companies worry about integrating flexible working?
Steve Shutts: The worry is around training and performance management. Managers need to be equipped with the skills to manage teams in remote locations and help employees achieve their potential in terms of work output. The way around this is being more creative in how you manage people and that is achieved through greater diversity. People such as Astriid’s candidates bring diversity and innovation to the company and their life skills impact their team members. These are people that have been working in isolation for years because of a health condition. They are used to working in isolation, they are used to being organised and productive, they know how to manage their health condition. Companies need to be prepared for other pandemics or situations in which employees will need to work from home and having people on your team that have experience with this is invaluable.
Toni Georgieva: The process of implementing better performance management is down to changing habits. It will take time to change the habits that we have formed in the past and create new ones that will allow us to work from home in a productive and efficient way.
What are some practical solutions to integrating work from home? Can we train managers and employees?
Steve Shutts: We need both software and training. I have a good example from working with carers that will help exemplify my point. In the UK there were 9.1 million carers in January and since coronavirus hit the number of carers has risen to 13.5 million. Many carers work and live in poverty because of how the benefits system works in the UK. There clearly needs to be a change in how the government helps carers but employers can play a part as well. As a carer, you need to be at home pretty much all the time. You cannot do much in the morning because you need to help the person you are caring for but between 9- 12 you have some time. After lunch, you probably have time again between 14-17 and then maybe an hour or two in the evening. That adds up to around an 8- or 9-hour working day. If you are a call centre you can be creative with how you organise shift patterns and how you create roles where people can work within these shifts. You can have virtual calls for example. These people have a lot of experience either in business or elsewhere and they are eager to work. Create an environment where that is possible.
Toni Georgieva: Change how you think about performance management. If a person delivers great content in those two-three hours and companies find a way to quantify and measure that output, then you can be more creative in how you recruit people. 9 to 5 will not work for everyone any more.
This is a great time for companies to redefine their strategies, what should be at the core of their approach as they are moving forward?
Toni Georgieva: Be people-centred right now but through data. Change your HR strategy based on the data you gather from your employees, then you can decide where you should focus your energy. There should be no delay in implementing the changes that your employees have called for and you should always measure the impact. Employers need to also understand why these changes need to happen and get everyone on board. More often than not, when you have to makes these decisions about strategy and not everyone is sure what is going on, you end up with conflicting messages and you cannot have that.
Steve Shutts: I think the best thing to start doing is to remap your landscape. Your customers and your markets have changed and you need to bring together the key people in your organisation and outside your business that will allow you to map the landscape. Make sure you have a clearly defined purpose and then you need to be able to communicate that with your customers and employees. You have to think about your values and let those influence your culture. Come up with a list of behaviours that you will not tolerate. If your top performer is displaying behaviour that does not align with your values, would you keep them on? You need to write down your values, write down your purpose and link the two together. Then bring in the right technology that will allow you to deliver to that future. It is also about talent and performance management since your business purpose might have changed due to the pandemic. Bring in the people that have the talent to help you achieve the vision for the future of your company, pay them well and let them help you redefine your strategy.