Prioritize people during cultural transformation in 3 steps

A flexible work environment is essential for enterprises today. Consider this expert advice to create a hybrid work culture that positions your organization for future growth
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For the past few years, organizations have focused on finding technologies and processes that enable their employees to work from home. But with C-suites and HR professionals investing enormous resources into tools and processes, many are doing so without fully considering the most crucial piece of an agile enterprise – the people.

To optimize performance in this new agile work era, boost employee morale, and recruit and retain the best talent amid a global-scale hiring crisis, organizations also need to address the needs of their workforce.

As more employees voice their needs and concerns regarding their work lives, here are three ways to prioritize the people within your organization.

1. Unlock flexibility for knowledge workers

More than ever, employees demand flexibility in when, where, and how they work. The last two years have illustrated that workers don’t need to sacrifice personal commitments to do their jobs well.

[ Related read: 3 ways to foster team connections in a hybrid workplace. ]

In fact, our recent study found that nearly half (49 percent) of workers favor a hybrid or remote-only work setup post-pandemic. Eliminating commuting time enables employees to direct more time to both personal and work tasks. Smart companies understand the value of giving their employees the ability to set their own work schedules from anywhere in the world as long as they are getting the work done.

Furthermore, one-size-fits-all employment no longer works. For knowledge workers, defining value in terms of days or weeks worked no longer makes sense, and employee demand will force employers to adopt new work patterns. Schedule flexibility will become as common as 401(k) plans going forward for knowledge workers, and employers must continue to enable flexibility for their employees in new ways.

Schedule flexibility will become as common as 401(k) plans going forward for knowledge workers, and employers must continue to enable flexibility for their employees in new ways.

They also need to be able to spot stumbling blocks. While organizations can easily claim they are flexible, embracing employee flexibility falls primarily on managers’ shoulders, and a single manager demanding a fixed 9-to-5 workday from their team can thwart an entire enterprise’s flexibility initiative. Therefore, the C-suite needs to practice flexibility from the top down and maintain engagement to ensure that all managers are following suit.

It’s also essential to ensure that collaboration doesn’t go out the door with increased independence for individual employees. Indeed, it’s likely more important than ever to maximize the value created in working time. That means ensuring that everyone on your team has the hardware and software tools they need to succeed collaboratively in a flexible environment.

2. Show your employees you see them

While remote work boosts flexibility and even productivity in many cases, it can also lead to an avalanche of emails, Slack messages, and meeting invites, making workers feel lost in the rubble.

With the hybrid workplace here to stay and a worrying number of people reporting feeling anxious and invisible to their colleagues, company leaders need to act. Just as company off-site meetings were once the typical course for employee bonding, in the remote work world, scheduling company on-sites is an effective way to connect distributed workforces.

Monthly or quarterly on-site meetings where the entire team can gather at the office, a shared space, or even a local entertainment attraction can give employees valuable face time. With traditional business travel much reduced in today’s environment, many organizations can better afford the cost of flying employees to one destination a few times each year.

[ Related read: The new CEO: Chief Empathy Officer ]

Also consider regular virtual happy hours, team movie nights, viewing parties, and other social events. While many of us are certainly feeling Zoom burnout, video remains an essential tool for distributed teams, and visual communication can go a long way toward fostering personal connections.

3. Focus on individuals' well-being

Addressing your employees’ overall well-being is also critical. Many workers who are actively looking for a new job say they’re doing so because their mental health and well-being has been negatively impacted in their current role. Increasingly, employees are placing greater value on their well-being than on their salary and job title.

This isn’t a new issue, but it’s taken on a new urgency since COVID pushed millions of workers into the remote workplace. For example, a 2019 Buffer study found that 19 percent of remote workers reported feeling lonely working from home – not surprising, since most of us were forced to severely limit our social interactions outside of work as well.

Leaders can help address this by taking actions as simple as introducing more one-to-one meetings, which can boost morale. One-on-one meetings are essential to promoting ongoing feedback.

When teams worked together in an office, communication was more efficient mainly because employees and managers could meet and catch up organically throughout the day. With teams now dispersed across the globe, we must schedule all our meetings in order to discuss projects, brainstorm ideas, and overcome potential bottlenecks.

Leaders should be mindful to show empathy for what their team members have gone through throughout the past few years. Making connections and expressing concern for employees in the digital workplace takes more effort and it’s harder to “read the room” and identify the climate of the teams we work with.

Strong communication and the right tools can go a long way toward addressing these challenges. For example, having a third-party messaging tool to communicate with teams is essential in the digital work era – just be aware that too many tools can be overwhelming and create fatigue and confusion.

As organizations move from survival to revival, now is the perfect time to reevaluate how you communicate with employees and determine whether you’re empowering productivity through technology – or killing it.

[ Leading CIOs are reimagining the nature of work while strengthening organizational resilience. Learn 4 key digital transformation leadership priorities in a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. ]

Simon Haighton-Williams is the CEO of Adaptavist, the leading global expert in delivering solutions based around the Atlassian stack. Atlassian's largest dedicated partner, home of the incredible ScriptRunner family of plugins, most highly rated Atlassian training partner, provider of top quality managed services for enterprise clients.