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People First – Your voice matters! What does that mean post COVID19?

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

In the space of productivity and voluntary turnover, there is a lot of truth in the mantras "Invest in people, and they will invest in the organization,” as well as “Employees don’t’ leave companies, they leave managers”. However, these mantras ring hollow when echoed as slogans and the depth of these mantras are not fully appreciated, as they can easily be misapplied. In Singapore, productivity has been one of the big themes in #GE2020. The magnitude and complexity of this issue may vary from SMEs to GLCs to MNCs. However, it is important to acknowledge that regardless, this is a complex and challenging issue, especially in a world of #VUCA (and now #COVID19).

With us having a better understanding of COVID19 and the road ahead clearer, it may be time for businesses to restart and reset. According to Gartner’s Future of Work Tops HR Priorities for 2020-21:

“The implications for HR are broad and substantial, as they drive imperatives such as the need to equip leaders to manage remote teams over the long haul, preserve company culture with a more distributed workforce and engage workers in a cost-constrained environment....The second-highest priority — based on a May 11 Gartner survey of 160 HR leaders — is critical skills and competency development. This had been the highest priority when Gartner surveyed more than 400 HR leaders in late 2019, so the issue remains top of mind.”

When looking at managing remote teams and engaging people in a cost-constrained environment, it may be prudent for businesses to not only look at digital transformation but also transforming their culture and shifting mindsets to move the needle on productivity in a meaningful manner.

1. Enable a culture of open communication

People in today's organizations cannot afford to work in silos, whether at a team, department or organizational level. There is a substantial amount of interconnectivity and collaboration required to achieve business outcomes. Working in remote teams brings into focus and amplifies the importance of enabling a higher level of transparency and the need for open communication, especially in larger set-ups. Apart from leveraging on technology, business leaders should consider seriously how to enable a culture of open communication.

Beyond business or work-related communications, this should include creating space for casual, informal virtual chatter, especially for remote teams. Through these virtual chatter, business leaders are usually able to uncover the hidden potential of their people as well as their water cooler/lunchtime talk grievances. Investing in and enabling a culture of open communication will over time reduce non-constructive conflict as well as build the foundation for multi-cultural / multi-location teams to flourish by reducing the blame game.

2. Embrace shared leadership

People today look for growth opportunities on an accelerated timeline. Thorugh that lens, consider that each employee should be treated as a leader in their own right and be empowered to lead from their seat, An effective platform for business leaders to provide people with the opportunity to rise to the challenge is through embracing shared leadership. This enables individual team members to take ownership and share accountability with his or her reporting manager. This is especially important when working with remote teams. This also gears towards:

  • shifting the conversations from task completion and updates to what needs to be done to achieve the agreed business outcomes;

  • team members having the space to explore their various capabilities and skills as well as leveraging on their strengths;

  • increasing the sense of being empowered as they know that they have access to the support needed despite working remotely; and

  • shifting the nature and quality of feedforward.

3. Embody self-care not as an activity but as a value to build resilience

Below is an extract of a Straits Times opinion piece "The economic consequences of working from home" on 3 Jun 2020,

"With more WFH, work-life balance has shifted in favour of "life. Some like it, as it allows for more flexible working hours and more time with family. Some enterprising households are also providing home-cooking and home-baking services as well as home crafts to sell online.

But for many others, the shift has gone too far. Peoples' social lives, which often centred around the workplace, have been disrupted."

Self-care and enabling team members to practice self-care is not an isolated activity that needs to be scheduled into our day or week. We tend to think of self-care as practising meditation or yoga, going to the gym or classes to unwind. Self-care should be part of our day-to-day, moment to moment interactions as this builds long-term resilience. This could include how we:

  • interact and communicate with each other so that it's also about multiple perspectives;

  • schedule meetings so that they are not back to back;

  • set expectations and deadlines that are realistic and, as much as possible, take into consideration the unpredictable;

  • enrol others when dealing with unexpected or red flag situations;

  • acknowledge that team members have other roles they play in the organization and in life.

In conclusion, organizations should do the right thing to invest in people, not just for this period when many teams need to work remotely. They should take a longer-term view as these actions will place the organization on more solid grounds to deal with the next major crisis when it unfolds.

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