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Globally, 2020 has been a year of disruption like no other. The devasting bushfires that ravaged over 18 million hectares of Australia were swiftly followed by COVID-19, the worst pandemic in recent history. Tragedy and turmoil trailed in its wake. But this crisis also forced us to pivot, innovate and adopt solutions that may otherwise have taken years to achieve.
In the world of work, the changes in 2020 have been so monumental that they’re signaling a new era of work, one where hybrid working, virtual communication, collaboration tools, and a focus on adaptability and resilience are the new ‘normal’ for most sectors and industries.
Throughout this year, it’s fair to say that there have been so many lessons learned, that it’s difficult to narrow them down. However, here at Hays we’ve thought this over and selected the following as our top five takeaways for 2020.
Topping our list is the enormous shift in attitudes we’ve seen this year as employers come to understand just how productive their workforces can be when working remotely. The widespread shift to a work from home model during the pandemic has encouraged many business leaders, who were previously unsure or against remote working, to design long-term flexible working strategies for their employees.
No longer a benefit reserved for a trusted few, the result has been the rise of hybrid workplaces, where some team members are based at home while others are in the office. Such a model gives employees greater freedom to balance their personal and professional lives. It’s also been shown to have a positive impact on productivity, in our recent 2021 Salary Guide our findings revealed that 44% of employees felt they had an increase in productivity while working remotely.
For more insights download our 2021 Salary Guide
As part of the move towards hybrid working, employers have given staff more autonomy in their roles and learned to trust their employees’ ability to deliver from afar. With this, we shouldn’t expect employees to easily adapt, or be comfortable with, any reversal to the level of pre-crisis oversight managers had over their working day, schedule or routine. Instead, this trust needs to be retained as we move into 2021, with the understanding that it forms the foundation of a successful working relationship with staff – regardless of whether they are working in the office or from home.
For some employers, remote working has prompted them to consider employee monitoring – but again, even here trust needs to underpin your decisions, with most employees believing monitoring is only justified if it is transparent. Employees will want a say on what data is collected and how it will be used to help and improve their performance rather than identify and punish their mistakes.
Following the mass adoption of working from home, employers quickly shifted their focus to the mental health and wellbeing of employees. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen employers use various strategies, from video conferencing for regular team meetings to more informal team communication, all in attempt to try and minimize feelings of isolation and disconnectedness. They also encouraged staff to maintain regular hours, take breaks, exercise and eat well to help preserve their wellbeing.
With this increase in mental health and wellbeing awareness, has come greater compassion in our workplaces. Many managers lead teams of people who were, and continue to be, going through difficult challenges. Consequently, they’ve developed a more empathetic approach to their management style. For example, in 2020 some employees suddenly found themselves with additional caring duties or home-schooling responsibilities, while also balancing their work demands. To effectively support and guide employees facing such tests in their lives, it was quickly recognized that compassion was a key factor.
Not only that, but the remote way in which we’ve been working this year has forced us all to adopt a new level of empathy for our colleagues and their personal circumstances – after all, we’ve been given a virtual window into their personal lives. This has led us to become even more tolerant and compassionate than before.
This is something that, we hope, will remain with us all in the new era of work. After all, even if we are already back in the office, we certainly have a new appreciation of our colleagues and their personal situations.
The challenges, changes and disruption we’ve faced in 2020 forced us to think and work more creatively, even when finding solutions to everyday problems in the workplace. Your own organization may have been forced to shift its entire business model, for example, or explore new or alternative products and services. Or perhaps individuals in your workplace took on new tasks and responsibilities.
No matter the circumstances for you and your organization, it’s clear that we’ve all had to employ greater creative thinking in 2020 than we needed to in our pre-crisis lives. For many, it’s this creative process that’s helped businesses remain afloat and chart their way to recovery and back to growth. We’ve certainly been pushed to devise new strategies and techniques relevant to the new situations and priorities we found ourselves in this year. Moving forward, we believe that continuing to embrace our creativity will help improve problem solving, innovation, productivity and morale.
During 2020, we’ve been brought together in new ways. Although lockdown restrictions and safety measures such as social distancing prevented us from physically seeing each other as frequently as we once did, our eyes have been opened to how powerful our efforts are when we come together – even if we’re doing so remotely. In fact, a recent survey in China revealed that there’s been a shift in attitudes, “with [people having] less tolerance of individualistic behavior and a greater tendency to recognize the contributions of others.”
Various reports have shown people coming together virtually as one, even while the coronavirus crisis kept them physically apart. During this year, we’ve realized what we can all achieve if we work together. So going into 2021, we believe it is important to maintain this collective thinking as we transition to the new era of work.
Throughout this year of intense disruption, leaders stepped up and communicated more regularly, transparently and visibly than ever before. They took every opportunity to talk to staff about what was going on in the organization, reassure them that they were watching the situation carefully and share the reasons behind decisions. Crucially, they also sought to bolster confidence that the health and safety of staff would always come first. Even in the virtual sense, open-door policies were adopted and leaders made themselves available to anyone who had questions.
By communicating regularly, staff were kept in the loop and gained a clear idea of the bigger picture and the various cogs in motion to help the organization and its people through the crisis. This proved how important honesty and transparency are in developing trusting, supportive relationships and a sense of inclusion in an organization – even when working remotely. This understanding of the power of communication is a lesson we should never forget.
Within our own organization, this approach not only meant that management teams were more transparent with staff, but we’ve seen the effect trickle down – our people are more open with one another and with their direct managers. There’s a lot more chatting happening online, a lot more emailing back and forth and a lot of conversations taking place over the telephone and during video conferences.
It’s hard to see this level of communication ever going away now. In fact, it should be prioritized in the years ahead.
While these have been five important lessons, we should not downplay the serious personal and economic damage that the virus has caused. However, acknowledging the real positives of such sweeping change, where they exist, allows us to pause, press the ‘reset’ button and instigate useful change in our world of work, instead of slipping back into our old ways in 2021.
We know now that by coming together, we can make a lot of good happen from a bad situation and shape a new positive reality for all of us, both in and out of work.
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