Zoltan Vadkerti is a work-life expert, blogger and co-founder of the WorkLife HUB.
One and a half years into the pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear what has changed in our workplaces and how we will be interacting with colleagues and partners in the future. Many employers are opting for a form of hybrid working with a variety of choices provided to employees to decide where, how and when they will be working. How to make hybrid working work? What training should include in the new normal? In preparing for the post-COVID workplace, in this blog post, we'll explore the three most important elements of a hybrid working training programme.
1) Processing the impact of the pandemic through mourning sessions
To stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus a huge part of the global workforce has spent the last one and a half years working from home. This transition into new ways of working has met with mixed feelings, experiences and reactions. On the one hand, studies have not just shown that working from home (WFH) will most likely stick for the long term but can improve employees' mental health, wellbeing or productivity. For example, respondents to NBER's Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes (SWAA) reported better-than-expected WFH experiences as well as higher productivity. On the other hand, according to a recent survey, by Indeed, there are several things people miss about their daily workplace routines, including commute, in-person meetings with fellow workers, socializing at work, a daily routine tied to going into the office, and fewer distractions at the office compared to working from home.
The organizations we work with have observed their employees going through similar experiences to the results of the Indeed survey. What's more, organizations may have staff who got sick because of the COVID-19, have lost loved ones to the disease or are experiencing the long-term effect of the virus. Loss takes many shapes. For instance, employees have been coping with the loss of workplace routines as a result of the pandemic. Public grief over our loss of office habits and routines can be observed on social media:
What can employers do?
In a post-pandemic workplace, all organizations should be concerned about issues such as the long-term mental health impact of the pandemic, the emotional trauma employees went through, even loss, grief and mourning. Those organizations that recognize and acknowledge what employees are going through will be better positioned to attract and retain their talent in the future and create supportive and safe workplace cultures. Managers and leaders have a great responsibility to learn about the ways through which employees experience change and the sense of loss they go through.
What can employers do? Leaders can't expect employees to leave the experience of the last period at the door when they come back to work physically. They can decide to establish systems that ensure mourning and grieving are allowed and the impact of the pandemic is processed and employees can move on through and past the change. They can do this by adding into their training curriculum facilitated mourning sessions, for employees and managers to discuss losses and gains in a safe space.
2) The need for new skill sets of line managers
One key lesson we all learned from the pandemic is that most of the line managers neither possessed, especially at the beginning of the COVID-19 crises, the necessary skills nor the experiences to manage a remotely working workforce in the long run. This may be the most important area where employers can develop future learning and development initiatives.
There are three main trends line managers need to be aware of and skilled to deal with in the post-COVID management realm. First, as remote working models are here to stay, managers need to normalize working from home conversations, steady communication practices and management by output processes. Second, team leaders need to become fluent in the use of technologies to manage remotely working employees. Third, managers need to be skilled to manage and sustain their changed relationships with their subordinates. The COVID-19 has exposed and changed employees expectations as employers increased the employee wellbeing and mental health-related supports to their staff during the pandemic. Employees now expect their direct leads to stay part of this supportive system, lead with empathy, provide assistance in their work-life balance needs, and continue and open conversation around it.
What line manager training could include in the post-COVID workplace
- Line managers' responsibilities in hybrid working: delegation, feedback, requests on flexibility, team building, role modelling, motivation, performance management, conflict management, work organisation etc.
- Communication skills in hybrid working: the role of communication in the post-pandemic workplace, the most effective communication styles in a remote work environment, listening techniques, the importance of conversations and dialogues, the importance and practice of vulnerable or sensitive conversations.
- The wellbeing and mental health implications of hybrid working: how to initiate and manage appropriate wellbeing conversations with employees, how to prevent and identify signs and symptoms of poor mental health, wellbeing or work-life balance in a remote/hybrid work environment.
The transfer of organizations and their managers into a hybrid working environment will create complex challenges. Managers can be supported through task and workload prioritization training to create more opportunities for them to build high impact relationships with their colleagues, and continue supporting them through mental health or wellbeing challenges.
3) Focus on employee wellbeing and work-life balance in hybrid working training should remain a high priority
One significant impact of the global pandemic, next to the actual risk of becoming infected by the virus, including, in the most extreme cases, the long-term physical impact of the COVID-19 or death, is its heavy burden on the mental health of individuals. Already, back in 2020, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that mental health illnesses could soon overtake obesity as the most common pre-existing condition in the US. This situation has not improved significantly as, for example, data from the Mental Health America’s Mind the Workplace 2021 Report, informs that employees are still experiencing signs of burnout in record numbers together with high levels of workplace stress that severely impacts their mental health.
Indeed, the employee wellbeing and mental health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely require attention for some time. This may include supporting staff who experience the long-term effects of the infection, poor mental or physical health, work-life conflict, or anxiety with regards to returning to the office.
What can employers do?
To address the mental health challenges and needs of their employees' organizations have provided a variety of employee wellbeing programs. This included work-life balance plans (reduced working hours, on-site childcare facilities, flexibility in working hours, paid time off etc.), wellbeing and mental health services (therapy or counselling services, employee assistance programmes, webinars and online training classes etc.) or other services (management training, employee wellbeing and engagement pulse surveys, all hands-on meetings etc.).
- Future mental health and wellbeing training may include information and skills development on digital balance, digital wellbeing and having healthy habits regarding technology use, including supporting disconnecting policies.
- Some employees may be hesitant to go back to their offices full time, take up international travel, whereas some may be excited. Either way, organizations and their managers need to use empathy to create work schedules that are right for everyone. Resilience training can support employees going through emotional challenges.
- Providing training on work-life balance strategies and tactical lessons post-COVID-19 will remain relevant whilst working in a hybrid way. These sessions may include the following areas: time management, prioritization or work-life boundary management.
Hybrid working - there is no turning back
At the WorkLife HUB, we firmly believe that this is the greatest opportunity for our generation to revise old working practices, improve the wellbeing and work-life balance of employees, as well as revisit traditional learning and development models. Adapting to hybrid working will take time and include ups and downs. It will certainly require extra empathy and understanding from everyone involved. We remain committed to accompany organizations in this journey and provide them with top-notch knowledge and training.