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Despite the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis serving as a shock to the system, many employers did a solid job of addressing the needs of their people from a safety, stability and security standpoint. However, as we enter the second phase of the virus and what’s set to be a long winter, businesses face ongoing challenges with regards to managing remote workforces and welcoming employees back to the workplace. 

Companies are being forced to rethink the employee experience in line with individual differences such as home lives, skills, mindsets, personal characteristics and other factors, while also adapting to rapidly changing circumstances. 

A study conducted by Professor Wei Zheng for the Harvard Business Review (HBR) uncovered how professionals were reacting to the disruption and identified some definitive patterns in leadership behaviour that gave employees a sense of stability, empowerment and inclusion. Despite being conducted during the early stages of the pandemic, the recommendations Zheng made at the time are still relevant to our ongoing state of crisis, so we think employers should take note. 

  1. Appreciation

Zheng’s study revealed that the most frequently cited behaviours of a good employer were recognising, praising and showing appreciation for a person’s work, dedication and effort. It may sound obvious, but affirmative behaviour goes a long way in ensuring employees feel validated during a time when contact with co-workers is limited, and anxiety around job security is high. 

Of course, saying thank you for a job well done is a basic courtesy, but employers could consider dedicating sections of team meetings to highlight the latest accomplishments of the team or setting up a formal reward system – the latter being particularly effective when workers are based at home.  At Omni, we keep it really simple and share thank you’s publicly during our all company team huddle each week.  Public recognition is so simple however, proven to be highly motivational to employees.

  1. Tailored support 

The HBR study found that when leaders demonstrated an understanding of employees’ needs, preferences and circumstances, they felt more confident in accomplishing work goals. As the pandemic rumbles on, people require employers to remain empathetic and flexible around family situations and socioeconomic factors. This is a set to be a permanent fixture for current and future employees as memories of the pandemic remain etched into our psyche for years to come.

Enabling employees to work around care responsibilities or other factors that require a deviation from the standard nine-to-five requires establishing an atmosphere of trust and understanding, which will go a long way in helping people feel less stressed and more positive towards company leaders. 

  1. Input in decision making 

The participants of the HBR study stated they appreciated leaders who went out of their way to seek out and act upon their input. During this time of ongoing uncertainty, employees want to feel listened to and that their ideas have been taken on board.

For such an approach to be implemented successfully, leaders must be the ones doing the listening. Consider holding open forums for teams to attend and share their ideas, hosting one-to-one discussions or even an old-fashioned anonymous ideas box, with all suggestions addressed in company-wide meetings or communications. 

  1. The chance to take on new things 

Thirteen per cent of the survey’s respondents reported feeling empowered when they were tasked with taking on new responsibilities during the pandemic, stating that it made them feel like they were playing an important part in the company’s success. 

While it’s critical to distinguish whether an employee actually wants to take on new tasks or is just feeling nervous about job security, upskilling workers can deliver significant benefits for both parties. As well as helping employees grow and develop their skills and experience, employers will have a more flexible workforce that can be realigned to different business areas if required. Any employers considering this approach are advised to look beyond the usual suspects and instead at team members across all levels who best meet the criteria. 

  1. Team bonding 

According to the survey, employees reported benefits when their leaders created specific opportunities for them to connect and bond with their co-workers. It’s unsurprising considering a large portion of the workforce is set to continue working remotely for the foreseeable future. 

Taking the time to connect employees in a non-work capacity, whether that’s through quizzes, virtual coffee mornings or even socially-distanced get-togethers, will not only help to strengthen the bonds between people but also go a long way in reinforcing company culture and boosting employer branding. 

Employers need to remain agile in all aspects of their business, but particularly when it comes to the evolving needs of their people. That’s why Omni has released a comprehensive guide Adapting to Agile: The Flexible Solutions You Need to Ease Business Recovery. Download your free copy today.