September 23, 2020
Large organizations such as Facebook and Google have publicly stated that the majority of their workforces will not be physically returning to the office until later in 2021. It’s clear that businesses need to look at planning for HR-related areas such as employee morale, engagement and retention with a continued remote workforce lens.
Finn Partners client and Brillio Chief People Officer, Megan Ackerson, shares how the global digital technology consulting and solutions company has adapted over the past six months in terms of how to approach the remote workforce, and what lessons to take moving forward into 2021.
Finn Partners: What lessons have you learned from managing employee morale during the pandemic that you could apply to HR strategies for 2021?
Megan Ackerson: We have observed that the pandemic coupled with political shifts and natural disasters across the globe has created an incredible amount of stress and fatigue for our employees no matter where they live. Because of personal living circumstances, uncertainty around job security, concerns about health and safety, sensations of isolation from normal support networks, etc., employee morale is feeling the effects.
As a result, we have looked at employee morale in terms of “whole person thinking”. That is, supporting employees at work from home, on the job and in their careers. It also includes taking active steps to improve the health and welfare of employees.
For example, after hearing about feelings of fatigue from our employees, we started a #GiveYourselfADay campaign which is about encouraging people to take time off to unplug from work and check in with family, friends and themselves. People do not always think to step back to care for themselves so we have been deliberate about encouraging people to take time off. We’ve also increased parental benefits for our employees in India.
These are things that we started with the pandemic, but they will continue to frame how we think and operate going into 2021 and beyond – putting into perspective the managing the health of the business through the wellness of our employees.
FP: As we enter 2021, do you envision your approach to employee engagement will change? If so, how?
MA: Yes, it has to evolve. The pandemic forces it, plus for the first time we have five generations in the workforce. What that means is we have people at different stages of their lives and careers, so our ability to listen, understand and translate employee needs into a meaningful set of programs, services and culture must adapt. Like morale, engagement requires more of a holistic approach to meeting the varying needs of each employee.
FP: Have you seen attitudes regarding employee incentives vs. fulfillment change during the pandemic? If so, how do you plan to address that next year?
MA: Yes, this is taking more of a holistic and empathy driven shift, too, including recognition of what role a leader and/or peer plays in connecting with their team and colleagues and contributing to an employee’s engagement and/or fulfillment. We have a number of new programs and they have been met with good response. We will continue them in 2021 and beyond.
FP: How has your business been retaining employees during the pandemic? Do you have plans to change that in 2021 as offices open up?
MA: We have been intentional in doing things to demonstrate our continued investment in our employees. Very early on we declared that we would take steps and do everything that we could to minimize furloughs and avoid layoffs while still investing in employees. In addition to the #GiveYourselfADay campaign, we have implemented supplemental COVID-19 benefits and enhanced medical benefits.
While others have cancelled or delayed increases or promotions, we have also made it a point to continue with our annual increases and promotions cycles. In addition, Brillio has increased access to reskilling programs, soft skill programs and technical certifications. So far, more than 500 employees have gone through reskilling, more than 400 have participated in soft skills and leadership training, and more than 125 have added new technical certifications to their resumes.
Finally, we have continued with our philanthropic activities. Since July employees have donated 250 vacation days towards feeding those in need and towards study materials and tutoring for underprivileged children.
Although these are things we have implemented or enhanced mid-pandemic, we are taking steps to evolve them further in 2021. Our team is already actively involved in rolling out even more career development programs. We want to be a company and culture that people join and stay at in part because of the careers they can have and the impact that they make.
FP: Are you looking at any new software solutions or programs to manage employee morale, increase or maintain engagement and/or retention?
MA: When I think about software solutions and programs, I don’t see them as managing morale, engagement or retention. When done right though, people programs coupled with the right technology solutions should enhance employee experiences, which in turn affects engagement and retention, and that’s our focus.
For example, we are evaluating solutions that would help us to increase our ability to get real-time pulses on employee mood. That listening capability will be important to how we respond and adapt to what is important to employees by region, practice, etc.
We will continue to make investments in training and certification programs and platforms. We have made a commitment to helping employees build their skills and professional resilience, and that means expanding access and a continual improvement of our programs.
FP: Is there anything else that will be important for leaders to consider in 2021?
MA: While productivity has reportedly increased as companies have shifted to work from home, I think it’s to be determined at what cost, and will it plateau? People are social and emotional beings and the pandemic is creating debt in those areas.
Some companies have quickly pivoted to 100 percent work from home scenarios. However, there is comradery and spontaneous collaboration and innovation that seeing people face-to- face fosters. So, I believe that some form of hybrid approach, a mix of working at home and in the office, is what makes sense for the workforce in 2021.
Lastly, I would say that now and going into 2021, we will need to shift from simply porting over how we worked in the office to working at home, to shifting how we work and how we use technology solutions to enhance how individuals and teams collaborate and deliver more effectively. Today I think there is still an element of trying to do work as we had done while in office, and that won’t be enough the sustain a healthy organization over the long term.
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