Don’t Put People in a Box: Customization in the COVID RTW Context.

Lauren Welgush COVID-19, Employee Engagement, employee experience, Employee Relations, Organizational Development

Social media and greater access to information has created consumers who are empowered and expect to shape their own experiences. As a result, companies having to adapt to customize their products and services. Think Adidas – head to their website and you can chose the colour scheme for your next pair of running shoes. The more this happens in the commercial world, the more employees measure their employee experience based on the same criteria. They now expect a say in all things work.

This is exactly why as HR we have to stop putting employees in a one size fits-all box. Personally, the only box I would make an exception for is one of KD’s 9 Faces of HR. Just saying.

So tell me what you want, what you really, really want

As disruptive to the world as COVID-19 has been, it’s the perfect opportunity to stop with the overly prescriptive policies and practices. It’s time to take a queue from the Spice Girls. I’m sure you can’t forget their big hit ‘Wannabe’, with the lyrics, ‘so tell me what you want, what you really, really want’. It should be the COVID-19 HR anthem, minus the slam your body down and if you want to be my lover parts.

This is especially true that now we are talking about finding our new ‘normal’ and heading back to the office. More than ever, employees want to shape the where and when of their work environments.

HR needs to look into the faces (from a distance, please) of employees and be more responsive to their individual wants and needs. That is to say, we need to start asking genuine questions, being more flexible and empowering managers to develop deeper relationships with their direct reports.

So, here’s the story from A to Z

Let’s look at how we can get ahead of the c&c curve and create the environment for employees to have a say.

Most importantly, help your organization recognize that people have different degrees of what they are comfortable with, and that’s ok. Some people are outside running the streets to keep fit, while others haven’t stepped foot outside in days. In addition, ask employees at all levels what they really want in their return to ‘normal’.

Set the stage with genuine dialogue, empathy and showing flexibility in your HR actions. Share how you are feeling and go forth with some focused questions and active listening skills with different groups.

1.     The Business – Ask business leaders to define what their needs and wants are for the business. Take an outcomes approach. Get clear on what the business wants to achieve by coming back to the office and then question if that can be accomplished in another way.

2.     Employees – Tools like Menti can give you the opportunity to find out in real-time how your employees are feeling. Use it during your next all-hands meeting. Simple questions like ‘how have you been feeling the past couple of weeks’ or ‘if all safety measures were in place, would you return to the office tomorrow’ will give you a great pulse of overall feelings. The transparency in doing it in real time where everyone sees the results has its own value-add as well.

3.     Teams – Follow up with a more focused survey by team. Some teams are going to need to be all-in or all-out of the office in order to be productive. Figure out which teams those are and how each employee on the team would feel about going back to the office. Encourage them to talk to their managers.

4.     Individuals – Reach out to key people in the organization, they’ll have insights. Ask questions, especially to those who do not want to go back to the office. Find out the why. I have a feeling you are going to find out that most employees want the remote work-life option forever because it’s the ultimate having a say in the where (coffee shop today, home office tomorrow) and when (balancing baby’s bed time) of their work.

5.     Managers – Empower managers to get to know their direct reports even more during this time, especially their personal matters. By doing this they build their capacity to be more responsive to their teams’ needs. Put them through the experience first, ask them the questions you would like them to be asking their teams.

Get your act together we could be just fine

Great, you’ve got an array of information from a variety of groups. Now instead of focusing on collective obligations you can look at personal needs.

If for their mental health, or to get away from their kids, employees may need the office environment. Wonderful, what does that look like for them? Maybe a different employee is absolutely set on not being comfortable going back to the office, ever. How does that work for them and the business? If you have to say no, give them the honest ‘why’, especially if their productivity has improved during COVID. Do you really want to lose a good employee because of a lack of flexibility?

Bonus if you don’t have a remote work policy already – If you’ve asked the right questions, as a result you have a whole bunch of data on the readiness and logistical needs of your organization to go non-COVID remote.

It’s not cool to put people in a box, so don’t get caught doing it now. Channel your inner Spice Girl, make it last forever, and be the future of HR.