As the promise of large-scale vaccination programs come to fruition, midsize companies are now grappling with the realities of transitioning their workforce back into the office.
But the question is not when to bring everyone back, but how to use this opportunity to create a workplace that allows everyone to collaborate, focus, learn, socialize, and grow.
My colleague Steve Hunt, chief expert of Technology and Work at SAP, calls this line of thinking a “mindful return to the office.” And I couldn’t agree more. Now that more than 60% of millennials and Gen-Zs prefer the option to work remotely more often, it’s clear that pre-pandemic employee experiences will never come back again.
But this sentiment doesn’t mean that the traditional office experience is dead – it simply means that employee needs are evolving. Whether your employees are working remotely, on site, or within a combination of both, delivering experiences that keep your people engaged is critically important. After all, the hybrid workplace is likely to become more common across many industries for the foreseeable future.
Sustaining a culture of employee engagement and productivity
Some businesses are already heading in the direction of a hybrid work model, allowing some people to work two or three days in the office and the rest of the week remotely, for example. But that part of the hybrid work model is the easy part.
The real magic happens when companies are able to:
- Tap more diverse talent pools
- Assess available skills and capabilities
- Realign resources to address changing needs
- Develop future leaders
- Compensate and promote people fairly
- Recognize and reward top performers in ways that increase motivation and performance
These aspects of the overall employee experience strategy must happen no matter where employees sit.
A hybrid workplace model challenges HR teams to not only keep people connected, engaged, and empowered, but also analyze data-driven insights to understand and improve the workforce culture and deliver business outcomes. But this exercise is not just for HR leaders – executive-level leaders, department heads, and organizational managers must accept responsibility to do the same.
Sales leaders are already familiar with this model to a degree. They engage primarily remote salespeople through active listening and consistently study the sales pipeline and win-loss analyses to determine which are most productive, hitting targets, and exceeding expectations. To stay competitive, sales leaders must know their organization’s cost in terms of total headcount and its implications on the company’s bottom line.
How to achieve the right balance
Transforming a workplace into a hybrid model is not as simple as writing new rules of employee conduct and setting new expectations. There is still much work to do to close any gaps in how tools and technology at work enable a great employee experience. Although employees are satisfied with some tools, they may still be skeptical about whether they have everything they need to be productive and continuously develop and grow.
However, building the connections needed to make this happen is not always easy without the right support. According to Oxford Economics, 29% of midsize businesses cite a lack of coordination between different departments as a top internal challenge and 44% cite effective collaboration across functions as a major barrier to transformation initiatives.
Technology plays an essential role in overcoming these issues to create an engaged and agile workforce that enhances business continuity and increases resilience. In fact, employees who are highly satisfied with their company’s tech are six times more likely to be highly satisfied with their overall employee experience.
So how can a business maintain that “workplace hum” of interconnectedness when some people are in the office and others are remote on any given day? The answer goes beyond traditional HR approaches to a more human-centric one, called human experience management (HXM).
HXM is about putting people and their experiences at the center of everything, making work not only easier, but more individualized to each employee.
With the hybrid work model here to stay, it is increasingly important that employees feel connected, informed and with access to the tools they need to be productive from any device or location. And all of these capabilities are affordably accessible to midsize companies.
Digital workplace tools, such as this new HXM solution, allow employees to tap into everything they need – applications, processes, content, and information − from a single touch point and plus, they can personalize the experience based on what matters to each individual, and which insights and actions are relevant based on their behaviors.
Discovering peer groups, mentors, and intelligent recommendations with greater ease helps employees access the resources they need, stay connected, and save time to get work done. In addition, HR teams can leverage the technology to onboard and offboard employees and upskill and reskill through continuous learning, skills development, and on-the-job training opportunities.
With this modern and intuitive technology, multiple applications are integrated into a single user interface, extending the experience across all work-related touch points. And since the platform is extensible, companies can generate more value for their customers, partners, and stakeholders without the burden of ever-increasing IT costs.
Putting people first matters
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has empowered us to reimagine the workplace and created opportunities to optimize it. But no matter where or how employees work, employee experience matters, especially when it comes to employee engagement and retention.
A hybrid work environment that is interconnected with the right foundation can become an experience that gives employees what they need to feel connected, empowered, appreciated, and fairly rewarded. And when employees and their experiences come first, and their true value is well-understood, midsize businesses create a true meritocracy that empowers their workforce to take charge of their future and the company’s success.
Connect the dots between customers, employees, insights, and processes across your midsize business. Read the Oxford Economics brief, “The Interconnected Business,” for research-based insights on the value of being interconnected and the e-book, “Success in the New Economy,” for tips on how to act on them effectively.
Lara Albert is global vice president of Solution Marketing for SAP SuccessFactors
This article was originally published on Forbes, SAP Brandvoice.