Emma de Sousa, UK managing director at Insight, discusses how businesses can adapt to the 'new normal' by adjusting how they assess their employees
Emma de Sousa, UK managing director at B2B tech company Insight, discusses how businesses all over the world can adapt properly to the ‘new normal’ of working from home by adjusting how they observe, and assess, their employees.
Q&A with Insight’s Emma de Sousa
A lot of people and organisations talk about the “new normal” – how would you describe it?
Undoubtedly, the coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown have acted as catalysts for thousands of organisations to fully adopt working from home.
The mass rush to work remotely in March meant organisations went through a rapid stress test, ironing out many of the potential kinks – such as connecting employees and securing their data.
The evidence shows many have already assumed the change is permanent.
Research by the Universities of Cardiff and Southampton in August showed nine in 10 UK employees who have worked from home during lockdown would like to continue in some form afterwards.
And, according to a recent European survey, more than a third of organisations have consolidated their physical office space in order to save costs.
The “new normal” is an environment where the majority of employees work remotely most, if not all, of the time.
It means changes to lifestyle. It means changes to technology in order to facilitate these employees. And more than anything else, it means a radical change to the culture of the workplace, and how we manage and reward employees.
We’ve seen many organisations already adapt and embrace this ‘new normal’, so much so that I believe the term is becoming increasingly redundant. It’s no longer new – it’s here and it’s now.
What key challenges will organisations have to overcome in adjusting to these changes?
The key challenge will be to unlearn more traditional attitudes to work that have built up over decades.
Put simply, many traditional approaches to management assume that employees will all be in approximately the same place at approximately the same time, and work for approximately the same number of hours.
However, these assumptions are generally untrue – and were even looking fragile before lockdown.
The way in which we work has changed, and the way we need to think about and measure work has changed as well.
Policing home workers based on the hours they work or their availability simply isn’t practical; instead, organisations need to be able to focus on performance above all else.
How do you see this changing businesses’ approach to managing employees?
If organisations weren’t already, they need to measure each employee based on their own individual achievements.
Some will use a proven framework such as an Objectives and Key Results (OKR) approach, but the key elements will remain the same.
Managers need to understand the value employees bring to the organisation, what objectives they need to be given in order to succeed, and how to measure progress towards these objectives.
This approach demands complete trust, on both sides of the equation.
For instance, employers need to trust that their employees know exactly what to do in order to meet their goals – and employees have to trust that they will only be judged on their results, not whether they met outmoded expectations.
This won’t be an overnight process. It can mean rewiring decades of thinking, and embracing what might seem like uncomfortable concepts.
For example, performance management plans traditionally have a negative reputation as a final step before an employee is fired.
But used correctly, they can have a vital role as a guide for employees on how to improve and progress.
At the same time, you need to invest in the resources – such as training – to help employees develop, and the time to educate the whole business on how its ways of thinking need to change.
Have you adopted this approach yourself and, if so, what did you learn from doing so?
At Insight, we had already encouraged remote and flexible working for several years.
Taking this hybrid approach has been invaluable in helping our employees embrace new ways of working, and meant those employees that were still office-bound could easily transition to home working when lockdown came into force.
However, we’ve continued to refine our approach.
For example, over the past six months we’ve introduced new awards for our employees, recognising, for instance, the hard work of people who have helped our public sector clients keep operating.
At the same time, we still know the value of a quick email or verbal pat on the back when someone does well.
However, the most important lessons to learn are: first, to lead by example. People at all levels of the business will only adopt and embrace new approaches if they see others taking advantage of and benefitting from them.
Second, there is no single “magic bullet” that will help businesses to adapt. What’s important is that organisations transform how they think about work – if they can do this it will lead to the right initiatives and behaviours.
Is this only about making the workforce productive? Are there any other benefits?
The other major benefit is being able to attract and retain employees.
We may be in a tough time for business, but organisations that can show they invest in their employees and reward ability and performance, with the flexibility to fit around their employees’ expectations, will be much more attractive places to work.