29 May 2020 19:35 IST

The new narrative of work, post Covid

Here are some ways organisations can navigate the altered reality

The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the narrative of work, workplace, and work-life balance. Work from home has become the new normal and executives have to grapple with work, home, and kids simultaneously in this temporary but stressful situation. This new paradigm calls for a change in the way organisations deal with this and possibly leverage this scenario to incorporate some best practices. Based on my conversations with academics and management executives, here are a few guidelines for organisations and their leaders to navigate through this new work/life reality.

Uncertainty is bad for employees’ morale and the business

On a psychological level, your employees are stressed and any uncertainty pertaining to their job, emoluments, or future will only exacerbate the stress and agony. Communication and transparency are​ very important​ in situations like these and layoffs should always be the last choice. Remember, things will become normal again and humanity will bounce back. History is testimony to that indomitable spirit.

Post 9/11, like all its peers, Southwest Airlines could have laid off people and the reasons were genuine enough. It chose not to follow its peers. It showed the beleaguered industry that laying off people is essentially a reflection of the management’s choice. These are testing times indeed and taking care of people is always a good idea. Your people will find ways to save money and enhance productivity, too.

Engagement is necessary​ for a virtual set-up, too

Organisations’ ​idea of work-engagement is intertwined with the workplace and, in the present scenario, organisations might put employee engagement on the backburner. Now, this is not a great idea. First, people are working in a new work environment (their homes) with fewer interactions with their superiors and colleagues whilst managing their kids and other domestic chores.

Second, they are bound to be affected mentally by Covid-19 updates and fluctuations in stock-markets. Providing social support, assessing their general well-being, and empathising with the complexities of their new work environment would boost their morale and bolster the image of the organisation.

Work is a part of life but there are many other facets, too

In the Indian corporate context, we have normalised long working hours. The epitome of an ideal employee is one who puts in long working hours. This is despite numerous research studies pointing to the contrary. In the latest piece, UC Berkeley Professor Morten Hansen’'s book, Great at Work, based on a study of about 5,000 people, finds that performance is not positively related to work hours.

This is a good time to redesign how we work, eliminate those unnecessary meetings and calls, review those stingy leave policies, and get rid of all the archaic rules concerning work and workplace.

Guidelines, rules and regulations can ensure a normative commitment from the employee but you need to go the extra mile to get that elusive affective commitment. Good organisations and good leaders do this all the time, Covid or not. The pandemic doesn’t change the importance of what needs to be done; it just enhances the urgency part of those actions.

(The author worked in industry for 10 years and is now a Ph.D candidate in the Strategic Management Area at IIM, Kozhikode. Views expressed are personal)

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