How we’ve adapted to life and work in 2020 sets a different foundation for nearly all of us as we prepare for 2021.  Every aspect of our life has been touched during this pandemic, from how we interact with friends and family to how we run our organizations to how we prepare for tomorrow. We now know the importance of creating an environment centered on our people, elevating work-life balance and embedding it in all our operational strategies. 

In fact, the past year has completely transformed how we think about not just employee well-being but operational well-being. Organizational performance isn't just measured by bottom line numbers and budget targets anymore. The pandemic has exposed the human factor in all of it. Just take a look at this recent quote from Gartner to see what I mean:

“While some organizations have recognized the humanitarian crisis of the pandemic and prioritized the well-being of employees as people over employees as workers, others have pushed employees to work in conditions that are high risk with little support – treating them as workers first and people second.”

- Mary Baker, 9 Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19, Gartner Inc.

There are a variety of actions organizations can take to build well-being into operational processes as we close the books on 2020 and head into a fresh year, 2021. Use the key considerations below as a starting point to help you and your leadership team brainstorm on operational well-being in the new year:

Managing through uncertainty operational well-being banner

Virtual and physical spaces matter more to your people than ever before

For a while, office perks like group lunches, catered breakfasts, office games, lounge furniture, and onsite fitness options were all buzzworthy. But perks like these don’t have the same appeal in 2021. This is thanks to COVID-19 changing the way we interact with others and feel safe in the workplace. The perks listed don’t have the same impact in a world where many of us will be given remote options moving forward or will need to follow stricter safety guidelines in physical workplaces. This is giving rise to new employee expectations.

Some further research from Gartner suggests that nearly half (48 percent) of employees will continue working remotely at least some of the time this upcoming year. It's time to rethink the office, whether that be at home, in an office building, or onsite with customers. Environmental opportunities include fair scheduling, assigned jobs, closed spaces, self-service, communication tools, new approaches to social interaction, mobile capabilities, and virtual rewards and recognition.

Finding the right blend of technology to support flexibility for all your people is critical

We’ve all gotten familiar with digital collaboration and virtual team meetings. Once a nice to have, it's now an essential element of well-being in the workplace. The right blend of technology with policies that let your people feel they're trusted creates a more flexible experience aligned with modern work practices.

This blend should be a top priority for operations in 2021. Getting there requires considering your teams that work from home full-time in this pandemic, hybrid workers going back and forth, and employees that manage the everyday hustle between home and their place of work. 

These variations in your workforce will require collaboration policies designed to keep people safe and make all lives easier. That's where technology comes into play, letting your people work more seamlessly through flexible communication and modern self-service tools that help them accomplish all they need to regardless of location or device.

The past year is the prime example that specific rules around hours and locations in the office are unnecessary, and by being more flexible, organizations improve business results and adapt through change much quicker. Preparing for 2021, reflect on your digital transformation and how your organization provides the right amount of tools, within a unified experience, to achieve quicker and more accurate outcomes.

Seeing through the eyes of your people helps define your direction

In our current reality, everything influences an employee’s well-being – so be intentional. It’s important for your people to feel like they're making meaningful contributions at work. As we move into 2021, try seeing your employees through the lens in which they live and work. A big part of being successful at this is keeping a pulse on their mental health through your management team.

Managers are the secret ingredient to seeing from your people's perspective. It's important that you encourage employee/manager relationships that are transparent through your policies and leadership development strategies. Good relationships in this area help model good behavior, enable successful throughput of jobs and projects, create feedback opportunities, practice transparent goal setting for your people that match your operational goals, and influence the ability to build and keep trust at your organization.

You can also boost your connection to your people's way of thinking using the analytics and AI options built into your technology. With the right system, these insights will come through in real time and use records of typical operational processes, such as when employees clock in and out, time exceptions, overtime, schedule changes, and others, to predict trends among your people and support them.  

For example, AI can predict and give recommendations around addressing who's likely to leave the organization, support people's well-being through automatically adapting to their preferences in areas like scheduling, and in general guide you to the pieces of data that have the biggest impact on your operational well-being.

Accessible leadership even in times of social distance makes a big difference

Something we’ve all faced in 2020 has been ongoing and unanswered questions. Each one of us had questions about safety, belonging, inclusion, diversity, security, availability, and even just the latest events happening in the world around us. Leadership inherits a different responsibility with communication, and they must be prepared to update and support their people when adapting to change so everyone can continue to live and work effectively.

Being accessible and having the right messages for employees matters, as the feeling of security people get from these kinds of leadership communications promotes safety and well-being in the workplace. Julie Develin called this out in a recent eSymposium presentation:

"81 percent of employees would rather join a company that values ‘open communication’ than one that offers great perks such as top-flight health plans, free food, and gym membership."

- Julie Develin, "Safety First: The New Cost of Doing Nothing," UKG

Business continuity plans remain critical in this upcoming year. Ensure your employees have mobile-first access to an updated knowledgebase they can use as an on-demand FAQ. Define crafty, precise, actionable messaging that leaves people feeling informed and involved. Ensure accessibility to leadership through a robust employee case management system, making it effortless for employees to touch base with the right person at the right time. It’s important for employee and operational well-being to have the right communication updates and answers at everyone's fingertips so essential processes can continue even in the face of crisis.

Conclusion: Operational well-being must be intended, supported, and flexible to be effective

We are now more connected, collaborative, and dependent on information for better people insights and business outcomes than ever before. Using what we’ve learned as a result of the pandemic in 2021 will help our businesses exceed employee expectations and drive human potential.

There are a lot of things that need to be considered and addressed for 2021 operationally, however I encourage you to start brainstorming on the key considerations discussed. In this new world where work-life balance is essential to business success, operational well-being relies on us blending experiences with processes and technology to achieve optimal results. This is a pivotal moment for the future of work and each one of us plays a role in building this new way of work.

If you'd like some more ideas about what steps to take next and how to be prepared for the next crisis, check out our Playbook for HR Technology in Times of Crisis. It's got loads of practical tips that will help you achieve the goals mentioned above.

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Published: Tuesday, December 29, 2020