The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on society and the workplace is coinciding with a renewed quest for racial equity. The current situation is significantly impacting both our personal and professional lives. Novel times provide a time-sensitive opportunity for leaders to assess what kind of organization exists now and envision what the future workplace will and should become. This requires ample attention to employee well-being and a rededication to the values of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Decisions that address employee concerns and promote DEI, collaboration and trust form the foundation of a strong, healthy culture that creates a resilient organization.
Leadership must be laser-focused on trust. Remote work is here to stay and employees returning to work are highly concerned about how this process is being handled. Korn Ferry Institute found that one in five employees did not want to return to the office at all, and 50% were concerned about the health risks of returning. The decisions around who returns to the office, how often they return, and how safety and hygiene will be assured will directly impact employee trust. Further complicating the management of the organizational culture, employees will most likely experience a combination of both days at home and in the office to comply with reduced workplace density and social distancing requirements. Leaders engender trust when they seek employee input and deeply imbed it into their decision-making process. Employees then see these decisions as sound, based on inclusion of their input combined with factual and scientific data within a transparent process.
Most companies have performed well in moving people to off-site work. Gaining the confidence of employees pays off. A McKinsey study reported companies that did a good job with transitioning to off-site work found that their employees were four times more likely to be engaged and six times more likely to feel a positive state of well-being than employees at companies that managed it poorly. It is imperative that high levels of trust continue as management rethinks the workplace in an ongoing COVID-19 environment.
Communication remains the primary driver for creating and maintaining a culture of trust as managers design return-to-work strategies. Leaders must listen to their teams to understand and empathize with their situation and incorporate what is learned into their policy decisions. Listening can take many forms, including forums, surveys and “management by digitally walking around.” The personal touch, however, is the most effective approach. Management’s regular two-way conversations with employees can offer a deeper understanding of their situation, supports an inclusive culture, increases opportunities to address fears and concerns, and serves to find creative solutions to problems that hinder an employee’s success in new, difficult situations and environments.
Resilience requires attention to talent. Talent-related DEI values advance organizational success. CEO dashboards must include and assess these measures as leaders track talent strategy. The credit union industry has valued DEI for some time and the current environment of a heightened focus on racial equity in society and workplaces provides a chance to reenergize the commitment to DEI and reap the benefits. For example, Harvard Business Review reported that companies with diverse management teams enjoy better overall ﬁnancial performance, with EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) margins nearly 10% higher than companies with below-average management diversity. Diverse backgrounds of leadership teams, and the related diversity in thought and approach, can bring in the fresh views needed for innovation, creativity and new behaviors.
Multifaceted layers of both formal and informal communication benefit all employees, particularly those in dispersed workplace settings. The methods and timing of communication between employees and management as well as between employees and team members must be well structured and readily accessible so that information flows continue regardless of employee proximity. Informal communications using the credit union’s digital infrastructure can be deployed to advance collegiality, reduce isolation and build community among workforces. Examples include Slack groups, virtual lunches and happy hours via Zoom. This requires effort from everyone, but it is the leader’s job to provide the tools and set up the conditions to make it happen.
In designing a workplace environment that functions effectively in an era of both heightened social awareness and pandemic strain, consideration for people feeling safe and heard is critical. Inclusion, collaboration, communication and trust are the pillars of a healthy culture that engages employees. Effective strategy execution depends on it, and these keys to employee engagement are the keys to organizational resilience.
Stuart R. Levine is Chairman and CEO for Stuart Levine & Associates and EduLeader LLC in Miami Beach, Fla.