People-centric approach is key to retaining staff post-pandemic

In the past two and a half years, the pandemic has ushered in hybrid work, which is now the new normal for most organisations that can have staff work flexibly. However, just as the pandemic has wrought unprecedented disruption, the recovery period is not business as usual, either. Today, large numbers of staff are leaving the workforce as part of the Great Resignation.

This unintended result of the pandemic has seen a sharp rise in employees leaving their jobs, which has made the shortage of skills in some sectors even more acute. Part of this is down to pandemic-induced soul searching, according to the Recruit, Retain and Grow study this year by Poly, while the way organisations handled the pandemic and the shift to hybrid work have had enormous impacts as well. Over half (56%) of organisations say that if they don’t sort out their hybrid work plans, they’ll start losing staff and be unable to attract new talent, the report noted.

Based on a study of more than 2,500 decision makers from December 2021 to February 2022, it found that 72% of organisations saw an increase in productivity because of remote or hybrid working. Yet, ironically, many are not prepared to reap this benefit in the long term. The Poly study found that 37% of organisations were only prepared for hybrid work for the short term. That’s not to mention that, with the Great Resignation compounding the shortage of skills, 55% of organisations said they could be put out of business.

So, even with so much on the line, many businesses are in two minds today, weighing whether to accept that hybrid work is needed to attract talent or see it as just a passing fad.

Both organisations and staff are worried about the burnout from overwork in an always-on situation – flexibility works both ways in terms of work and rest hours. While hybrid work promises to enable staff to work flexibly and fit their work around life rather than the other way around, the results are uneven.

Take the reasons why people are resigning, or at least thinking of resigning today.

Why people leave

While some leave because they want more flexibility around a hybrid or remote work arrangement, others have resigned because they did not like the shift to hybrid work, the Poly study found. Some may prefer to work on their own time with set targets, while others can find themselves under too much pressure to work long hours, for example, with video call fatigue.

So, what do business leaders do, given this seemingly paradoxical situation? The way forward is a people-centric approach, where staff are closely involved in the work styles that organisations seek to engage in.

From office planning to the technologies that enable remote work (such as cloud, as well as both audio and videoconferencing), organisations must fully and regularly engage employees to seek a new balance in a post-pandemic future.

They need to turn their attention to creating an equal experience for all employees, who will help them recruit, retain talent, and grow their businesses in the long run.

Retaining people, the organisation’s greatest asset, starts with the acknowledgement that hybrid work isn’t going away. Business leaders should:

  • Embrace the future of work with flexible policies that cater to different work personas.
  • Stay agile, ready for a future of uncertainty.
  • Rethink the attractiveness and purpose of an office.

Equality, experience, and evolution are three E’s that could make hybrid work a success in the future:

  • Equality and experience, in the sense that office spaces and technologies that organisations invest in, must deliver great, equal experiences for their workforce – whether for those working in the office, those working from home, or for those working anywhere in between.
  • Evolution, in the way offices are perceived and used. This means re-evaluating how these physical spaces are used in a hybrid arrangement in future.

Tellingly, the Poly study found that 64% of organisations no longer see the office as the face of a company. Instead, its technology and experience define it better.

Adopting a people-centric approach

The challenge for organisations, as they look to new workstyles in the recovery period, is to better understand the priorities of the people that these changes are intended to benefit. How can a space be more engaging, beyond just being another lounge area for networking and winding down between meetings? Do employees want that or more individual space instead to get work done and have more free time? The same applies to virtual experiences. Employee engagement is critical to ensure meeting equality, no matter where one joins a meeting from.

What organisations must do is combine space, people, and technology to create engaging environments, as part of a hybrid work strategy. Each factor cannot exist in a silo; users must make use of the space and technology, which in turn need to be carefully designed to be useful and practical to users.

Regardless of how much time organisations want people to be in office, they will still need a strategy that is flexible enough to pivot quickly.

Ultimately, each organisation is different. Each one changes over time as well. That means it is important to constantly test and measure employee reactions and feedback. Course-correct, if necessary. Be agile.

Those organisations that can do so – by not just leveraging the latest technologies but also adopting a people-centric approach – will be the success stories for a future hybrid workstyle. More importantly, by offering a comfortable and effective way for employees to collaborate, companies will go a long way to retain and grow their talent pool, even during unprecedented disenchantment with employment.

If the pandemic brought a wave of disruption that caught everyone unawares, now is an opportunity to ride the wave and secure the most important asset in any organisation – its people.