The New Rules of Workforce Engagement

The New Rules of Workforce Engagement
The New Rules of Workforce Engagement

The full-scale pivot to remote working during the pandemic has made us question everything we thought we knew about when, where and how work gets done.

Kelley Steven-Waiss is the CEO of a B2B cloud-based SaaS talent mobility platform, “Hitch” and co-author of The Inside Gig: How Sharing Untapped Talent Across Boundaries Unleashes Organizational Capacity. Here, we talk to her about how the events of the past year will forever change the flow of work, and how companies can keep their employees engaged. 

A lot of people assumed remote work would reduce productivity, but in a recent Sodexo survey 75% of respondents said they were not expecting that giving employees greater autonomy would have such a positive impact on productivity. Are you surprised to hear that? 

Not at all. What this great experiment has taught us is that when we give people the autonomy to manage their time, it creates a well of discretionary effort that the company can tap into. It’s counterintuitive to the way that we have traditionally managed people, and it’s driving a movement toward a more personalized way of thinking about work and treating employees more like we would consumers. 

How does this affect HR’s relationship with employees? 

The big lesson here is that being agile with talent is helpful, even when you're not in crisis.

To stay relevant, companies need to start thinking of their people as unique and valuable assets and protecting them and managing their supply and demand like they would their inventory or product. Because without those critical skillsets and an agile talent strategy you cannot execute strategy. 

This has shifted how HR is delivering learning and other benefits to people, and how they are using virtual technologies like Hitch to create customized learning experiences for everyone in the company. They can no longer just say, "What's good for one is good for many." It has to feel personal to the individual.

What impact has working remotely had on employees’ sense of connection to their employers? 

Working from home has caused a lot of employees to reflect on what it is about the company and the role they're in that they love or don't love. They are asking themselves whether they’re in the right place, and whether they’re learning what they need to in order to grow and remain relevant. That’s putting a lot of pressure on companies to be more intentional about their purpose.

There is also research that shows people working from home during the pandemic are withholding mental health conditions from their employer, for fear of a negative impact on career progression. How are HR leaders responding?

Mental health is no longer a “personal issue”, but one companies need to acknowledge and support. The pressures brought on by “living at work” and juggling the tasks, both personal and professional, create additional stress for many employees as the conditions for working at home are not ideal. As we continue to build intentional and purpose-driven cultures, employee wellness must be a part of the value proposition. We need to care for the whole person much like we are asking people to bring their whole self to work.

So what can HR leaders do to optimize their talent strategies and create a more productive and engaged workforce?

Employees survived the pandemic by adapting to remote work, and the data suggests that their productivity wasn’t negatively affected. As we come out of this crisis, HR leaders have to be willing to say, “There’s no reason to go back to the way things were.”

Having a more agile workforce and the ability to pull diverse teams together quickly from all over the company will give leaders a competitive advantage. It will make it easier to break down silos, share knowledge and drive productivity. Technology is the great enabler to capitalize on this opportunity. It can help companies visualize their skills supply chain so they can match skills to the right work regardless of where people are located. That is how companies make the most of the gold in their organizations.

The focus on optimizing talent from the inside, giving the internal employees opportunities and allowing for greater movement and autonomy are the things that will help companies recover. I have no doubt that HR leaders will drive this agenda.

Does your talent strategy measure up? Download our report, People, purpose, possibility: How HR is transforming the business agenda.