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How HR can create a better employee experience post-COVID.

October 13, 2020 / United Kingdom

HR has been under extraordinary pressure these last few months, and the worst isn’t over. Amid new restrictions, deciding how to support employees as businesses navigate the rocky road back to normal is an even bigger challenge. 

People’s experiences of working from home – and so their perspective on returning to the office – are very different.

The big HR challenge: how can we keep everyone happy? 

On one hand, 21% of employees feel they can’t switch off when they’re WFH, and 87% say they feel increased pressure to be productive. On average, UK workers are working two hours longer than normal.

But then 74% of employees say they’ve enjoyed the time saved by not commuting. 73% appreciated the money they saved, and 52% enjoyed the increased flexibility. 87% say the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive impact on how they work.

Research differs wildly, so only one finding is conclusive: employee sentiment is split. That puts HR professionals in an extremely difficult position. 

Employees who’ve struggled will probably welcome a return to the office – but the stress of 2020 won’t disappear overnight. Plus, most businesses are looking at hybrid work, not a back-to-office tsunami.

Employee preferences are important but they’re not the only consideration. In the light of new restrictions, some employees who’d rather be in the office might be asked to WFH a while longer. In that case, managing morale is difficult – and has long-term implications for engagement, productivity and retention.

Then on the flipside, people who have enjoyed WFH might be reluctant to transition back to offices, even on a hybrid basis. The negatives of working from the office could feel amplified – and unless HR can reemphasise the positives, engagement, productivity and retention could likewise suffer.

HR are treading a tightrope right now. The big issue is:

How do we rethink HR to make the hybrid workforce a positive, inclusive experience for everyone?

The answer is two-fold – increasing engagement by amplifying positives, and healing divisions by creating an inclusive workplace. 

First, assess employee engagement initiatives. 

Could you do more to support, thank, motivate and reward employees right now? Even if these are short-to-medium term changes, now is probably a good time to increase investment in employee engagement. 

Subsidised lunches could be a great example, especially as finances might be tight for many employees. Or giving people an extra day or two’s holiday. Or subsidising a family meal to reward great performance. 

The point is, HR going above-and-beyond can help mitigate sub-par experiences caused by COVID.  

Second, focus on bringing people together.

When employee sentiment is so split, these divisions risk becoming fractures that threaten business outcomes. There’s huge scope for teams to fragment and culture to erode. For resentments to brew. And ultimately, for productivity and profitability to stall. 

To counteract, HR should focus on helping all employees – wherever they work, and whatever their experiences – feel positive and included. 

If you subsidise lunches, for instance, that should be fair for WFH and office workers. Team lunches should include the whole team, so nobody feels excluded. 

Or say there’s a big client meeting. Everyone’s had to do the same amount of work – but physical office workers get the perk of a corporate lunch. That’s a potential hotbed for resentment.

When the transition back to the office restarts with gusto, and in the months before, HR must zero-in on tactics to create positive, inclusive, shared employee experiences.     

This blog is part of The team that Eats together initiative, a content series exploring what normal looks like now, and how to enhance the working world to meet evolved employee expectations.

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The views and opinions expressed are based on the research conducted and they do not intend to present an official policy of Uber or any of its subsidiaries. Examples of advice mentioned in this article are based on open source information and assumptions made within the article are not reflective of Uber’s position.