Covid-19 has forced businesses to make positive changes

Collectively, we tend to think we’re good at proactively making changes for the better. And in the most part this is the case, but there are times when positive changes are as a result of challenging times and sometimes even tragic events.

For me, the past few months have been a real catalyst for transformational change. It’s forced businesses to do things differently and to adapt quickly to meet new and unexpected challenges. At Aster, we’ve used this time to accelerate transformation within the business. Under the umbrella of programme experience, our biggest and most exciting transformation yet, we are in a good position to understand what it is that  we need to be doing differently to keep pace with the changing world around us but we know there is more we can be doing.  

In the first of our roundtables in our World of Work series – a project we recently launched to explore how the world of work looks now and how it will change in the future. The first panel discussion focused on how the current pandemic has impacted ambition, motivation and that sense of belonging in the workplace.

Covid-19 – a human tragedy – has prompted, directly or indirectly, developments that are improving how we work, and how we experience work.

One of the big changes since the pandemic began back in March, is the huge numbers of people now working from home. Here at Aster we see ourselves as early adopters in flexible working. We’ve encouraged our colleagues to fit their work around life commitments, rather than the other way around, for some time. It’s this truly flexible approach that gave us a head start earlier this year when working from home became the norm. It meant that we’d already found ways to collaborate and work effectively away from the office but what we still found was creating that sense of ‘belonging’ that the traditional office environment provided was difficult to replicate.

Research we commissioned with YouGov paints a similar picture for the wider business community who echoed our concerns around employees feeling disconnected from the workplace, particularly the younger members of the workforce whose development so often relies on face-to-face interaction with peers. The findings show that more than half (56%) of under 35s are worried the changes to how they work caused by the coronavirus pandemic will negatively affect their professional development.

As businesses, we must address how we engage with employees to overcome these negative effects of the pandemic. The Aster Offer our collective term for all of the things that make-up our colleague offer has been in place for just over a year and is all about improving colleague experience by creating a fair and inclusive culture built on   employee feedback. It’s this two-way dialogue that has been pivotal in how we’ve adapted and how we engage with employees during the pandemic.

It’s fair to say that during the firstlockdown, a lot of us weren’t working from home we were working at home – there was still work to be done to truly enable a successful work/life blend. We saw many of our colleagues trying to juggle work and family life, and others dealing with the isolation of living and working alone. Everyone adapted well under pressure, but it wasn’t our desired flexible working offer.  What it did do was help shift some slower adopters to a new way of working and it inspired some excellent new wellbeing and leadership initiatives.

This included a series of ‘wellbeing calls’ for colleagues on furlough which were vital in helping them to feel connected during their time away from the office. We are also very aware that our leaders are now even more crucial in keeping our people motivated and engaged, so the training and support we gave to managers on how to lead remotely was an important part of our Connect 4 Leaders programme. Elsewhere, we’ve encouraged our people to nominate those colleagues going above and beyond to make a difference, sometimes in very difficult circumstances, in our annual awards.

They’re little things, but then they so often are. It’s the culmination of all of these little things though that has seen us actually improve our engagement score and net promoter score this year despite the challenges of a global pandemic to almost 80% and +47% respectively.

My fellow roundtable panellists had similar examples.

Rishi Sethi from Rabobank talked about how the new way of working had meant managers could quickly put skills learned in emotional intelligence training last year into action, supporting those adapting to different ways of working.

For those of us who believe that work is something you do rather than a place you go, Covid-19 has made our jobs more personal in positive ways.

I loved Deloitte’s Carolyn Hicks’ tale of the new starter who dialled into his onboarding session with his baby son in his arms, and Professor Sir Cary Cooper of Alliance Manchester Business School recalling his wife bringing him croissants during Zoom calls.

Counterintuitively, given we’ve become so used to seeing our friends, families and colleagues on video rather than in the flesh, many of us feel we know each other better now than before.

And perhaps we’re kinder, too. As Sharon Blyfield, who oversees recruitment at Cola-Cola European Partners, explained, her colleagues have felt able to give more of their time to brilliant company initiatives, such as those based around Pride and Black History Month, because working flexibly means they save time by not commuting.

Even though we still have much to do, our conversation left me feeling optimistic for the future. Many have spoken about how the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the best of Britain as people have pulled together. It’s seems to be no different in the workplace.

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