Wherever people are working from, they will always be at the heart of driving business success. The more emphasis that organisations place on supporting employees, the more resilient and productive they will find themselves to be.
Here are four important pillars to consider when building a people-first strategy in a post-Covid world.
In many ways, the pandemic has accelerated natural progression. Rather than seismic shifts, the changes we are actioning now are all things we have been talking about for a while. In particular, the removal of the traditional office has helped put a focus on the outputs of work, instead of the hours spent working.
This isn’t as obvious a shift as it sounds. People naturally have different approaches to the concept of flexible working, and if the foundation of someone’s management style relies upon presenteeism, it is going to be difficult for them to adapt.
Saying ‘I need this task completed, and these are the parameters in which it should be delivered’, is very different to overseeing the nine to five. But when the purpose and meaning of the line manager is to control, you end up with two people doing the job of one.
It comes down to trust.
If you can trust someone to run a multi-million pound building, or manage critical budgets; if you can empower them to make fundamental decisions, but you cannot trust them to manage their time, there is clearly a disconnect.
What is required now is a new space where managers support and challenge. A healthy partnership built on mutual and reciprocal trust.
From an operational perspective we need to be prepared for the fact that not everyone is made for this transition, and some people simply like being told what to do.
There is a chance these people will feel lost at sea.
They will need to unlearn their old processes, and that can be as traumatic as being micro-managed.
At MAPP our culture is one of empowerment. Our 350 members of staff are trusted to deliver their role in the best way they can, and in return, they trust MAPP to provide them with the support they need to do the job. For that trust to be truly impactful, it has to work both ways.
The way in which we hold conversations about work must be rooted in empathy. Crucially now, we need to understand the past few months from the individual’s perspective.
When it comes to change, empathy can be shown by appreciating that good news for one person could be a disaster for another. Some will see an opportunity to grab with both hands, others a cause for panic.
When we initially worked on the changes in work and life for the individual and for the business, and needed to communicate big decisions, we were confronted by the scale of responses. It was clear that listening and open dialogue were going to be essential to make this work, and one size would not fit all.
We set about asking everyone what the work changes would mean to them, especially parents and carers, what impact positive or negative it could have on their family life or mental wellbeing. The information we received was incorporated into the decisions we made, because we knew there would be long term implications.
Empathy is a tricky one to teach, and the best way to implement it as a cultural strategy is to show it to others. Know that the shared experiences of employees are not the same, but our ability to understand the perspective of others should always be our starting point.
We have now had months of redefining the patterns of our lives, wrestling with the broken habits of years, even decades. Our traditional rhythm has shifted and the 07:05 from Guildford may not even be running anymore. Just the thought of going to the train station is a little otherworldly.
What we have now is a very short window to create good new patterns to replace bad ones. One way to ensure we reset in the right way is to make decisions about new patterns based upon their value.
Time, cost, emotional investment: all of these contribute to the assessment of value.
Sometimes it’s easy to make that assessment. If you buy a season ticket you need to travel three days a week or less. More than that, you get an annual ticket. So you make a decision based on what makes sense financially, and you stick to it.
But just as there is a cost to doing something, there is an opportunity cost to not doing something. The commute may mean hours away from family, or the need to make up time in the office. It may provide space for learning, inspiration or meditation, it may be wasted, spent squashed between somebody’s shoulder blades on a packed tube train. It may be the deep breath you need between being a manager and being a mum.
If you had the time, could you use it more wisely? Would you? And what impact would that have on your mental well-being?
When we consider the mental health impact of the pandemic we need to be real with ourselves. Life wasn’t 100% easy or emotionally healthy before. Now we have an opportunity to refocus how we do things.
We can encourage people to change their work and home life practices to enhance the true value of the way they spend their time, and if we do that well, everyone is in a far better space.
That’s why right now we are encouraging people to do things differently. We are supporting them to assess value, and we are making decisions together that will prevent us from going back to any of the dysfunctional patterns we may have had in the past.
At MAPP, our view on sustainability is that it is essential and holistic. It impacts every aspect of our humanity, and it is humanity that drives its focus.
We use sustainability as a measure of the positive impact within the greater world in which we operate. And we can have that same impact with the people that work with us.
The important thing is that you can create a great place to work, without being soft and fluffy. You just have to be real. Building a people-first strategy means stepping into the arena and dealing with the pain too.
If MAPP employees or their loved ones were sick or struggling during lockdown we did not send flowers. We sent food vouchers. We asked ourselves, “what would we need if we were in that situation? What would make us feel like someone really cared?”
Work is a community you choose to be part of. We choose to be intentional in the way we engage with that community, with the purpose of having a positive impact.
Make a human assessment of a situation before jumping to a solution, be honest even if it’s raw, and always consider the lasting impact of the actions you take.