Editor’s note: This is a guest blog from the Fosway Group.

It’s dangerous to make too many predictions in times of uncertainty, but in today’s COVID-19 world, there are a few safe bets which I think we can all agree on.  

1. Home working is here to stay

According to a CIPD survey in July, employers expect almost 40% of people to work regularly from home after the pandemic has passed, practically doubling from pre-COVID-19 levels. Of those, 1 in 5 is likely to work from home all the time. 

As a result, major corporations are rethinking their office strategy. For example, Capita announced it planned to close over one third of offices permanently, and Lloyds Banking Group is reviewing its working practices after concluding most of its 65,000 staff have worked effectively from home during the crisis. Work is changing forever.

Whilst this may be great for our carbon footprint, and remove the stress of the commute, it’s also coming at a cost to work-life balance and our well-being. Half of managers fear staff are burning out because of the impact of the pandemic.  

Where is virtual working failing?

It is clear that we still have a lot to learn about how to work sustainably from home.

Possibly one of the most important upgrades organisations need to make is learning how to create and manage high-performing teams in a virtual workplace. Because whilst we may have come to understand the tools of virtual working, mastering remote team culture and understanding the interplay of collaboration, expectations and workflows is something we still need to do.  

Yes, at home there are (in theory) fewer distractions when we need to get our head down. But modern work isn’t only about your own tasks. It’s about working together and getting more done as a team. In a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, 51% of survey respondents said they have been able to maintain or improve their productivity on collaborative tasks. 

That sense of connection and collaboration as part of a team is important not just for productivity, but also critical to people’s mental health. In a recent Microsoft survey, 62% of UK managers felt less connected to their team working from home. It is a clear gap in virtual-working capability, support and mindset which many organisations still need to bridge. 

The mental-health charity MIND highlights five ways to wellbeing – Give, Keep Learning, Be Active, Take Notice, Connect. Turning these from words into behaviours needs training, coaching and support – putting learning at the centre of driving sustainable success in the future.  

And let’s be clear. That’s not just learning from courses, resources and coaching, but also through peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, building connections and communities, and gathering feedback. This is not about technology but human-centred design and creating the organisational culture we all need to thrive.

Off boarding, re-boarding and farewells really matter now and for the boom to come

As if the last six months haven’t been enough, many are in for more tough times ahead. The pressures of changing consumer behaviour, economic stress and uncertainty are going to mean organisations restructuring and losing people. Layoffs are inevitable for many industries. This means parting on good terms both for the benefits of your consumer brand and the employees who remain, in the hope that good people will still join when the post-pandemic boom hits. 

Now is not the time to trash your employer brand

So, farewells and offboarding matter for engagement because sending people on their way with a negative experience can damage your employer brand for the long term. Trying to create a positive experience for those leaving your organisation could be undervalued in the short term but there is no doubt this would be a mistake. Looking at the training and development opportunities you can provide people before they leave is a great way to build your employer brand through word of mouth and reputation. Remember that learning and personal growth was the number one driver for job seekers to join a new organisation prior to the pandemic

It’s time to build a reputation for retaining talent and accelerating growth

Equally, doing a great job of re-boarding people post-furlough is a lever for employee engagement and performance. At its heart are training, learning resources, and coaching to help people optimise what they do – and understand how things have changed – as fast as possible. Many of the predictable drivers from training and learning are here for those who are reboarding into roles that are new to them or that have shifted.  

Research from Glint has shown that, compared to their peers, employees who see good opportunities to learn and grow at their organisation are 3.6 times more likely to report being happy.

2. Upskilling and reskilling are the difference between success and failure

In this harsh environment, we have a responsibility to do three things: optimise how work happens; energise people to do great work; and use the intelligence about our people, outcomes and customers to drive better decisions about how we work. And with so much change afoot, there are some wholesale shifts required in the skills of our people. 

Pre-COVID-19, LinkedIn Learning’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report shows 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in helping them learn. Ultimately, skills are a vaccine for surviving this “new normal.” It is investment and focus on skills – upskilling and reskilling – that will enable organisations to reimagine, reinvent, innovate and execute to be more effective.  

3. We need to learn what makes people ‘love working here’

The most important learning we all need to do is about what really makes us love working for an organisation in this brave new world of work. This means becoming a true learning organisation, one that uses employee feedback as a catalyst; a catalyst for ensuring they feel heard, creating better people experiences and ultimately building the kind of trust and engagement that makes work better. This is the gateway to reimagining work, redefining and re-engaging virtual working relationships, and energising people to perform – no matter where they are. 

David Perring is director of research at Fosway Group. You can contact him on Twitter.

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