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BW Businessworld

Transitioning To The Future Of Workplace

As people leaders, it’s our job to empower associates to do their jobs well. In the new normal, where people assume different roles and ways of working, it becomes even more imperative. In the context of workplace change, organisations must equip people managers with resources that provide a consistent narrative around the why what, when and how of the change.

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Meet Sonia, a software engineer with two years of work experience with a top IT services firm, which she joined in the middle of the pandemic last year. Now, as her company prepares its return to office plans, she has been assigned to a ‘flex’ mode of working – i.e., working a few days out of the office, and the rest remotely. She is apprehensive about how ‘flexible’ this new mode of working will be and how she will work with others working either remotely or from the office.    

And here’s Aaron, working in the operations team of a large bank with 17 years of work experience. He and his team have been assigned to work ‘from office’ and must come to the office five days a week. He is unhappy that he has to return to the office soon, after adjusting to the remote work for the last 22 months. He feels his span of control as a leader has diminished, and his concerns are not being acknowledged.  

And lastly, we have Radha, a supply chain analyst with nine years of work experience with a large retailer. She will now work ‘remotely’ full time, as she has been doing for the last 20 months. But she is concerned about many things – will she get the same career mobility and career progression, learning and development, recognition and reward opportunities as her flex and in-office colleagues? 

HR and business leaders the world over ponder hundreds of similar concerns as they develop the workplace of the future. There are a lot of variables at play, as leaders aim to successfully drive organisational culture; keep associate wellness, productivity, engagement and career growth in mind; and motivate and inspire their talent pool to deliver the desired business results.  

As the people and culture leader of Fortune 50  home improvement retailer Lowe’s, managing a global workforce of 300,000+ across North America and India, I face the same challenges. And as we continue to navigate through the global pandemic, the dynamics of the situation change with each passing day. So, I’d like to share something I’ve learned in Lowe’s journey, which I believe will be key to the success of our organisation. I call it the ‘4Es’ approach, and it’s centred around empathy, empowerment, engagement and experimenting. 

Let’s take a deeper look: 

Empathy 

The starting point for implementing any change must be empathy. Change, by design, is never easy. And when we talk about driving organisational change of this scale – a change that challenges the very norms of our way of working – we know we have a massive effort ahead of us. By being compassionate and empathetic to our people, seeking to understand their wants, needs and emotional drivers, we can design programs that reinforce adoption and overcome resistance to the new ways of working. While communication is important when it comes to organisational change, we often overlook the aspect of listening. As leaders and people managers, we must listen more and take action to help create a fair and equitable workplace. I, for one, believe that empathy will be a defining skill for people to connect and drive collaboration in a hybrid and remote workplace. 

Empowerment 

As people leaders, it’s our job to empower associates to do their jobs well. In the new normal, where people assume different roles and ways of working, it becomes even more imperative. In the context of workplace change, organisations must equip people managers with resources that provide a consistent narrative around the why what, when and how of the change.  

Moreover, leaders need to quell any anxiety and apprehension within their team and help associates unleash their brilliance by:  

  • Acting consistently and fairly 

  • Equipping associates with the tools and resources they need to do their jobs well 

  • Instilling confidence to lead and be effectively led  

  • Fostering an inclusive work culture, built on mutual trust and respect 

  • Ensuring associates have a sense of flexibility in their work schedules 

In addition, organisations must foster continuous learning and accelerate their people-development efforts. Organisations need to impart knowledge, skilling and re-skilling opportunities through robust training programs and engage talent by providing holistic, timely and well-rounded learning programs. Doing this will ensure we have future-ready associates who can take the organisation to the next level, no matter how or where they work.  

Engagement 

We have seen that investing in building human relationships helps people stay connected to a purpose, and that goes a long way toward ensuring associates’ well-being. To that end, organisations must strive to create unique and personalised experiences that are relevant and responsive to individual needs. This is where the confluence of operating models, technology and people practices comes into play.  

Some of the ways through which organisations can enhance associate experience and engagement are by: 

  • Promoting overall health and well-being, including physical, emotional/mental and even financial wellness 

  • Offering a clear career mobility track, with career progression opportunities, no matter where and how associates work 

  • Ensuring equitable and fair treatment when it comes to career, rewards, recognition and benefits 

  • Instilling a sense of pride by communicating about the impact of one’s work on the organisation’s success 

Experimenting 

One thing all organisations need to understand as they progress on their journey to create the workplace of the future is that we are all in the middle of one big experiment. There is no playbook to suit any particular organisation’s every need. That’s why companies must keep trying new approaches – all while keeping associates front and centre. Companies that are agile, courageous and open to change will be able to brave the choppy tides of the new ways of working and will thrive. 

Moment of Opportunity 

The pandemic has created an exceptional opportunity for learning and growth. This is our chance to take a deeper look at how we work, what we need and how we can work better. Now is the time to improve work, workplaces, leadership and our organisational culture, and we can’t afford to miss it. Let’s take advantage of this to create better working conditions and better work experiences – by cultivating greater choice and flexibility for associates and giving them more significant opportunities to contribute and excel.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Janice Dupré

Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Lowe’s Companies, Inc

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