The workplace as we used to know it, is no more. The outbreak of Covid-19 saw to that by forcing many companies to send employees home—often with a laptop, and a prayer that this too shall pass.
Fast-forward almost two years, COVID-19 cases have subsided, vaccinations are no longer mandatory, and some employees are returning to the office full-time. However, as the corridors begin to get busier, how can business leaders create a new working world that will keep employees engaged and productive post-COVID-19?
Fundamentally, the way we work has shifted irrevocably, so it is critical that we also shift the way we engage as leaders and colleagues. In a world that has and continues to go through turbulent times, the driving force for any business can’t be on profitability at any cost, but rather on one which promotes values such as mindfulness and kindness. We can create a new and exciting work culture, one that employees want to be a part of by embracing new practices that focus on bringing greater kindness in the way we lead, manage, and grow employees, along with our businesses.
It isn’t also enough just to talk about these shifts. What is important is how, as leaders, we put these things into action. For example, every year at McCann Joburg, we host a ‘Day for Meaning’ where we bring together the administrative, strategic, and creative minds in the agency, to workshop ideas and strategies that ensure the agency provides a meaningful working experience which resonates with where each person is in their lives.
These sessions have been fundamental in us having a greater understanding of the unique challenges that our employees face, but also give us an opportunity to find ways to better support each person in a way that resonates with them individually.
This year’s session saw a focus on identifying behaviours and processes that stand in the way of growing individuals and McCann’s culture at large. This is where we developed a drive called ‘Value your Voice’ to get all team members to appreciate that their input is valued and will be listened to, regardless of their level. Putting this into practice means allowing junior members of staff to speak first at reviews and internal discussions, giving them the safe space to air their views and know they have a voice that will be listened to.
We have found that by giving each person a voice, regardless of level, in these sessions has resulted in increased productivity and engagement, reduced absenteeism, and employee turnover rates, which in turn has greatly strengthened our client relationships.
These sessions have also shown us a few other ways that we as business leaders are using to improve on and build our company culture in a post-pandemic work environment:
- Authentic connection: We prioritise connecting with our employees face-to-face on a regular basis. This helps to build a sense of community and belonging, which encourages active engagement and participation in a way that emails and instant messaging can’t. It further strengthens interpersonal connections among team members, helping establish and build trust.
- Individual check-ins: We encourage regular individual check-ins as they provide a safe space for employees to voice expectations for their career growth, provide feedback on how to make the workplace more efficient and other personal matters, if they choose to. Setting the expectation that all voices are important, allows everyone to feel safe sharing ideas, and fostering that sense of belonging works to create a better environment for everyone.
- A focus on mental health: Being compassionate and providing adequate mental health and well-being support is critical in creating an ideal work environment as the health of our employees is placed first. Emphasising a healthy work-life balance means that employees have better boundaries, increased work performance, job satisfaction and increased engagement.
- Time-out: When work regularly spills over into nights, early mornings and weekends, it can prevent employees from recharging fully. This is why taking a time-out is important. The goal is to create awareness that rest is not an option but a necessity and no one needs to simply tough it out. McCann acknowledges the importance of time-out hence employees are given a half-day, once a month as well as birthday leave.
We have all been through so much in the last two years, therefore taking time to connect, reflect and grow as individuals and as a business, has never been more important than it is right now. This is why creating an environment where employees are seen, praised and prioritised is key to creating a happy, inclusive and engaged post-pandemic working environment.