The pandemic brought about a sudden and unexpected shift in the way we work. Organisations everywhere had no choice but to adapt quickly, implementing widespread remote working policies, or strict safety measures overnight. But instead of creating entirely new working practices, the pandemic has catalysed shifts that were already underway. More remote working, clearer corporate values and a greater focus on wellbeing are things that employees have long desired.

As organisations set about permanently integrating these significant measures, they must keep their employees front of mind – every step of the way. This period of transformation presents a unique opportunity for leaders to sit up, listen, and give employees a better and more rewarding working life.

Prioritising purpose

Employees want to work for organisations that stand for something. This is particularly true of the youngest members of the workforce, Gen Z, who – born between 1996 and 2015 – have grown up amid social and political unrest, and place the highest value on employer ethics and values. When Gen Z, and increasingly older generations too, don’t believe that corporate values meet ethical standards, they don’t hold back in letting it be known, as was revealed in our 2020 Employee Expectations report. 

During the pandemic, this sentiment has grown further still. Organisations have been put under a microscope and, rightly so, are being judged on how they have acted to protect their employees – as well as their customers – during this time. So while improving corporate values has been an important employee expectation for several years, it has never been more important for organisations to consider what they really want to stand for. As employers consider how to approach the future of work, purpose must be a priority – especially if they want to attract and retain talent. 

Achieving true flexibility

Employees are now also giving greater consideration to how they want to work. While many employers have assumed in the past that employees simply want a pay rise or some good perks, our research reveals that flexibility is much more important when it comes to employee engagement. Last year, employee comments about flexible working increased by 18%, as more employees looked to their employers to take action and enable greater flexibility. 

The pandemic has demonstrated that this employee expectation can actually be met,  without necessarily damaging productivity or company culture, as was previously feared by some. So now many employers are considering giving employees the full autonomy to work where and when suits them best – free from judgement. For the industries in which this is possible, granting this increased flexibility and autonomy is win win. Autonomy is a key tenet of strong employee engagement, and – as we know – high engagement drives better productivity and overall business outcomes.

There are additional benefits for employers too. For example, by eliminating the need for employees to be in a physical workplace five days a week, employers will be able to hire from a wider and more diverse pool of candidates. This includes those who may not have the desire or the economic means to live in a city, where most large companies are based. Allowing for remote working can also reduce overheads. If there’s less need for each employee to have their own desk, and more demand for meeting and collaboration spaces, organisations may consider redesigning, paring back, or sharing their existing workspaces.

Changing the way we work – for good

But trust and two-way communication are the keys to making this work.

We’ve seen some positive change during the pandemic, with businesses paying more attention to their employees’ needs, regularly asking for their feedback, thoughts and feelings – but this shouldn’t have to come to an end when life does finally get back to ‘normal’. Tools like Peakon, that give every employee a voice and guide managers to take positive action, are instrumental in nurturing and maintaining trust in the long-term. Ultimately, employers that regularly listen to employee feedback, and act upon it, will gain the edge over their competitors now. 

Covid-19 has demonstrated that the old way of working was not working. It has given employers an opportunity to stress-test more progressive employment practices, without committing to them permanently. It has given them the opportunity to change their mind set, and to do better – not just for their employees, but for the overall health of their business. Employers that seize this opportunity to review how employees want to work will attract and retain the best talent going forwards, and will come out of this crisis stronger than ever.