The past year has taught us that creating new, hybrid workforces is going to involve more than just giving every employee a laptop with Microsoft Teams installed. Business leaders are gradually coming to terms with what this huge shift means for workplace culture and employee wellbeing – and how this often ties into the tools workers have at their disposal.
A recent report from Ricoh UK’s report explored the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on digital transformation, and specifically what it meant for businesses’ reimagining of physical and virtual workspaces.
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The report, called The Conscious Workplace, surveyed 301 managers and 1001 employees in October 2020.
It found that the biggest impact of recent events had been on workplace behaviors and employee wellbeing. Regardless of working from home or in an office, 40% of managers and 30% of employees cited happiness, motivation and productivity as their biggest challenges.
Managers face a particularly tough task in trying to manage both productivity and team morale: according to Ricoh, 50% of managers are struggling with employee wellbeing and mental health, likely caused by a combination of remote-working challenges as well as external anxieties cause by COVID-19.
Emma Kenny, a behavioral therapist who contributed to the report, said that managers were “walking a tightrope whilst managing expectation versus reality” and suggested more empathy from businesses.
“Suddenly, managers are responsible for way more than staff productivity, they have to take charge in adapting and maintaining their work environments, whilst remotely managing staff who are no longer within direct reach,” Kenny said.
“Mental health has always been a concern for employers and managers, and these concerns have undoubtedly escalated recently. Now, managers are working with traumatized employees, resistant employees, and those employees who use working from home as an excuse for less productivity.”
Knowing how to motivate and manage staff members is going to require an evolution of processes over the coming years, said Kenny.
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Ricoh found that breakdowns in communication were also a source of anxiety within remote workforces, with 26% of employees and 36% of managers saying they were finding it difficult to communicate with their colleagues while working from home.
The loss of face-to-face interaction makes both sending and interpreting communication more difficult, which can diminish confidence in employees and have a negative impact on productivity, as well as enhance feelings of isolation, said Ricoh.
A breakdown of structure in our working days is having a similar effect, the report said. “In the workplace, we are all used to having anchors: clear and distinct rules of engagement that help guide us through the working week. Anchors like start and finish times, lunch hours, health and safety guidelines, and other processes that help us move through the workday purely focused on what we need to achieve.”
Tech landscape still tricky
Technology has long been a source of frustration for employees, with Ricoh suggesting that managers have found it more difficult to adapt.
Almost a third (28%) of managers surveyed by Ricoh said they were finding it difficult to implement new business processes with teams both remote and in the office, including new technology implementations.
Managers were more likely to struggle with the technology demands of a work-from-home set-up, with 41% reporting concerns compared with just 26% who went back to the office. Employees are slightly less daunted, with 46% reporting no issues at all from home.
Looking specifically at remote workers, 78% of managers said they had experienced technical concerns while working from home, compared to (53%) of remote employees.
Managers are also more concerned about network security in remote-working environments, with 20% of managers worried about cybersecurity compared to just 10% of employees.
“We see that this pressure and responsibility sits primarily with management level, which is a finding that is reflected time and time again in our research,” said Ricoh.
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“As the workforce moves to a more blended approach of both remote and office-based working, there are concerns about the migration of technology from one location to the next.”
For many business leaders, digital transformation will mean something different to them now than it did in 2019. With the pandemic shifting the focus to the importance of having a workforce that can operate anywhere, enabling remote working on a mass scale has become priority number one for forward-looking enterprises.
A study of 3,000 CEOs by IBM found that empowering a remote workforce was a top priority among business leaders during 2020.
Half of “outperforming” CEOs identified managing a workforce that could operate from anywhere as a top leadership challenge for the next few years, compared to 25% of “underperformers.” In addition, 77% of outperforming CEOs reported they would prioritize employee wellbeing even if it affected near-term profitability, compared to 39% of underperformers, which IBM said demonstrated the fact that top leaders were “heavily focused on their people in this moment”.
Mark Foster, senior vice president at IBM Services, said: “The pandemic has challenged leaders to focus on what’s essential, like their people. Many employees’ expectations of their employers have significantly changed.
“The ‘anywhere’ workforce requires leaders to provide agile technology, adopt more empathetic leadership models that prioritize employee wellbeing, and to champion flexible and inclusive cultures.”