The transition to remote working has seen positive benefits from productivity improvements to reduced travel time, wellness gains and technology optimization. But humans are wired for connection - we are emotional beings. When we don’t connect with others, our sense of belonging is at risk. So while working from home has seen great benefits for businesses and the productivity of their people, the long term future raises questions about employee engagement that must not be ignored. And given the undeniable link between employee experience and customer experience, looking after your people right now is critical.

We spoke with People & Culture expert, Junita Mushenko from Xpand Coaching & Consulting (ex Deputy, Uniting and Standards Australia) about the future of employee experience and how businesses can prosper through living and breathing a human-centered approach.

“Work is a thing you do, not a place you go”, says Junita. In today’s world, businesses must create a culture that lives beyond their office walls. Junita identifies three key areas for businesses to consider when reassessing their employee experience strategy in the new normal. They are:

1. Humanize the experience

Without the office environment for collaboration and connection, businesses must make a concerted effort to humanize the experience from onboarding to departure, and every step in between. Send personalized welcome packs to new employees, implement a well-designed buddy system, ask for employee feedback often and create open communication between your teams. Junita recalls a great example of a business sending welcome packs to new employees during lockdown - the gift packs even included a roll of toilet paper! Don’t just tick boxes - focus on your people and create something memorable. 

2. Connect to purpose

Bring the purpose of your business to life by talking about the ‘why’. Demonstrate your values and be transparent as you navigate unknown territory. Even when the chips are down, vulnerability goes a long way. Authenticity builds trust and a purpose-driven culture will create an engaged workforce. Your people will become your brand ambassadors and inbuilt sales stewards. Companies who do this well have sustained long term followers and enjoy success despite turbulent markets. Meet any ‘Googler’ inside or outside the Googleplex and they are bursting with Google Pride. Atlassian employees are driven by shared and unique values including ‘Open company, no bullshit’. These organizations are bursting with culture, cultivating inclusion amongst their people and nurturing followers who are not about the ‘job’ but more invested in the purpose.

3. Teach your leaders to lead with vulnerability

The changing landscape has been a huge disruption for leaders and the way they manage their teams. They’re now faced with the challenge of delivering engaging messages virtually, connecting with staff in remote locations and reading social cues via computer screens. On top of this, they still need to do their own work and nail their targets. Give them the opportunity to learn more behavioral and people-centred skills through 1:1 or group coaching. Give them permission to lead themselves and explore both their superpowers and shadows because that’s what emotional intelligence is about. The better your leaders are at managing their own energy, the more competent their people diagnostics will be. While your HR team might provide the structure to support an outstanding employee experience, it’s your leaders who need to define, model and deliver it.

Your employee experience strategy is best served up as a priority, not an afterthought. It nests in your vision, mission and values but should be seen and lived daily. COVID-19 has rocked the business landscape and a new normal is emerging. But humans are still humans. The desire for connection, collaboration and validation must be married with the adoption of new technology and flexible working environments. So when assessing your office space, work practices and cultural artefacts, make sure you take a practical, human-centred approach to see your business thrive well into the future.