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2021 03 03

A. Žukauskienė. Cast down by a wave: a pandemic of change in organisations

The waves of the COVID-19 pandemic have brewed up storms of change in the Lithuanian and global labour markets. Some have been elevated to unprecedented heights, while others have had their foundations knocked out from underneath them. The labour market was never static and the pandemic has begun a new stage in its evolution.
Auksė Žukauskienė SBA
Auksė Žukauskienė SBA

The first quarantine that launched a year ago and the shocks caused by it have carried organisations on a tsunami wave with people just trying to keep their heads above the water. To put it lightly, it was difficult to even think about purposeful long-term navigation in personnel and other areas. Numerous initiatives and long-term plans by employers were halted.

The second wave was less intimidating and more courageous; creative solutions were employed. With the quarantine restrictions relaxing, we are in a hurry to find ways to restore “normalcy”, but what is crucial to realise is that we will not be returning to things as they were before. Life “after the vaccinations” and the post-pandemic reality will be different.

Trust gains new meaning

We are accustomed to viewing a situation through our own lens, but to adapt to the new reality, we must expand our field of vision. There is no single decision that would fit all employees. Personnel changes must be implemented with the needs of individual workgroups in mind. After all, the pandemic and quarantine have had one sort of impact on the manufacturing and retail trade sectors’ staff and an entirely different impact on those working in offices.

In the first case, the usual work routine might not have changed much. However, with more attention dedicated to safety, mask-wearing, testing and limiting direct contact, it is worthwhile to remember the influence of these changes on the staff’s involvement and motivation. Office workers have other challenges – a lack of socialisation, the loss of work and rest balance, a reduced sense of belonging to an organisation.

Working from home has quickly turned from an extra benefit and motivational measure into normal practice. I believe that “hybrid” work will continue in many companies even after the pandemic, especially considering that this format is also acceptable to most workers. According to a survey performed by the company Slack, this approach is favoured by 72% of employees. Working in offices will be oriented towards teamwork and cooperative activities, while the phenomenon of workers completing their hours of work at the office will gradually disappear.

It is clear that the members of all teams, without exception, are faced with challenges and while the measures to overcome these differences, there is only one recipe for success – mutual trust. Employees must trust that the employer is exerting all their effort to ensure the best possible conditions, while employers trust that their staff, whether they work at the office or remotely, will give 100% and achieve the set goals.

A challenge – organisations shouldn’t lose their magnetism

The main question that companies need to answer today is how to maintain a sense of integration and team cohesion with employees and how to avoid losing the culture they have cultivated. This is a difficult but crucial task.

During the first wave, there was a sense of fear over how employees might be unable to work effectively on their own. But in fact, the opposite was the case – people became more productive. During the first months results shot up; however, this effect was short-lived. The reason for this is that with increased exhaustion due to constant video calls and the lack of live interactions, the employees’ engagement began to decline as their connection to the team began to decline, feeling like a part of an organisation began to wane.

Psychologists are unanimous in that the scales lean heavily in favour of live interactions, but when adapting to change, we must learn to maintain the sense of being a team even remotely. Nothing revolutionary is needed – remote coffee breaks, formal and informal virtual events, volunteering or communal initiatives all help maintain the connection and reduce detachment. Most important, though, is having a clear direction and everyone’s cooperation in seeking a common goal. And it matters not whether it is a small company or a business group with thousands of employees.

Under such circumstances, the role every leader – both those in middle management and in lower echelons – becomes crucial. It is not enough to communicate only to the company head. It has been shown that a single individual can effectively enable no more than around 20 others. Due to this, the engagement of leaders at all levels is necessary to maintain organisational culture and cooperation.

“Visiting” a candidate

The pandemic reality has completely changed candidate selection processes. While interacting with them solely remotely, we often find ourselves in a living room with an unmade bed, seeing a luxurious interior design or hearing dogs barking in the background. How is one to remain professional in this situation, keep the distance from non-essential matters, and focus on the candidate’s formal traits essential to the specific position? This is a new challenge for personnel selection professionals because every detail can influence the decision.

Another aspect is how to integrate a new employee into a pre-existing staff in a way that they would come to feel like a fully-fledged member of the team. Working at the office, live interactions, informal conversations, and joint leisure time help to bring people closer, but when working remotely, more effort and ingenuity is needed to interact with your new colleague about matters other than work. Thus, in this case, informal group video calls also play an important role in forming the team. Unfortunately, they also steal away time – what might be discussed live within a minute over coffee could take a standard 30 minutes online.

Attention to individual staff needs

The wellbeing of employees is often identified as a key strategic direction. According to a 2020 survey by the consultancy Mercer, 85% of Europe’s top employers think so. The changes happening on the market are moving in yet another direction – adapting working conditions to individual needs.

Employers who seek to be appealing and modern are already offering working condition and social benefits packages so that the employee could choose their preferred option and, if need be, could change it. Today, it might be convenient to be at the office, but after a while, working from home or a mix of the two might be more acceptable. One employee might focus on health or pension insurance, while another would want a flexible selection of gyms and massage options. Those who can match the need for individualisation will win in the competition for talent.

Around the world, including Lithuania, the trend is becoming ever more notable not just in the importance of wage and social benefits for employees selecting a workplace, but also attention to individual needs and a company culture that favours the employee’s personal growth. The possibility of self-expression in other areas, the desire to contribute to social initiatives or develop one’s hobbies are also crucial. Thus, only those employers who can make such expectations a reality and form conditions for them to unfold will be able to call themselves successful and appealing.

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