#MercerChats rewind: a new shape of work for a post-pandemic world

#MercerChats Rewind: Redesigning the Work Experience in the Future of Work

Each month, Mercer brings together in-house experts, employee advocates and external thought leaders  for an online discussion of the most pressing issues.. The program is called #MercerChats and takes place entirely on Twitter, where individuals around the world engage with Mercer’s intellectual capital and other leading thought leadership to share insights and discuss the best solutions to help organizations thrive. Below is a summary of our June 2020 tweet chat, highlighting some of the key themes discussed and insights shared.

For much of 2020, time has seemingly stood still. Quarantined at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the distinction between weekdays and weekends disappeared, and the holidays that usually mark the progress of the calendar have come and gone without the usual fanfare. 

But it’s 99 degrees outside my window, and that means that summer is here and we’re still hurdling forward in time toward the future of work. And even though the number of global coronavirus cases continues to rise and fall by the day, I look forward to the time when the pandemic is behind us and we will embark on a new chapter forward.

One thing that I believe as we go forward, is that the future will not look like the past. While reports about the end of the office or the emptying of cities feels overblown, it would be equally naïve to expect organizations to revert to their pre-pandemic structures. Now that organizations across the globe have demonstrated that they can run a business through a WIFI network, and employees can be productive while working remotely, it’s time to explore the potential of reshaping ones organization to be effective and competitive in the future.

All of this points to the acceleration of digital transformation, but it’s not as simple as giving everyone a laptop and a few collaboration tools. A remote, flexible workforce requires different resources and policies to keep your organization unified, informed and engaged. While this shifting dynamic may affect multiple functions of a firm, much of the burden lands on human resources to bind the disparate workforce into a cohesive organization.

So, how do you manage people in this new future, and how can leaders and people managers adapt for what Mercer has termed the “new shape of work”? Well, we decided to engage with Mercer’s social media community to hear from other thought leaders and industry experts on what they see as priorities in the months and years ahead. I’m often heard saying ‘it’s a marathon, not a race’ when it comes to social media, and that expression fits perfectly in this conversation. Navigating and innovating through the pandemic is also a marathon.

These are the seven key takeaways I had from our recent #MercerChats Twitter chat, featuring many of the thought leaders and experts that participated.

 

Ready or not, here it comes

Death, taxes, and a new world of work; these three things are inevitable. As Norman Dreger pointed out during #MercerChats, the workplace changed overnight when the pandemic lockdown first began, and that change isn’t going to reverse when the crisis is over. Instead, employers need to prepare for even more change and additional considerations for their staff after the pandemic. Flexible working will undoubtedly continue to be the norm, and as Jola Burnett called out, leaders will also need to consider new health and safety mechanisms to protect employees, and approach the future with fluidity to accommodate concerns coming out of the worldwide pandemic. 

 

COVID-19 is a human tragedy that requires a human response

Policy and strategy are undeniably important in a time of crisis, but leaders cannot lean entirely on benefits to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their organizations. Companies are comprised of people, and if leaders want a strong company when they emerge from COVID-19, they’ll need a workforce that is stable, secure and focused on the challenges ahead.

To do so, we need to emphasize the human in human resources. Experts have talked about the need for more empathy and creating people-focused firms for years, but this is an opportunity for organizations to find out if they can execute on that vision. How well is your firm listening to, and responding to the needs of your people in these extraordinary times? Have you adapted the way you work to accommodate your workforce’s needs? It’s one thing to promise a people-focused culture, but it’s another to exemplify one.

 

When things change this quickly, agility is everything

When the winds of change come, they come swiftly. In a scenario as fast-moving as the coronavirus pandemic, employers cannot look to last month’s data to inform next month’s actions. While this type of responsiveness has become commonplace in client-facing relationships, it’s now needed as HR leaders and people managers look to help steer their teams through the crisis and into calmer waters ahead.

Our #MererChats participants had a range of perspectives on this, but it is clear that companies must listen to their workforce in order to build a more people-shaped company. Don’t invest millions of dollars or man-hours into programs that will go unused or unappreciated by your staff. Instead, take regular pulse surveys and listen to the needs of your people. It’s the best way to keep them engaged and energized, and they might lead you to the innovations that will unlock future growth. 

 

In the crucible of crisis, find purpose

Pick whatever cliché you want: pressure makes diamonds; necessity is the mother of invention; when you’re on the bottom, there’s no way to go but up. Any way you want to say it, realize that the pandemic is an opportunity to strip away distraction, reaffirm what’s important, and double down on it for the future. If you’re thinking to yourself that this is the wrong time to do some soul searching, you couldn’t be more wrong.

To find your bearing, rely on leadership, talent and your organization’s own internal compass. As Theodora Lau shared during our conversation, strong brands and strong organizations have a purpose that’s at the core of what they do, and that purpose is fundamental to leading your organization out of the crisis and into the future of work. 

 

Don’t just return. Reinvent.

One prominent theme around business and the pandemic is (understandably) framed around the return to the workplace. In addition to the relief it will offer parents and employees living in tight quarters with family and loved ones, many look forward to the return to the workplace as a return to normalcy and the comfort of routine that we took for granted. As tempting as this conversation can be, it’s the wrong framework for thinking about the shape of work after the pandemic. Rather than focusing on a return, how do we learn from the past, and then seize the current moment in order to reinvent for tomorrow. Will Ferguson and Diana Adams both shared insights and led conversations that challenged us all to step outside our comfort zones.

 

Build the organization you need, not the one you had

If the tide of change is here – and it is – don’t spend the next 12 months trying to tread water and maintain the status quo. As Dr. Marcia F. Robinson succinctly captured, take a look at your business, identify the essential components, and question everything else. Where (or what) do you want to be on a 5- or 10-year timeline, and what parts of your organization need investment to reach that goal? At the end of the day, this comes down to strategy, but having the right one can be the difference between success and stagnation. 

 

COVID-19 is creating opportunity. Embrace it.

Momentum is a powerful force. Like a wind at our back, it can propel your organization forward. But what happens when that wind gains strength? It can become more difficult to turn, and sometimes you can expend all your resources on simply keeping the ship together. For all the pain and horrors of the pandemic, it’s forced each of use to reflect, reevaluate, and reinvent, and it’s one that we shouldn’t let slip. Both Kate Bravery and Tamara McCleary wrapped up the conversation on a strong note. Some participants reflected personally on our opportunities and how we are carving out our own futures. For others, they reflected on their organization, and how they are navigating the pandemic.

I left the #MercerChats conversation enlightened, inspired, with many new connections and ready to play my part in building our collective future; as a mother, as a professional, as a colleague and as a friend.

See you next time on #MercerChats!

Danielle Guzman
Danielle Guzman

Global Head of Social Media