Adapting to the “new normal” should not be the end goal for HR

With much of the focus on transitioning to the new normal, HR leaders must not forget to prepare their workforce for what lies ahead.
By: | September 16, 2020

By Steve Bennetts, Head of Growth & Strategy Employee Experience, Qualtrics

While there is much talk in HR about when things will go back to normal or when we’ll adapt to the new normal, those conversations are fundamentally missing the point. Right now, we have the opportunity to come back better, stronger, and more inclusive than ever.

This view is supported by the World Economic Forum, which stated in April 2020 “building the necessary infrastructure to support a digitised world and stay current in the latest technology will be essential for any business to remain competitive in a post COVID-19 world.”

And it’s a view echoed by the workforce in Asia, with 63% of respondents in the Qualtrics Work Different study saying they expect their industry to change at least somewhat for the better after the pandemic.

There are early signs businesses in the region and across the globe are moving in the right direction.

The Qualtrics study found 59% of people in Asia say their employer’s response to the pandemic has been above average. Employee engagement also reached a historic high in late July, according to a Gallup study from the US.

One of the main reasons for these positive results is that during the pandemic leaders instinctively provided visibility and transparency within their organisations. They listened and communicated more frequently, and showed they care about their people through the actions implemented.

Despite the strong start, businesses cannot afford to take the foot of the gas. There is more change ahead as people return to workplaces and industries adapt. While restrictions will eventually lift, expectations have been changed forever by the pandemic.

To ensure your business continues to move forward, it’s now a critical time for you to formalise the human-centred approach you’ve adopted with employees in your initial response.

The journey to a new better

The first – and most important – step to making the new normal the new better is listening and taking action. We need to listen to our people to understand what is working and what’s not. Only from there can we predict what we need to do next.

This point is echoed by Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Leader, who said “listening is incredibly important. Especially in a world of virtual and remote work. If you do not have the ability to listen, you cannot be a leader.”

Listening is also incredibly important to your workforce – especially during times of change. More than three-quarters (78%) of respondents in the Qualtrics study said it’s important their employer asks what action I want to see taken to make me feel confident in returning to the workplace.

This represents an increase from a Qualtrics study before the pandemic, which found two-thirds of employees in Asia said it’s important their employer asks for feedback.

With situations changing at a rapid rate, organisations need to be regularly listening and engaging with their workforce – in some cases weekly or even daily – to find out the actions they need to take.

For example, at Qualtrics we discovered early on in the pandemic our global workforce wanted more frequent communications at a time we thought we were already over-communicating.

The 4 stages to the new better

Changing the way you listen to your workforce and act on their feedback in this new reality is the significant opportunity for businesses to build a new better.

In our study Qualtrics found just under half of businesses in Asia (45%) have not increased their listening during the pandemic, while the same amount have failed to act on it more too (45%).

The positive results achieved attest to the value of listening and acting on feedback. Using modern employee listening platforms you can get access to real-time insights outlining current needs and concerns by empowering leaders to take action, or through automated workflows responding to issues immediately.

To help you plan your journey to the new better, the Qualtrics XM Institute outlines four stages each business will need to go through:

  • Stage 1: React – This is your immediate response to major change, when you’re listening more and taking action to address evolving situations
  • Stage 2: Explore – Many businesses are currently in this stage. At this time you are planning to reopen workplaces, meaning listening is critical to understanding what actions people want to see for them to feel safe
  • Stage 3: Reorient – Changes in behaviours begins to settle at this point. As things stabilise you need to understand what changes have remained and how to reposition offerings and messaging
  • Stage 4: Normalise – This is your new better, where you will need to realign operations to meet new expectations

Atlassian is a great example of a business reaping the rewards for regular listening. The company recently gave insight into how it is working differently during the pandemic, discovering its familiarity with working remotely wasn’t an immediate advantage.

“We learnt quickly that our habits were baked in being part of an office. A lot of habits didn’t work in a remote fashion. [Now] we practice stuff, if it works we do more of it. If it doesn’t we roll it back,” said Dom Price, Work Futurist.

The benefits of listening were also echoed by Atlassian.

“If we design this on purpose we can build environments that are more inclusive than ever before. You get access to a whole new talent base that has amazing ideas, amazing backgrounds, and amazing innovation – we’ve just not tapped into them yet.”

The new better

It’s one thing to listen, but to really drive positive change you need to take action. Think about it like a gym membership or subscription service – you might have it but you get the real rewards when you put it to use.

Listening and taking action creates a culture of growth and positive transformation. It means you will not be caught unawares or continue to focus on issues no longer of concern – whether that’s how to ensure a safe return to the office today through to what learning opportunities people want in the future. Furthermore, your teams are now used to being listened to and seeing their feedback acted on.

As the initial results have shown, people value this behaviour and won’t want to see it disappear. Listening and acting is your key to ensuring the new normal is the new better.

Find out how to adjust your employee listening programs and formalise the successful human centred approach in the Qualtrics session at the HR Tech Festival Asia Online 2020 on September 29, 11am (SGT) on Why adapting to the “new normal” isn’t going to be good enough for HR.

Register for the session here.