Note: This piece was developed in collaboration with my colleagues James Stone and David Pfleeger.
In the face of COVID-19, we have transformed how we work overnight. We continue to live in an ever-changing environment in how we work, educate, communicate and purchase goods and services. March 2020 was a defining month for most of the globe as officials enacted Stay At Home orders and shut borders. Today, employers are attempting to keep up with the need to adapt to the current environment as employees continue to work from home.
The pandemic continues and companies must make hard decisions to ensure their business survives and thrives. How companies make their employees feel — valued, appreciated, prioritized — can help create a dedicated, productive workforce and leads to higher business returns. Sadly, companies that do not prioritize employee needs risk alienating them and could lose them as new opportunities present themselves. Top concerns for employees are health, financial stability and job security, and the best companies will provide benefits and policies that address employee concerns.
Companies that make an investment in their most valuable resource, their employees, even during tough times stand to reap significant benefits. Understandably, companies are wary to dedicate additional resources in today’s uncertain economic climate, but the value that is derived from a loyal employee will result in productivity gains. Moreover, taking action when employees need it most can result in immediate positive PR for the company which creates long term loyalty and brand value.
A new parenting challenge
Parents with school-aged children are challenged to not only work from home, but also assist their children in virtual learning environments. Many companies have offered support by providing flexible work hours and financial assistance for childcare. As we enter a new school year, working parents will continue to need assistance. Most of the largest school systems across the U.S. have continued virtual learning.
Companies have the opportunity to consider what this means for the productivity, mental health and lifestyle balance for employees working from home. Consensus confirms that allowing employees to work from home has been successful but has created new challenges. Employees are working more now than before and many lack the proper operational infrastructure. For example, if the internet goes out, working parents become the helpdesk not only for their work, but also for their school-aged children. Companies could provide help to their employees to service their work-from-home equipment as well as help solve broader challenges supporting schooling at home.
How companies can help
Understanding employee needs is critical to creating a loyal and productive workforce. Employers have the ability to connect directly with the impacted employees, conduct surveys to determine pressure points, and segment the results to determine benefits for impacted employee segments. For example, firms that had traditionally offered emergency backup childcare (40 days per calendar year) are now offering employees a $100 per day stipend to cover care assistance (up to 40 days per year or throughout the remainder of the 2020 calendar year). Here are some other solutions employers could consider:
Providing a matching childcare account could allow the employee the flexibility to maintain productivity by providing a matching amount of their current contribution for a short-term, or a lump sum to assist with the financial burden of unexpected expenses.
Partnering with childcare programs to identify and partner with qualified programs, perhaps negotiating favorable terms while the company pays initial fees.
Subsidizing technology or alternative workplace solutions to support Work From Home (WFH) mandates. For example, companies can use their purchasing leverage to provide employees discounted equipment or provide a shared work environment with proper social distancing and frequent deep cleaning.
Enabling job sharing for a short amount of time to support a specific project with minimal pay reduction. For example, create a support system that would assist team members in an emergency, providing each team member with seamless backup.
Extending current time-off programs for parental or elder care, allowing employees additional flexibility in how they use the time. Flexibility in this benefit could allow for emergency use. This benefit could be used by grandparents for grand-childcare so working parents could effectively work from home.
Reducing required hours to accommodate increased home-schooling or elder parent care by creating windows of meeting-free time throughout the workday. For example, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. are the prime time for working parents to help children set up school platforms. Avoiding scheduled meetings during this time might help decrease stress.
Developing Employee Resources Groups (ERGs) to create a forum to share best WFH practices and encourage fellow employees in similar situations. For example, creating a Tech Resource ERG to serve as a help desk, so employees with strong technical skills can volunteer their time to help fellow employees set up all the tools required for WFH and home learning. Our research with ERGs uncovered situations where students required multiple platforms (sometimes a different platform for each class) to access each day for online education. ERGs could easily fall under Corporate Social Responsibility frameworks.
Providing tools for comfortable working environments that support WFH parents and students. For example, employers can assist with mobile hot spots and other technologies that make WFH less stressful. Group purchases of internet connectivity could save money and provide for more efficient technical support. Leveraging the buying power of group purchases of office furniture could relieve some of the economic pressure of WFH.
The benefit of addressing employee needs
To paraphrase Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Employers that make their employees feel valued and supported in this extraordinary time will reap the benefits for years to come. With access to the required technology and resources, employees will be able to work as efficiently as if they were in the office. But more than that, employees that believe their employer understands their issues will be loyal and become active ambassadors for the company.
By creating processes and policies that allow employees access to customized solutions that meets their specific needs, corporations stand to benefit in ways yet to be determined.
NTT DATA Services has developed Dynamic Workplace Accelerators, which deliver cloud-powered virtual workplace solutions that can be delivered in a matter of weeks. Likewise, we recently deployed a Classroom in a Box solution that offers the right collaboration and communication tools to allow educational systems to focus on getting back to the business of teaching and learning.
Watch this space
This is the first in a three-part series addressing enterprise responses to COVID-19. Future installments will cover the analytics behind employees needs while working differently, and the future state of working from home.