Just when companies in Australia and New Zealand were strategising on the return-to-work plans, a new Covid variant made an appearance leading to uncertainties and probable business disruptions ahead. This has created a compelling need for leaders to relook at their return-to-office plans. Key questions organisation need to answer are, “How do they ensure employee health and safety?”, “How do they manage employees who are unable to return to work in the initial days?”, “How do you redesign and utilise workspaces/facilities for better collaboration?”, “What if employees start getting stressed out all over again and look for new jobs that provide the flexibility of work-from-anywhere?”, and many more…
Here is a look at how Elmo Software took proactive measures to thrive through the pandemic and charted a roadmap for ensuring a safe return to the workplace.
The Challenge Persists…
Monica Watt, Elmo Group Chief HR Officer, shares, “Nothing could prepare us for Covid-19, key challenges rose to the fore, from employees juggling work and life, to the Great Resignation”.
Especially with knowledge workers going remote, there was a distinct shift in people needs. Organisations that could empower and engage the employee by building trust could carve out an opportunity from his hardship. “We looked at it as an opportunity to make employees really committed to us, which meant doing things differently, i.e. reimagining the ways of working. For example, people leaders proved to be the biggest challenge, so we returned, saying that we do talk about customers, so why not talk about employees? We shifted the language and set upon a path of understanding how people were feeling and what they were expecting from the organisation”. This was the core of Elmo’s Covid-19 strategy.
Building opportunity by kickstarting actions
Elmo saw a renewed focus on risks and its impact, social sharing conversations, and flexibility, to enable the return-to-work. Initially, fear in the organization was huge, so in 2021, Elmo commissioned an employee index survey, to know why people were looking to leave, by tapping into concrete data about employees, customers and competitors.
The survey showed some fundamental markers which aligned with McKinsey & Company Whitepaper, 2021 statistic i.e. 40% of employees globally seeking employment prospects elsewhere. Some of the key reasons for the Great Resignation include ‘more time to ponder life outside of work’, ‘fundamental changes to the employee experience’, ‘fewer work-related social connection’s, and ‘general employee fatigue-dissatisfaction’.
At Elmo, the immediate concern was to understand the Why of this probable exodus. “We spoke to people, trying to find out what was happening with their world, while treating people as humans and not just workers. I asked my leaders who was at risk, and why they were at risk. Putting my leaders on a journey was part of this challenge, because this was a population that felt their opinion was the only opinion”, shares Monica.
But Elmo believed that they could really configure how to work, in the new world of work, backed by the CHRO’s belief. “My job was to highlight what do you have here; can I remove the noise, and the curiosity of why be here?”, shares Monica. This is how it started.
A plethora of people agendas
Elmo embarked on a series of people process revamps basis the above philosophy:
- Onboarding: The onboarding experience, right from attraction to employer branding, was revamped such that anybody who was interested to know about Elmo, could connect through virtual lunches, tea breaks etc.
Giving people a sense of connection and communication, rebuilding the connections that people had in pre-Covid times became the agenda. “We hardwired for connection that was being sadly missed, by connecting to concepts such as shared identity, belonging, value of being a meaningful part of the organization etc”, says Monica.
- Socialisation with purpose and meaning: Much of employee-speak resonated thoughts like, “I lost elements of my joy of going to work”, “I lost the momentum of connecting with people”, and so on. Hence, Elmo HR focussed on regaining the sense of joy by finding the moments that matter.
Monica mentions, “We sent out for small or collective socialisations, for example, an app called Donut helped us enable coffee conversations, pairing people through their calendars”.
Appreciation and empathy led engagement: Much focus was on appreciating what people were doing, while helping them find more meaning and purpose. “Our responsibility was to understand what our teams needed from us”, reiterates Monica.
- Talent attraction: Elmo drove a ~500% increase in talent attraction using more relatable job-ads and by maintaining productivity and profitability without over-boarding fatigued employees. Flexibility became a core construct, by offering employees options to work.
- Data-dependency: The greatest takeaway has been data i.e. using technology to tell stories and create new cases. Looking for cause and collaboration in metrics has ensured that the L&D impact has been high, directly benefiting top talent retention. Monica believes that data helps actualize opinions and helps analyse how causes impact business.
All the above initiatives emerged from three core tenets the three B’s for talent retention.
The Three B’s for Talent Retention: An Elmo Model
- Believing: Help people to find personal meaning from work: Elmo personnel created a sense of purpose by asking someone how they were doing their work rather than what they were doing. Other initiatives such as CEO updates and strategy sessions helped understand how people were fitting in.
- Becoming: Build strategies that enable employees to learn and grow from: A new Capability Framework was developed to give people cross-learning opportunities. Elmo worked towards finding new locations to meet in a collaborative, purposeful manner and help people try out their cross-learning stretch assignments.
- Belonging: Foster a culture that builds positive relations at work: With a high focus on wellbeing, Elmo offered many packages revolving around Yoga, quarantine care, meditation etc. A Connecting-Families policy was devised to help people take annual leave anytime and to enable workers to work remotely for a certain time. “The idea was to care for what was important to them as a whole person”, quips Monica.
To bring this 3-Bs construct to real life, a fresh approach for HR was necessary. At Elmo, there is a 20% focus on Traditional Management based on control and alignment, and a whopping 80% focus on Agile Management i.e. speed and customer-oriented.
This calls for a mindset shift from execution and control, to adaptability, innovation, and responsiveness. As a result, the role of HR has evolved. HR at Elmo implements programs, systems, and strategies which foster expertise, collaboration and improve decision -making capabilities. “We need to help the business understand and appreciate how to solve problems, leading to long-term impact on retention. For this, try and get the employee voice, collaborate and vie for continuous improvement.”, says Monica.
Aligning employee expectations with organisational vision
HR and business leaders will be able to achieve a successful return-to-workplace by continuously cultivating the right culture, because culture is the crown jewel. Employers should set expectations as to what current-era performance looks like, while appreciating that humans are humans. Some of the core elements of culture curation to keep in mind are:
- Attract talent by giving the right experience
- Retain talent by building right engagement, Rewards and Recognition, technology, systems and processes
- Develop people through right capability and pathways
- Enable right leadership through correct succession, coaching and mentoring
HR professionals must themselves build the right skills and attitude to achieve the above. They must be able and willing to question everything, challenge all assumptions, think like a customer or client, complement an agile mindset with design thinking, hire and developing for innovative thinking, and understand the inherent risks and rewards of change and innovation. Such sustainable change is possible only when HR professionals truly know and espouse their core purpose.
“Remember why you are in HR, why you are in business? You see, hear and feel everything and can have the crucial conversations that ensure we have people in business.” , says Monica.