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The New Normal Needs A New Staff Framework How companies have met new people needs in a changing wor

At-Home is Here to Stay in Some Form

The COVID-19 Pandemic will change ways of working permanently, in our opinion. Even if a vaccine becomes available soon and workplaces start to re-open, many restrictions will remain. These limitations mean the office isn’t always looking that attractive. Working from home has emerged as a useful part of the location mix and companies we are talking to, believe a new mix of work locations is here to stay.

There are lots of factors driving the future work location mix. We know of many companies not renewing leases and shrinking footprints. Some staff love the idea of staying home as it saves them commuting time and costs. Some staff miss colleagues and camaraderie and want to go back to the office. Other staff feel trapped rather than empowered at home. Some companies have had mixed models like having front line staff spread across the office while management stay home to free up space. The models seem to be in a state of flux.

With all this uncertainty we’ve observed that companies need to find new ways of working with their staff to enable this new mix of in-office and at-home work to be effective. We think the only certainly will be uncertainty (sorry that is a cliché) and the need to make mixed environments work. Organisations have come up with great tactical solutions to handle staff issues and we’ll share many of them in this paper. In doing so, we realised that these companies were following a proven approach – an approach which emerged from research we did for the book, “Your Customer Rules”. It was based on academic papers describing what makes relationships of all types work, including marriages or lasting de facto partnerships. In our book we used it to represent the hierarchy of customer needs but we found that the framework applies just as well to the relationships between staff and organisations. This paper will show that it is a great way to think through the solutions to this new mixed way of working.

The Hierarchy of Staff Needs:

As we researched relationship needs, we found that they were best represented as a hierarchy or pyramid. The base needs (1-3 shown below on the pyramid) seemed to recur in nearly all situations and interactions. We want our employer to make it easy for us (to do our work, change roles etc), to know us and provide choices in nearly all situations. As we move up the hierarchy, the needs add real “depth” and greater “permanence” to the relationship but are sometimes harder to do and may not pervade all situations like “trust me” and “value me”. Employees recognise that there may be some situations where, for example, a business can’t trust them without having controls and checks in place. It’s easy for management to say “we value staff” but harder to walk the talk. The peak of the pyramid represents the rarer needs (e.g. help me do more) that add greatly to a staff/employee relationship but don’t pervade all work. For example, staff are delighted if their employer surprises them from time to time but don’t expect it all day every day!

In the remainder of this paper we’ll provide some quickfire examples of companies responding to the new mixed work environment and following elements of this framework with their staff. They are all responses that have occurred in the last two months.

1. Know me remember me

Staying Connected: Many companies have recognised this need to stay connected in an at-home state by organising supervisors to have regular “check ins” or “catch ups” with staff. It has been recognised that isolation and anxiety are a greater risk in lock down and so a combination of one-on-one and team catch ups have been created. Making people feel “connected” has also been achieved through regular leadership briefings via video and email. One great supervisor ordered a birthday cake delivered to someone’s door to make the person in isolation still feel connected and booked a disguised birthday meeting so that colleagues could still share the special day.

Remember My World:

A smart business has created a new business “rule” to promote fairness. It states that if one person in a meeting is on video conference, then all have to be. They call it the “one in - all in” rule. That is a great mechanism to make sure that no one feels left out or forgotten in a meeting. A simple rule but easy to execute.

2. Give Me Choices

Getting Shifty:

We wrote in earlier papers of the potential to rethink shifts now work is at home. We’re glad to say that many companies have done this, offering greater flexibility to their workforces and allowing them to operate split shifts or different models to office work. This has been a win for staff and companies as it has added flexibility.

Home v Office – You Choose:

As offices open up some companies are forcing people back to the office while others are making the office “optional” and letting their workforce decide. We’ve already heard stories of how many employees resent being forced back to the office when that is a compromised environment with social distancing, restricted kitchens and even “don’t leave once you are in” policies. We suspect that letting staff choose their location will be a key retention and motivation strategy.

3. Make it easy for me

Build my at-home office:

When lock down started, many companies did amazing work to help their staff work from home. We heard companies were buying up laptops, screen and modems, shipping equipment from the office to home and enabling new software in weeks that normally would take months. This has made it far easier for staff to work from home and enabled many prior objections to be overcome.

Help me get help:

Businesses have had to change their “get help” models. Many have exploited chat and messaging as help channels for staff and added additional knowledge tools. Those with “hand in the air” type models have had to turn on virtualised support which is usually more efficient in any case. Whilst some organisations have started moving to virtualised induction and development, this is still work in progress for many companies.

4. Value Me

Value My Time:

Caring about my time was one of our “sub needs” in, “Your Customer Rules”. A great

example we’ve seen in the employee space is a company that shrunk standard meeting times. They changed the defaults in their office tools so that 30-minute slots became 15 minutes and one-hour meetings were 45 minutes maximum. This forced better meeting disciplines and showed respect for people’s time. Another company enforced a “no email outside business hours” rule to reduce the temptation to expand the work day.

Value My Mental Health:

Many organisations have stepped up their concern for staff well-being. One company has made “checking in on emotional states” a key meeting component for one on one discussions. Another uses a wheel of emotions to force what might be “taboo” conversations so that staff have a structured way to discuss their mental state. These are clever ways to take a genuine interest in staff.

5.Trust Me

Manage your day: Moving to at-home work, was in itself an act of trust as supervision and oversight are harder. However, in most instances it was a necessity not a plan. In many instances, companies have had to “let go” to let staff manage their day. We heard of one business moving more to a “get it done – you decide how and when” type model to free people to work in a more flexible way.

OK to Have a Go:

One company had no choice but to re-allocate staff from working in retail stores to working from home. This meant they had to handle messaging and chat with limited training or support. The staff already knew the products, functions and services and had skills in how to deal with face to face customers. They made the jump to digital easily where previously only channel specialists were “trusted” to work in this way.

6. Help me do more

Help me school my kids

At-home schooling hasn’t been easy for many families, so one large business opened a chat channel for their staff to share stories and examples related to at-home schooling. That was the sole purpose of this chat group even though it was nothing to do with the business of the company. It enabled their team to share lessons and war stories that hopefully, made them better home-school parents.

Look I can cook:

This business recognised that everyone was cooking from home during lock down and brought in a celebrity chef to run some interactive cooking classes over video conference calls. Imagine the kudos in those families as a great risotto or pasta dish emerged from a manager previously best known for takeaway for his or her family!

7. Surprise me

Care packages:

Several organisations went out of their way to create and courier care packages to staff during mandated home working. One manager organised “care bags” for her whole team including early lock down essentials like a toilet roll and chocolates. Another company created a hamper for employees to share with their families sourced from local regional producers who had been hit hard through the crisis. In these cases, the staff were very pleasantly surprised and grateful.

Support my broader needs:

We have seen several companies open up their counselling services to staff recognising the stresses of the pandemic and lock downs.

One company took away any previous restrictions on how often staff members could use counselling services. If they needed help, staff could get it. An even more stunning example was the company that made their counselling services available to some suppliers who they recognised were doing it tough. This was a generous gesture but illustrates how companies recognise that internal and external relationships matter.

Does the framework help?

We think the needs framework is a great way to think about how any business works with their staff. We hope these ideas and examples are of interest and are happy to share more of the detail about all or any of them if you contact us on the options below.

For more information email us at or call 03 9499 3550 or 0438652396.

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