The light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel is peeking through our long-shuttered windows. But when one thing ends, another begins. And the employee engagement epidemic? It’s just getting started.
In the last two years, the pandemic has exacerbated — and often worsened — ongoing trendlines in technology and business, and employee engagement is no exception. Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report,” for instance, found that eighty percent of employees weren’t feeling engaged at work. Eighty! Worse, seven in 10 said they were struggling with their lives overall.
These trends were heading in the wrong direction even before the novel coronavirus, and now, things have completely cratered. We must find a way to change our trajectory — and to create inspiring workplaces and cultures that maximize the wellbeing and potential of every person in our organization.
That’s how we’ll build for the future. That’s how we’ll face down some of the most pressing trends affecting our industry, before it’s too late.
Building a Culture of Resilience
Companies that have stood out during COVID have been those able (repeatedly) to reorient themselves — no matter how many times the world has seemingly turned itself upside down. These are companies that have only seen their reputations grow over the last two years, as they’ve simply been able to change more quickly than competitors and overcome the obstacles of the day (like supply chain challenges) more effectively. Other companies, well … haven’t. I won’t name names, but as an example, I ordered a bicycle recently. … It’s arriving in nine months. Yikes.
Visibility and preparedness are key to overcoming disruption of all kinds, and resilient companies are proving themselves and their cultures capable, time and again, of handling whatever it is that’s thrown at them.
Being Proactive About Employee Experience
While attending a work dinner recently, I couldn’t help but notice what happened as the night went on: People didn’t leave. It was almost as if everyone was so excited to be around real-life humans that they just didn’t want the meal to end.
I tell this story to say that COVID isolation — and the resulting sadness or depression — is all too real. Companies encouraging remote work cannot put the onus on employees to create their own workplace experience just because they’re working from home. Think about how businesses can be more proactive in attracting and retaining talent today. Are physical and mental health both being given consideration when building coverage plans? Can workshops help set proper standards for remote work and build better overall experiences? Do offerings account for families and parents in the company — and set them up to succeed?
Supporting Small Businesses
Large companies — the Amazons, Googles and Disneys of the world, especially — may have experienced some bumps and bruises in the last two years, but COVID-19 was not necessarily an existential crisis over the survival of their business. You can’t say the same for small businesses. In fact, you could say it’s never been harder to run a small business. Even today, according to the NFIB Research Center, 45 percent of small employers are experiencing a moderate or significant staffing shortage due to COVID-19. For another 33 percent of them, sales are still only at 75 percent (or less) of pre-COVID levels.
The long-term effects of this on the tech industry can be extremely damaging. Entrepreneurs may be less likely to start a business. Small business owners may have to focus more on staying alive than on giving employees a powerful experience. And larger companies will have fewer options and alternatives in the supply chain in the long run. Simply put, there will be fewer companies delivering quality products and running strong businesses. This can only hurt partners, vendors and the entire ecosystem.
Accounting for Geopolitical Chaos
It’s hard to look around the world and not see constant signs of governmental and societal upheaval. If you watch the news for even five minutes, you’ll probably recognize that this unrest isn’t easing, either. In fact, Verisk Maplecroft says upwards of 37 countries could face a perfect storm of societal instability and disorder in the next one to two years. So, make sure your business is prepared to account for continued disruption — whether planning a global expansion or not — because instability is an inevitability.
Laying the Groundwork for Innovation
Simultaneous to the potential political and societal chaos, we’re seeing a lot of areas that are ripe for innovation. Look at all the life sciences companies that tried to develop COVID-19 vaccines, for instance. It may not have worked out for all of them, but even those that failed to get across the finish line have seen great benefits from the research and effort they put in. What can you learn from the challenges of the pandemic — and how can it help your business innovate in a beyond-COVID future?
In the long run, some of these trends (and the awareness of some others) are going to ultimately leave us in a much more fertile position than ever before. We are positioned to go deeper into the employee journey. We are positioned to change the entire shape of the employee experience. And we are positioned to ensure the future of work is far better than its present.
In other words, it’s up to us to dictate the ways the pandemic changed tech.