This post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Ross Dawson is globally recognized as a leading futurist, entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of 5 books, most recently Thriving on Overload.
Are we in a “post-Covid” world? Whatever happens, we can be sure of one thing: we now work, live, and do business in a hybrid world that integrates both physical and digital engagement. This is a new world; there is no way we’re going back to how things used to be.
Flexibility and experience at the centre
One of the lessons underlined by the pandemic is that human society is highly resilient. It is true that the adjustment and flexibility required was forced on individuals and companies, but most found themselves able to adapt far faster than they would have imagined possible. This has created a world in which two elements become critical:
Flexibility. Employee expectations have irrevocably shifted. To attract the most talented workers employers now understand they must offer choices in how they fulfil their roles. Customers too expect more flexibility than ever before in how they communicate, whether it be in-person, on the web, on social media, on a phone call, or through new channels.
Quality of experience. Flexibility is a vital foundation for quality of experience, but far more is required. Ultimately, it is about how pleasurable it is to engage. Is it something people want to do? One of the broadest trends in society is of increasing expectations and discernment. The bar for customer experience is always rising. As customers experience excellence once, they expect that in all other interactions. The much-vaunted ‘Great Resignation’ is substantially due to employees finding that their experience of working conditions was not something they chose to endure any longer.
Employees and customers have more choices than they have ever had. The only businesses that will flourish in the years ahead are those that offer flexibility and the highest quality experience to both employees and customers.
Building great employee experience in a hybrid world
For many, remote or hybrid work is highly attractive, offering flexibility, better work-life balance, and saving commuting time. For companies, it can vastly expand their talent pool. However the biggest downside for both employers and employees is reduced engagement, not feeling as connected to the company or colleagues. This is central to the quality of employee experience.
There are three foundations for strong employee engagement in a hybrid world, which I was heartened to see validated in my recent conversation with Lindsay Brown, VP & General Manager APJ for flexible work software provider GoTo (which those of you who have been around for a while will remember as LogMeIn):
Clear and effective policies. After the onset of the pandemic, GoTo chose to shut down its Sydney offices, resulting in many team members moving out of the city centre or to different parts of the country. The first step to enable this was establishing clear HR policies that addressed the legal issues of working from home such as health and safety, as well as ensuring that the person’s responsibilities could be fulfilled sustainably over the long-term. Managers and staff set mutual expectations on the role and what would be required for high performance.
Regular in-person meetings. There is no substitute for the connection and trust-building enabled by in-person meetings. The largest fully remote companies in the world, such as Automattic and GitLab, all hold regular all-hands meetings. GoTo, now without offices in Australia, simply began using rental spaces for team meetings when needed, and established consistent all-hands events, for which employees fly in if necessary.
Structured opportunities for engagement and feedback. When everyday interactions in the office aren’t happening, engagement needs to be purposefully designed. At GoTo, every fortnight teams organise social activities, which can include team lunches, town hall meetings, trivia nights, bowling, and work for favourite charities. To address the real danger of people not feeling heard, quarterly pulse surveys monitor how people are feeling about their relationship with their manager, their career prospects, and other vital issues.
Giving customers flexibility
The challenge with customers is similar. How do you maintain positive emotional engagement when both customers and support staff could be anywhere?
Two design factors enable this:
Choice of communication channels. Every customer has different preferences in how they engage with companies, which will change depending on their circumstances. Meeting the customer where they are is a powerful foundation for enduring relationships. For example, Sydney FC, Australia’s most successful soccer club, was massively impacted by the onset of Covid. At the time the only way fans could get in touch with Sydney FC was over the phone. GoTo helped them swiftly implement a multi-platform system allowing contact over email, voice, web, social media, messaging apps and other channels.
Seamless integration for service. It is one thing to provide customers with choices in how they get in touch. For this to work customer service people need to be able to access and manage the communications in one place. Sydney FC’s system allowed service agents to deal with inbound enquiries from any source from wherever they are working.
Prioritising between customer and employee experience
Leading any business requires clear prioritisation, but this is particularly the case for smaller organisations. The substantial repositioning required by the shift to a hybrid world requires pointed choices. Brown’s advice on this is particularly insightful and useful.
“Don't try and do too much at once.” “What's most important: the customer experience, or the employee experience?”
It’s a very useful question to consider. This simple frame forces leaders to weigh what is going to make the most difference to success.
For some companies it is critical to retain and attract the right staff in what is a very challenging employment market. For others the higher priority is to improve customer engagement. In the long run both are critical, but choosing an immediate priority will focus attention and resources, and very likely lead to better outcomes.
Better experience in a hybrid world
The world has changed, and businesses that don’t change with it will find themselves falling behind. Both employees and customers want flexibility and better experiences. The businesses that understand this, select their priorities, and implement the right systems will flourish in a post-Covid world.