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Three truths that dare businesses to treat their employees differently

Employers and employees are being asked to do a lot to embrace ‘new normal’ models of work and workplace characteristics.

However, it can often be challenging to understand just how practical many of these models are to implement. For starters, there’s a lack of qualitative evidence and case studies for what ‘new normal’ working conditions will mean for most businesses. 

Those operating in 2022 and beyond are already seeing certain trends – let’s call them truths – come to the fore that will really impact how they proceed in business.

Those truths can be summarised as dealing with higher absentee rates, countermeasures to combat staff availability issues, and finding new ways to recruit and develop talent.

By understanding these truths and finding ways to address them, businesses are much more likely to be able to chart an acceptable path forward.

No people, no work

The first truth of the new business era is that work doesn’t get done if there’s no one around to do it. 

This speaks to multiple themes: the challenges of recruiting and retaining talent in the current environment; and the state of the ‘bed’ that employers have made for themselves when it comes to staff wellbeing and care.

On the available evidence so far, businesses that don’t take specific mitigating actions to address the risk of fluctuating staff availability and unstable resourcing levels may already be experiencing bumps to their business-as-usual operations.

This is apparent in the numbers. 

Among U.S. workers that attend an office or shared space at least some of the time, “52% say they are at least somewhat concerned about being exposed to the coronavirus from the people they interact with at work, including 20% who are very concerned,” according to Pew Research.

Staff availability issues are apparent in other geographies such as Australia, where government figures show “22% of all employing businesses” are dealing with staff unavailability issues caused by Covid, with larger businesses the most likely to be impacted.

What this means for businesses is an immediate need to create workplace conditions where one person’s work or workload can be seamlessly picked up by someone else if and when the need arises.

That’s a marked departure from pre-2020 ways of working and may not come easily for many businesses, where knowledge often sat with certain people, and it is not always obvious to ‘outsiders’ how processes or workflows function. 

To better prepare for fluctuating staff availability, employers will almost certainly need to undertake a process discovery and mapping exercise to document exactly what each staffer does and how they do it.

Having processes well understood and well documented ensures that if a substitute comes in for temporary air cover, they have an agreed set of instructions they can follow, shouldering the workload of the missing staff.

Countermeasures to combat availability

The second truth is related: employees will rest easier if they know their temporary absence from work isn’t going to create a burden on or headache for their colleagues.

Businesses should avoid normalising “working through” Covid. Rather, they should focus their efforts on firstly understanding and documenting how employees work and then on automating portions of these processes to make them faster to execute and less labour-intensive or reliant on individuals to execute. Covid has certainly forced us to adapt to a hybrid/remote working model, and the modified processes should cater for this new norm where possible.

Where other employees need to step in to cover for the absence of a member of their team, it is not difficult to understand how automated or bot-enabled assistance could make that task significantly easier. 

A bot could act as a process guide, stepping people who are otherwise unfamiliar with a process through each stage or each decision needed to progress an interaction or transaction through to completion. 

That kind of guided assistance will likely be extremely helpful to someone acting in an unfamiliar role. While they’re unlikely to be able to complete the process as quickly as their absent colleague, they can process some volume, and they’ll be a lot more efficient than if they had to figure out the stages of the process on their own. In some cases, automated workflows and bots could even complete the task without any human intervention.

Bringing new hires up to speed

The third truth is that the augmentation systems that benefit sick workers and their temporary replacements can also benefit other worker cohorts. 

Training and mentoring younger recruits, for example, was traditionally quite hands-on, requiring the assignment of a ‘buddy’ to show them the ropes – something more conducive to being performed in-person than virtually. According to a PwC survey, a company’s “least experienced workers need the office the most”; those with zero to five years of professional experience “are more likely to want to be in the office more often”. 

However, in a hybrid working world, that kind of close in-person mentoring may still not be possible. 

Democratising access to well-documented processes and creating bots that can guide anyone through an unfamiliar process can be great aids for more junior staff.  A flow-on benefit is meeting the requirements of younger workers who expect an enhanced level of automation similar to the modern apps they interact with in their personal lives.

Wrap in some artificial intelligence to those capabilities, and it is likely that newer hires will be able to function with less hand-holding during a time when staffing may be short and where having every employee productive in at least some capacity is more important than ever before.

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Chris Ben

Chris Ben

With the backing of 25 years in the technology industry, Chris Ben is committed to sharing digital business solutions with teams and empowering them to work efficiently. Passionate about relationship management and a business-led analytical approach to problem solving across multiple industries, he is a strong advocate for automation that provides an exceptional user experience. When he isn’t focused on delivering tangible results to teams at all levels within organisations, you’ll find him falling off his mountain bike or snowboard.

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