The past year has been a time of transformation across all aspects of life. It has tested our ability to multi-task and adapt, forcing many of us to completely reinvent the daily routines we’ve lived in for years. While everyone has been faced with unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, the disruption it’s caused has provided a moment to pause, step back and look at how we live our lives. It has also given many of us the opportunity to evaluate our routines and make changes to help us be more successful, efficient and happy.
This moment of reflection and transformation isn’t exclusive to the individual. Organizations across the US and globally have been forced to adapt business strategies and long-held policies to accommodate the quickly changing landscape. Early on in 2020, the rapid onset of the pandemic forced companies to jump headfirst into the digital transformation activities they had been planning for and strategizing about for years, replacing traditional programs and practices with more flexible, agile ones. This rapid transformation means that after the pandemic ends, we’ll be entering into a world that’s forever changed.
As individuals and organizations analyze and reflect, something has become abundantly clear: the value and importance of people. One of the most difficult aspects of the pandemic has been the need to remain socially distanced from family members, friends and co-workers. Weekly get-togethers or regular conversations in the office which were taken for granted months ago, are now the things people miss and value the most.
While many of us have been and remain isolated to some extent, person to person connection and regular socialization has managed to adapt and persevere throughout the pandemic. Within days of enforced lockdowns, we saw the birth of Zoom parties, virtual happy hours and even witnessed amended versions of milestone life events like weddings and graduations take place remotely. Any observance or occasion that was of importance to people was quickly and competently adapted to a remote setting.
The value of people is especially important to businesses. Even before the pandemic, the correlation between the most successful organizations and high employee engagement levels had been noted. In a recent study of over 5,000 employees, it was shown that the more engaged employees feel, the more satisfied their customers were and that the best performing companies also touted the highest levels of employee engagement. Research also shows that employees who report satisfaction with social connectivity among their colleagues are two to three times more likely to have maintained or improved their productivity on collaborative tasks than those who are dissatisfied with their connections.
It’s not surprising that engaged employees working at companies with a strong corporate culture are more successful and sustainable than ones who lack it. It makes sense that someone working for an organization they care about will go above and beyond to contribute to its success. But recently, it’s become even more apparent how essential these elements are to the bottom line.
Like so many other things, the pandemic has forced organizations to examine how they engage employees and to quickly develop new ways to connect with people and reiterate corporate culture in a predominantly remote or distanced environment. At Konica Minolta, we’ve been working toward business transformation for years, and have considered openness, collaboration and innovation to be important values and key elements of our corporate culture. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity to put new working styles into practice and explore creative ways to engage our people. Some of these new ways of working may stick around, even after the pandemic ends. In a recent survey conducted by BCG of over 1,200 professionals working during the pandemic, the majority said they have been able to maintain or even improve their productivity while working from home.
In my personal experience, I’ve found that while working remotely I’ve connected with my colleagues more than ever before. Rather than sitting at a desk and having passing conversations with teammates, I feel like we’ve connected more frequently and on a deeper level. This may be because our remoteness has forced us to make a more concerted effort to set aside time to catch up on a regular basis. My observation of increased collaboration may not be unique to my own experience. In BCG’s survey more than half, (51 percent), of all respondents said they have been able to maintain or improve their productivity on collaborative tasks such as exchanges with coworkers, working in teams and interacting with clients.
During this time, I’ve also found it enjoyable to “visit” co-workers’ homes from my computer, meet their families, pets and even learn about their decorating style or personal interests. This intimate connection has left me feeling more engaged and closer to my colleagues on a level that probably wouldn’t have been possible against the hustle and bustle of a traditional office setting.
Casual, virtual check-ins and get-togethers with colleagues sparked the idea for our team to introduce a new virtual employee event series. The quarterly series launched last fall and consists of brief, 45 minute, fun and educational sessions with the goal of bringing the entire employee base together to take a break from daily routines and engage in our corporate culture and values.
Our first event, a ‘virtual coffee break’, took place last October and featured a talk with one of our partner non-profit organizations, the Arbor Day Foundation, followed by a tour of a shade-grown coffee farm in Nicaragua where they source ethically, sustainably grown coffee. We also held a virtual Halloween party and costume contest where hundreds of employees dressed up in costume and spent a Friday afternoon celebrating with colleagues nationwide. We capped off the calendar year with a joyous holiday celebration featuring a message from leadership, an “ugly” holiday sweater competition, live virtual carolers and the premiere of our annual holiday video. It was a great time and connected employees in a way that we might have not thought possible before the pandemic.
While it’s uncertain what innovations or changes will stick around after COVID-19, one thing that’s guaranteed is that an emphasis will be placed on employee engagement and appreciation. Moving forward, remote work, flexible working hours and a focus on corporate culture will no longer be niche buzzwords associated with the most forward thinking companies. These policies and practices will become cornerstones of corporate strategies at companies across the board.
The past year has ushered in a decade of unprecedented change. While uncertainty presents us with challenges, it also provides us with opportunities to innovate and grow. In a post-COVID-19 world, we can expect organizations to place their focus on people and emphasize the importance of valuing employees throughout both good and challenging times.