As workforces packed up their offices and converted their employees
into ‘digital nomads’
overnight, the last two weeks of March 2020 will be remembered in
the history books as when
‘it’ happened. Unprepared, unpredictable and unaware, globally,
humans that were able to
start working from home did so comparable to an Australian spirit we
refer to as rolling up
your sleeves and giving it a go. Where employees who couldn't work
from home continued to
roll up their sleeves, battling a pandemic to keep countries and
As the reality of a vaccine approaches closer, and Australia is
almost ready for normal life,
leaders across the board are left with the burning question, do
employees start 2021 like 2020
never happened? Navigating options to bring everyone back into the
bustling CBD offices,
perhaps asking HR teams to arrange a welcome back goodie pack,
perhaps introduce two days
of working from anywhere as an ongoing initiative. Whatever the post
pandemic soft approach
may be, alignment of goals with the workforce is at an all time low,
as shown in Exhibits 1.1,
1.2 and 1.3.
Independent polling of employees across Australia by The Start Smart
Insight X - 10000 Responses Excluding Sample and Negligible data
We have been asking questions and actively polling employees and
employers since April
2020, and they continue to demonstrate a misalignment between
employers and employees in
key areas such as objectives, expectations, technologies and
resilience. Both sentimentally and
quantitatively, employees have reflected in our various polling,
sentimental analysis and data
gathering efforts, an event such as the pandemic requires a joint
effort to realign and inspire
workforces to recover together - without which even the greatest of
recovery initiatives are
bound to fail. This overview seeks to dissect the importance of
employee engagement and
how employee engagement can be measured, tracked and placed into
action items as a part of
organisational recovery from the pandemic.
Employee engagement, without the rose colored lens.
After almost a year of working from a screen with a webcam and
microphone as the core
medium of interaction, there are a few fundamental questions that
need to be asked:
What does it mean to be an employee of an organisation in a
world where skills are
translated into various
technologies for functions to continue?
Have employees largely become technology operators?
Or are they still the brand evangelists? - loyal and engaged to
the organisation they
work for ?
The answers puzzle you. There is a portion of employees that are
ready to take on 2021,
leading initiatives in their organisations. Another group no longer
feels attached to their
employer and do not believe there is a
particular reason to stick with their organisation.
outward, and plan to use their skills in other industries, perhaps
elsewhere across the globe.
Engagement levels in employees is low, however this does not mean
employees are upset or
depressed (we come back to wellbeing at a later stage) - nor does it
mean people are not
doing any of their work, it is simply a shared sentiment that
engagement is no longer correlated
with brand evangelism, or job titles.
Job tiled based skills can now be transferred into emerging
categories given the technological
evolutions the world has
faced since the pandemic started, Several metrics that suggest
brand engagement over employee engagement is now redundant.
initiatives without fully understanding the
engagement levels of employees within the
workplace will lead to greater levels of misalignment however well
initiatives may be. We matched responses to
show the misaligned relationships below,
Exhibits 2.1 and 2.2.
Transparency, Honesty and Accountability.
Transparency, Honesty and Accountability aren't new wisdom, however
we have been asking
about the importance of the 3 pillars in
the modern workplace.With 77.37% of respondents
emphasising the importance of the pillars, the remainder
didn’t suggest it's not important - they
emphasised the execution of the pillars are of greater importance
than the elements themselves.
So why bring these traditional
organisational pillars into a neo view of employee engagement ?
Simple.Transparency, Honesty and Accountability are
more important than ever, and it starts
at the strategic layer
of an organisation, where the values and actions of leaders
through the core and into the everyday operational constitution of
Transparency allows employees to be inspired and be “in the know” of
both the negatives and
the positives of their workplace, when
to anticipate a win and when to put up their
to become tackle challenges effectively.
Honestly allows employees to be a part of the discussion.
Organisations of today faced a
plethora of challenges
pre-covid. Adding a pandemic to the mix complicates that even
further. There are risk takers at every level who get to take
part - through execution and
thought leadership when they are
operating within an honest ecosystem.
Accountability allows employees to be aware of the percentage of
their outcome contribution
to the overall achievements of
their team, projects, workplace and organisation. The culture of
accountability is a vital element of the post-covid workplace.
Transparency, Honesty and Accountability are reflected in employee
engagement, Exhibit 3 of
our questions show, transparency,
honesty and accountability within workplaces correlated to
low employee engagement. One doesn't work without the other, as
a part of the employee engagement equation.
Back to the Office or Back to work ?
Is there a fundamental difference between working from home compared
to working at the
office? The answer differs by who you ask. The human interaction
factor has two
schools of thought when it comes to working
from home versus working in an office.
Exhibit 4.1 indicates
respondents feel they are less productive working from home,
however they then contrast their productivity in Exhibit 4.2
with wellbeing - stating
going back to the office will actually decrease employee wellbeing.
So where does this leave us ? In one word, confused. Blanket rules
can no longer be applied to
work habits post the pandemic period. Technology has evolved but so
have the human
beings that utilise its potential. Placing a mandate on permanent
home or a pull back into office will drastically impact employee
engagement and experience.
Structured analysis of classifying productivity and outcome from
office versus the work from anywhere model needs to be tailored and
Theoretically many roles could, many perhaps have, embody a work
from anywhere model.
Technology teams have often operated from remote data centers.
wastage times such as commuting and non essential
gatherings within the office can
increase productivity. Equally, a task force tackling regulatory
compliance issues may not have
the same ability to utilise a
permanent working from home model, and need the nitty
gritty interactions to uncover the critical factor that would save
the organisation millions of
dollars in future penalties. We believe each industry has a unique
ability to design a
hybrid model of work, however a financial service institution is not
a software company -
nor the vice versa. The debate about working from home versus a
reintroduction to the
office needs to align with internal stakeholder expectations and
The good and bad of a large workforces.
“Numbers do not feel. Do not bleed or weep or hope. They do not know
bravery or sacrifice.
Love and allegiance. At the very apex of
callousness, you will find only ones and zeros,” as
Amie Kaufman says in Illuminae, however humans do feel, and form
are more than numbers.
At times it can be difficult to consider everyone's sentiment when
it comes to large scale
operations, especially where human
capital is a fundamental part of the value proposition
of an organisation. Contact centers, large retailers, commercial
and professional services immediately spring to mind as we talk
qualitative human workforces.
The great part of a large workforce is the value provided by the
organisation is done as a
whole and each person makes a
contribution towards the value their organisation
However there in large workforces, negative sentiment starts arising
decisions made at C - Director levels do not align with
the majority of the operational
workforce and given the size
of the workforce the negativity often spreads like wildfire
and lead to a long circle of change and initiatives to bring
employee satisfaction back to
acceptable standards, where if
the decision were made using a more cohesive approach
these initiatives can be avoided.
We look at large workforces through a scientific principle called
entropy, translated from the
second law of thermodynamics in physics (bear with us). There are a
factors that need to be considered when measuring and working with
entropy within business,
the chaos within an organisation, the human systematic behaviours
processes that introduce entropy and the ability to
implement systems and structures
that keeps entropy to low levels. Yes low levels not zero because
like a healthy marriage
some level of disagreement is a part of life and a sign of an
intellectual organisation that
doesn't just ‘go with the flow’.
In large workforces the bureaucracy, ideologies, politics and
several other factors traditionally
contribute to high entropy but in the midst of a pandemic, entropy
introduced by subliminal decision making for collective large
in shocking levels of trust and engagement, and with several recovery
initiatives already planned without employee consideration,
Exhibit 5 is a wake
up call for large workforces and their leaders.
Digital Fatigue, where do we stand ?
The five cardinal senses, touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste
are what makes the human
experience so unique for each one of
us. Digitally, we can replicate some of the
senses from behind
a screen through microphones and earpieces but the ability to grab a
meal with a coworker, smell the coffee, and feel the
treacherous rain during the commute
are also fundamental aspects that make work what it is. These
work are a part of what makes us human. As
employees have moved towards remote
work during the pandemic,
we questioned how people were coping with performing
fundamental tasks that make us human from behind a screen. We posed
questions to a greater audience to get a better insight on digital
fatigue to showcase
the amount of systems an individual uses on a daily basis - Exhibit
Exhibit 6 - Digital Fatigue induced by increased usage of Systems
As we perform continuous polling, both sentiment* and direct
responses to digital fatigue is
taking an upward trend,
leaders now need a calculated approach to technology refinement
and converting certain physical interactions to become digital for
the employees as, if
done without the understanding of their
workforce this will be a recipe for disaster for
productivity and wellbeing.
Communication beyond the screen
As a part of the digital fatigue, communication effectiveness
through digital channels are slowly
trending to the point of
where they are now prioritised as the same regardless of what is
being communicated. As part of our research into the recovery
from the global pandemic we
concluded ‘communications beyond the screen’ are an element for
recovery under the factor of
“Don't Forget the Human'' Initiation of Recovery |
Recovery Factors 2020 organisations now more than
ever need to understand their communication channels beyond the
screen, where it is not about
the higher resolution webcam,
but the greater ability to inspire and drive communication that
enable people to feel empowered to take part in the effort for
“Help!” Where do employees go?
We did say we would come back to wellbeing, so here we are, in an
SOS scenario where
the employees are screaming for help, where do they go? Sure there
are employee assistance
programs that allow for a level of assistance and assurance for
employees who need
help however our research “Initiation of
Recovery, 2020” shows that over the seven major
global catastrophe events in the last 100 years, there is a spike in
the anger and negativity
within people towards the later part of the catastrophic event and
the initial part post the
catastrophic event as per Exhibit 7.
Our understanding of this allows us to predict that organisations
will face an increase in
people requiring support, due to the
negative sentimental feeling of people post the current
pandemic. As both leaders and employees enter a new realm of
workplace there needs to be an
in-depth understanding of how employees are utilising Employee
that exist without which employee engagement cannot be expected to
conform to the
organisation’s objectives and goals, our
research shows 94.29% of employees have not
utilised or are even aware of the programs their employers have in
place for Employer
Assistance, Exhibit 8.
Where are we right now ?
In our comprehensive search to understand what’s next, where we
are and where to start with
Employee Engagement, we
dissected and analysed all key industries and organisations in
to visually represent the impact of employee engagement on an
organisation’s ability to
deliver against its objectives
amidst the pandemic. We created The Start Smart Employee
Exhibit: The Start Smart - Employee Engagement Quadrant
We created this quadrant as an aid for leaders to benchmark their
organisations against their
industries performance and
understand where they are right now and where to focus employee
engagement efforts in correlation to recovery. Each position of the
quadrant has critical priorities,
we would recommend understanding the quadrant in greater detail by
Initiatives for 2021 and beyond, inspire or demand?
Inspire or Demand? For a workforce in the era of empowerment and
engagement and adherence to recovery initiatives is going to
result in loss of talent
within the organisation and the very opposite of engagement by
employees and leaders
within the organisation. Cracks have already started to appear
where in our responses in
Exhibit 9.1 and 9.2.
Employees tell us that their trust in the ability of their
organisation is low and their
involvement in the recovery
process is even lower. It’s this employee sentiment that leads us
plead to our C - Director level peers, Do not leave employees out
of the equation, as your
organisation needs to recover and the result in making siloed
decisions is burning out your
employees through initiatives they do not value. It’s time to set
vanity aside and take into
consideration the feelings,
sentiment and voice of employees to both assure and design
the recovery effort.
In our conclusion, we make intelligent predictions that;
Will initiatives without an employee-partnered design
a part of the organisational recovery effort ? No.
Will initiatives that do not take into account employee
propagate in the current change and communication channels ?
Not as effectively.
In the post-pandemic recovery period, employee engagement and
unity is at an all-time low.
The ideal way to rebound engagement would be to take advantage of
all available insights
and capabilities. Leaders must commit to the real essence of a
data-driven workplace - where
execution with stakeholders is in mind. The ultimate test for
leaders isn’t simply to
recover from the pandemic, but have the ability to ensure everyone
in the organisation
recovers together - sharing the same values and goals.
As people are becoming more technology native (i.e. becoming more
and more interwoven
with technology in our everyday lives) workplace leaders must
recognise the different needs
that are arising. It is not enough to simply add another
technology layer to uplift an organisation’s
capabilities. Any new technology initiative that the company wants
must be done so with a human centric approach
because, at the end of the day, they are the
most important resource of the organisation. Similarly, technology
should not be considered
a solution to a problem, rather it should be thought of as a
resource that must be used
in conjunction with humans. To that end, the way to ensure maximum
return on investment
is to fully engage and unite the workforce as one cohesive body.
Salman Abeer - Lead Human at The Start Smart
*The Start Smart collects, analyses and commissions its own research
and does not use third party data, the following researches were
used in this perspective paper.
Initiation of Recovery, 2020 | A comprehensive research into the
recovery from the pandemic, utilising 10,000 responses, Multiple
immersion sessions around the world, 80+ Million Records of current
sentiment and historical sentiment.
Employee Engagement, 2021 | A Meta analysis of digital polls and
combined research into employee engagement before, during and
predictive for the post pandemic business environment.