So much has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic cleared most offices of employees in Spring 2020. While we all had to completely reimagine how business would work, consistency and predictability went out the window. It’s been hard to know how to plan or what to expect next. 

One aspect of the workplace that’s changed significantly is the employee experience, which Gallup defines as “the journey an employee takes with your organization.” Gallup further describes it as the sum of how employees experience their workplace, including all interactions they have with an employer from the time before they are hired to after they leave the company. 

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Looking outside of the office

For many, the employee experience no longer takes place at the office. Not only did employees pivot to working at home last year, mostly interacting with co-workers through video conferencing and other digital means, but schools and childcare facilities also closed. That means many people are working every day alongside their school-age children who are home doing remote schooling. For many kids, depending on their ages and capabilities, that requires a parent’s help for what can be hours each day. 

It’s flipped the employee experience on its head. There’s no longer life at work and life at home, but two experiences that have merged. Boundaries have blurred. 

Previously, a business was responsible for the employee experience while they were in the office. How does that work now? How does a company support its employees working at home, in very different circumstances, possibly with other non-employees in their environment? 

Employee experience is essential to recovery and innovation

It’s also fair to ask why companies should focus on the employee experience at all right now when there are so many other issues to contend with. There’s competition right now for available jobs, so why should a company put time and effort into the employee experience? Shouldn’t a business focus on containing costs instead to ensure they’ll recover from pandemic constraints? 

While that’s important, it’s critical to focus on the employee experience, too. Perhaps it’s even more significant now than it was before. 

A positive employee experience has many business benefits. It reduces employee turnover, makes employees more productive and innovative, attracts better talent, means better customer service, and leads to bigger profits.

Planning for an eventual return to the post-COVID-19 “new normal” lets businesses consider how to accommodate employees with vastly different experiences. While almost all are experiencing disruption, some are struggling while others are thriving. 

A recent Gartner study found 64% of HR leaders prioritize the employee experience in terms of returning to the workplace even more than they did before COVID-19.

McKinsey says, “the return phase of the COVID-19 crisis is a good time for organizations to create more tailored responses to workplace challenges, expanding on the goodwill and camaraderie earned in earlier phases.” As organizations enter the next phase of the pandemic, the report says, they must realize that employees have widely different experiences and perspectives. 

Here are five steps to perfecting the employee experience.

1. Plan for remote hiring

We won’t all return to our office jobs when the pandemic is over. We’ve proven that remote working can be successful, and it’s here to stay.

Companies will need to provide remote work options to stay competitive. Consider how you will recruit and onboard new employees, and remember that, without geographical limitations, you can reach highly qualified applicants around the globe you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

On the other hand, it means those highly talented global candidates will also have more choices than ever, which is another reason your company must offer a top-notch, desirable employee experience.

2. Set clear expectations

There’s never been a more important time to clarify performance expectations. Consider whether your employees’ responsibilities have changed. Is your business stable enough for the goals that are in place, or should you shift them to different, short-term ones for now? Help your employees reevaluate performance goals and priorities, knowing they may shift again as conditions change. 

3. Know that trust is more important than ever

While many companies did a good job during the first phase of the COVID-19 work crisis, conditions keep evolving. As your company moves into the next phase, you can build on that trust you earned by being “present, action-oriented, empathetic, and fully transparent,” according to McKinsey

In addition to safety and security needs, three other themes have a disproportionate impact on well-being and work effectiveness, McKinsey says. They are: trusting relationships, social cohesion, and individual purpose. Keep these in mind as you move forward.

Global Industry Analyst Josh Bersin says we’re in a time he calls “The Big Reset,” which he defines as a time to rethink our expectations, priorities, how we spend our time, and what we know about work, life, business, and leadership. He says you can reset trust in your company, defining the concept as made up of ethics, competence, and voice.

4. Make sure superiors offer feedback and engagement 

Don’t discount the importance of managers providing constant feedback and engagement. As your company returns to a new normal, feedback on employees’ performances will let them adjust their efforts as needed. It also provides the message that they are valued and that the company wants to see them grow.

5. Focus on well-being

While 48 percent of executives say employees’ well-being is a top concern, only 29% of HR leaders have created a health and well-being strategy. Don’t let this be your company’s story. 

According to Mercer, energized employees are four times more likely to report they work in a healthy, flexible, and inclusive workplace. Employees who are energized by their job also say they are more likely to stay and are more resilient.

It’s definitely a time to focus on improving employee well-being, which is a huge positive not only for your employee but also for your organization’s performance. Take the time to think through the changes your company needs both due to COVID-19 and also for an eventual return to a different workplace.