Three ways in which a pandemic changes the employee value proposition

14 April 2020

There is nothing like a force bigger than nature to force South African business owners and leaders to implement unexpected short-term changes to ensure operations can continue.  

However, many of these changes overlap with the professional advice that organisational and management consultants have been advocating for years. Despite the plethora of research and literature demonstrating that flexible or remote working arrangements have significant benefits to productivity and employee well-being, some business leaders continue to maintain barriers that prevent positive change.  

With the pandemic bringing its own change management along with it, here are a few ways in which employees will have more productive, balanced and fulfilling careers in a post-pandemic world as supported by digital transformation.  

1. Flexible working arrangements is as normal as peak-time traffic used to be 

Many Baby Boomers grew up in an era where the concepts of ‘work’ and ‘place’ were synonymous. We go to work, and we come back home to our personal lives at the end of the day. Technology started to blend these concepts in later years, to the point where Millennials instead started perceiving work as a ‘thing’ that you do as opposed to a ‘place’ that you go to.  

Millennial managers and executives have largely been promoting more flexible arrangements to managing their teams. The approach is driven by collaborative leadership best-practices which leaves employees with the autonomy – and resulting accountability – to deliver their work on time and to attend to their meetings. How and when that work takes place does not have to be micromanaged. As the research shows, people will do anything not to lose these flexibility privileges, which can easily be revoked when accountability is abused. If anything, one study undertaken back in 2017 in collaboration by Harvard and Princeton Universities shows that some employees were even happy to take an 8% pay cut in favour of the option to work from home.  

Now that many professionals are forced to work from home, those business leaders or managers who were once resistant are also forced to trust their people with accountability to deliver from wherever they may work from using the supporting technology that empowers them to do so.  

In a post-pandemic management world, having everyone suffer through traffic to be at the office by 08:00 to attend the Monday morning meeting will be viewed as an ‘archaic’ practice at best when you can have the meeting virtually – or even better – no meeting at all.  

2. Digital transformation is a necessary value-creation centre to maintain agility 

For many business leaders, ‘digital’ has always been seen as a cost centre – a significant overhead expense with an unclear return on investment. Organisations that invested in digital transformation as a value creation centre prior to the COVID-19 outbreak clearly saw the return on year of investment as the lockdown dawned.  

Whilst some change was required, the extent to which these organisations had to adapt to keep operations afloat was limited. Prior digital investment and change management empowered teams to be agile and productive.  

Realistically, this is not the last pandemic – or major global event – that organisations will need to adapt to in future. COVID-19 was a wake-up call for many in terms of their level of digital investment, and a significant reassurance for others that their prior investment has paid off.  

Staff not only feel a sense of protection that their organisation has adequately prepared to be agile and adaptable – but they are also more loyal, realising that business continuation is key to keep earning a living during extraordinary times.  

3. Teams have renewed appreciation for front-line staff, support roles or shared services departments 

Organisations sometimes skew their focus on staff that are revenue-generating resources, with support divisions or services largely perceived in a secondary role. What the situation demonstrated is that organisations rely heavily on both front-line workers (who bravely continued to serve or support customers) as well as key staff in departments such as IT, marketing and human resources to keep going.  

In particular – those in digital or tech roles in many organisations moved mountains to enable the change required to empower their people to work from home, while others in marketing had to adapt their brand’s value proposition to retain and even attract new customers. Organisations will be better teams as a whole post-COVID-19, with a greater appreciation for the role that everyone plays.