By Donncha Carroll, Katie Styler and Ashlyn Lowe

In Part I of this series, we commented on the speed at which companies pivoted to a remote working model and shared some of the benefits and challenges companies have experienced in the recent, albeit forced transition. In Part II, we offered our perspectives on the question, “what essential work can we accomplish efficiently and effectively in a remote model?” This article focuses on perhaps one of the more challenging questions for leaders to explore and answer as they consider the long-term impact of working remotely – how will this new mode of operation influence and impact our Employee Value Proposition (EVP), including Culture, Work Environment, and Employee Development?

What is the Employee Value Proposition (EVP)?

First, let’s align on what we mean by EVP. The Employee Value Proposition, or EVP, represents the promise a company makes to its employees and provides a framework for us to measure and manage the employee experience across five domains:

Collectively these five domains are critical in attracting, retaining, and motivating talent as they answer the very basic question: “why should I work here?” In today’s environment where the fundamental nature of work is shifting, leaders must create, articulate and deliver an EVP that is attractive to the different kinds of talent they want and need.

Three Employee Value Proposition Areas to Pay Attention to:

Our discussions with leaders across industries highlighted three EVP domains that are consistently top of mind: Culture, Work Environment, and Career. Let’s look at each domain and how it may be impacted by remote work, whether the new model is 100% for some roles or a hybrid approach (more likely for most and over the longer term).

Culture

Culture is the collection of shared assumptions, beliefs, values, and ideas that a company holds. Culture is reflected in how the business operates and how its employees behave collectively. Very simply, culture represents the way things get done in the organization and signals what is rewarded and discouraged. Of course, culture has many layers – what we can see and observe directly but also what may be less visible and sits just below the surface.

Culture is Both Visible and Invisible

Every culture is unique, often differentiated and viewed by many leaders as a competitive advantage. Companies that excel in the cultural component of their EVP are intentional in how they create that culture, which is typically led and shaped by the top of the house. The advent of remote work has left many leaders wondering – how do we maintain and sustain our culture in an environment where relationships are being developed and progressed very differently from before? How do we indoctrinate new employees to our ways of thinking and ways of working? Will our culture be compelling in this new mode of operation and remain a competitive advantage? Where and how should we adapt our culture to the current and future environment?

The foundation of an organization’s culture is its values and shared assumptions about what is required for success – the firmly established principles that guide behavior and actions. These values guide all aspects of culture, such as how we interact and work with one another. For example, many organizations promote behaviors that embody inclusion and collaboration based on the belief that these values enhance performance through the generation of new ideas, while also creating a sense of belongingness. These values are prominent in businesses that emphasize in-person interactions and higher levels of personal and team connectivity to get work done. In one of our recent engagements, we heard leadership describe how the pandemic has forced them to pull back from common practice, “We’ve had to scale back our approach to inclusive teams. Now, team size is limited to the number of tiles we can see on one page of our video conferencing platform.”

As businesses continue their pivot to remote work, should consider:

  • Demonstrating and role modelling the values that signal what is important for success in new and creative ways
  • Addressing or promoting behaviors and distributing communications that state more explicitly what is acceptable, and importantly, what is not acceptable in the new world
  • Updating onboarding processes to incorporate examples of ways of working that are more typically demonstrated in person

Work Environment

Work environment is perhaps the most visibly affected domain of the EVP. Critical components of work environment include the arrangements, both physical and social, in which people work. These strongly affect the interpersonal aspects of work, such as workplace relationships and approach to collaboration. While a more remote environment offers an increased sense of autonomy, it has greatly affected the degree to which employees feel connected. A significant body of research supports the idea that for employees to be productive and happy, they need to feel both autonomous and connected at work. Striking the right balance between the two requires dedicated focus and changes in behavior.

Greater flexibility in working practices and hours is a silver lining for many employees, and the businesses that try to reverse course post COVID-19 will quickly discover that workers have already adopted these practices as a new and preferred normal. However, this change increases the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life. Are we working from home or living at work? This creates meaningful challenges in maintaining a healthy separation between the two and may leave employees feeling they must be “on” at all times.  Leaders should consider:

  • Establishing principles and clear expectations to guide the work that gets done
  • Formalizing important interactions between team members by establishing a cadence for discussing important topics and making important decisions
  • Creating opportunities for one-on-one interactions that encourage getting to know one another at the beginning and end of meetings (e.g., join five minutes early)
  • Creating social “popups” to encourage informal social interactions amongst coworkers
  • Letting employees know that it is important to create separation between work and home and that certain hours can and should be off limits to colleagues (e.g., defined enterprise-wide, by team or at the individual level)
  • Making time off sacred and jealously guarding vacation, important personal and family events and other commitments

Career

The career component of the EVP captures employee deployment, advancement, and performance feedback. Understandably, leaders are concerned about employee development, as many organizations have historically depended on the apprenticeship model to bring new hires up the learning curve. Even before COVID-19, a 2018 study by McKinsey showed that 62% of executives believe they will need to retrain or upskill more than a quarter of their workforce over the next four years. Traditional development strategies would likely encompass a combination of on the job, project-based development opportunities, coupled with classroom or self-paced learning. Now, leaders find themselves struggling to adapt historical development strategies to fit the current environment.

There is also a concern that someone “working for months or years on Zoom or Teams”, particularly early on their career, will develop differently than someone with an in-office experience. For example, explicit knowledge, typically delivered through traditional classroom learning, is flourishing in the digital environment through online learning platforms and digital badging. However, tacit learning, typically gained through experience and observation, is much more difficult to deliver in a remote model.  Implications for developmental trajectories remain to be seen but should not be underestimated. Instead, they should be closely monitored to ensure they have not been significantly undermined. Of course, this begs the question: can we create new environments where employees grow and develop as quickly and effectively in a hybrid model? Leaders should consider:

  • Creating a new talent development approach that evolves from the apprenticeship model, leverages remote learning, and can be effectively managed to build the workforce of the future
  • Establishing new ways of finding opportunities for remote workers that recognize their capabilities and development needs (e.g., AI based mapping of talent, recommendation engine)
  • More actively integrating remote workers to assess interest areas and determine what they should learn to remain relevant in the market, and how they should learn it
  • Finding new ways to evaluate performance that depend more on collective observation, analyzing enterprise data from work systems and other informal ways of gathering insights
  • Monitoring and managing the development of employees to ensure equal opportunity to develop in a more real-time feedback virtual world

Parting thoughts:

As we discussed in our last article, certain work lends itself more to a remote model. For most, this will be a transition to a hybrid model that retains the best and most important aspects of the in-person experience. Successfully transitioning the workforce to new ways of working will depend on ensuring and designing in the critical interactions required to complete important work, and importantly deliver the desired outcomes. Certain characteristics of traditional work may have changed forever and so we are required to take forward the best of the old world whilst taking advantage of what the new model has to offer. Undoubtedly, this will require some experimentation, monitoring, and adjustment to find the right path forward – it will not be a one and done, but we believe recent events provide more opportunity than downside risk. To move with the times and take advantage of this new world of possibility, organizations must balance operational, human and technological priorities to deliver great results for the business and the people that support and depend on it.

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