How COVID Changed the Employee Experience

Here’s how IBM management and others think the pandemic has definitely transformed EX.

Even before the phrase “employee experience” (not to mention its abbreviation, EX) became a standard part of the human resources lexicon, IT giant IBM has earned a reputation as a leader in understanding this. that its employees needed to become happier and more productive. Beginning with a company-wide exercise in 2002 called Values ​​Jam that allowed core employees to write a new mission statement for the tech giant, IBM honed its reputation for two-way communication, including open chats where novice programmers could send emails. directly the CEO.

But the company’s penchant for gossip has proven particularly valuable when employee experience has been turned upside down by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which means the vast majority of the 345,000 employees at IBM around the world were now working from home and facing a brave new world. , as were their kids in the online classrooms next door amid a flurry of Zoom lectures.

Related: How Do You Define EX? Create the “irresistible organization”

Weeks after COVID-19 closed offices, an online conversation about these new stresses of juggling family responsibilities while working from home has expanded to include senior executives and has been incorporated into a groundbreaking document called IBM Work from Home Pledge. The document made it clear that it was okay to leave an online meeting to deal with a domestic crisis or turn off the camera for some meetings, or that it was frowned upon to make fun of a coworker’s wall hangings.

Related: Here’s a look at today’s rapidly evolving EX technology

Damon Deaner, IBM

“With more people bringing more people home” – even before the pandemic – “we had always focused on the idea of ​​work / life integration as a key pillar,” says Damon Deaner, director of the experience and design of employees at IBM. “But since the pandemic, we have diverted our attention from a type of [workplace] travel and more in well-being and well-being, both physical and mental.

The unique pledge has made IBM a pioneer in the company’s response to COVID. But the document, and the collaborative process that created it, also showed Big Blue was at the forefront of a larger overhaul of what the employee experience really means to enter a potential post-employment workplace. pandemic. Keys include not only the new emphasis on health – both physical and mental – of workers, but also a greater sensitivity to understanding what they need to be happy.

Arguably, the pandemic has caused a dramatic shift in what the employee experience really means for senior HR executives, many of whom began to embrace the concept as a logical progression of the customer experience around the mid-years. 2010. In the beginning, tech companies like Airbnb – which referred to all of its people management operations as “Employee Experience” – widely viewed EX as being centered on redesigning the offices where employees passed. so much time, with an emphasis on open spaces and promoting spontaneity. interactions, including hobbies (remember foosball tables?) or weekly ethnic lunches.

The pandemic not only muddied the logistics – Zoom meetings created more issues of confidentiality than spontaneity – of the work experience, but also brought to light more existential concerns. Senior HR managers and experts agree that the new workplace puts employee experience at the center of business strategy, with companies not only paying more attention to their employees, but making changes based on what they need. they hear, all with the aim of promoting a culture of well-being.

See also: Why the employee experience should be a holistic and personalized journey

Andy Walker, managing director of talents and rewards at Willis Towers Watson, says surveys by his consulting firm have found that in the first 18 months or so of the pandemic, employers’ perceptions of the importance of l employee experience increased from 52% to 92%. . “The pandemic has essentially created a stress test on the employee experience,” says Walker, explaining that the drastic measures many companies took to keep their doors open during the first severe shutdowns of 2020 required a greater focus on the human needs of workers. arduous journey.

Indeed, the drastic and sudden disruption of daily routines has created a situation in which millions of workers have suddenly rethought everything from their career choices to where they should live. The pivotal point of the pandemic has prompted some baby boomers to retire earlier than expected, while other workers have returned to school or changed occupations. Suddenly, companies that offered these restless workers the most compelling reasons to stay on board would gain a business advantage, not only from that continuity, but from employee enthusiasm.

Elizabeth Kiehner, Capgemini Invent

“Rather than seeing the workforce as a group of employees, the focus should now be – when I think of the employee experience – at the individual level,” says Elizabeth Kiehner, vice-president. president of business transformation at Capgemini Invent, who has written about the post-coronavirus workplace for Forbes and other outlets. “For a smaller HR department,” she notes, “that can be intimidating.”

For Kiehner, the solution takes a more active approach to involving employees, through better use of data on worker issues and concerns, as well as executive training to help business leaders better support individuals.

Alexandra C. Wood, Partner at McKinsey and Co. — who produced a 2020 report titled COVID-19 and the employee experience: How leaders can seize the opportunity– agreed that open communication between managers and their workers is essential. But she also stressed “making sure leaders translate employee concerns into action and share progress.” Very often we see organizations launching surveys or asking for feedback, but fail to communicate results and action plans – it only makes it worse.

Will Bunch is a freelance writer based in the Philadelphia area who writes on human resources and other business topics. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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