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A new work order

Citrix Systems’ P. O. Johansson and John Moody explore what the pandemic revealed about wellbeing at work
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
A new work order

This article first appeared in our Love issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 09 April 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Over the last 12 months, the fragility of the world has been brought into sharp relief, united by one single common denominator.

The experience has impacted employees globally, across every rank and job title.

As is so often the case when faced with adversity, many of us have discovered that we can do more than we thought we could. But the rapid evolution of remote work during the course of the pandemic has also put people and their organisations under immense stress.

Well-designed technology can help to ease this strain, but the situation has exposed the need for organisations to prioritise human sustainability above everything else.

As we move forward in this new work order, businesses must place employee wellbeing at the centre of everything they do.

What is human sustainability?

Human sustainability is one of the four pillars of sustainability, alongside social, economic and environmental.

It encompasses the development of skills and human capacity to support the functions and sustainability of an organisation, and to promote the wellbeing of communities and society.

This means that there are synergies with the work-life balance and also the business-society balance.

Human sustainability requires investments that help to reduce or remove stress or challenges to mental health. These investments bring benefits to the organisation, society and the environment.

If we can identify the elements that produce stress for employees, and seek resolutions, we can start creating the business case for investing in human sustainability alongside the other pillars. These can be measured in business growth, staff retention, sick days, happiness scores and other metrics.

Not only will this impact positively on the global mission to make the environment and our planet a better place, but it will also help our fellow humans, peers and co-workers feel better in their work-life balance, enabling them to contribute more to their organisation and society.

Responsibility for work experience

Improving the experience of work is often positioned as a human resources (HR) concern. HR should be the lead in workplace wellbeing programmes and the focus of providing positive
experiences for employees; however, in truth everyone has a part to play.

Human sustainability is a shared concern across the entire organisation, and should extend to how we now manage people in a world of hybrid work and the digital workspace experiences we provide.

Working from home

When the pandemic hit, remote working went instantly to the top of the I.T. agenda; aged VPN connections, along with out-of-date conferencing software, were stretched to the limit.

The digital transformation that was already underway accelerated from a period of three years to three months. It was a case of getting it done and in many cases, the experiences that
employees faced when switching from the office to home were not positive. Instances of people working from ironing boards were all too real.

The office is no longer the physical place it once was: it has become the place where you access work – typically, via a laptop.

I.T. leaders need to provide a digital workspace that is accessible and as friendly as the physical office; it should provide a sense of belonging that will help reduce feelings of isolation.

Employers need to back this up with modern management practices, as the traditional working day has shifted to fit around the reality of homeschooling, childcare and the plethora of other jobs that traditionally remained at home. Those two worlds are now inextricably linked and will remain so; this needs to be understood and supported across entire organisations.

Keep I.T. simple

When the mass shift to remote working began a year ago, there was a rush to deploy technology and services to employees and end users.

Temporarily, we were forced to let go of our needs in order to control every part of the strategy and planning, quickly realising that we are aiming at a moving target. The human sustainability pillar was compromised.

In the world of workplace technology, when we hit a hurdle the solution is often to give employees a wider range of choices to create more flexibility in the way they consume I.T.

However, very often this has the inverse effect, adding further layers of complexity and making it harder for people to do their job. As well as being a waste of time and money, productivity levels will deteriorate rather than improve, and human sustainability will suffer.

The pandemic has highlighted that if individuals are unable to remain productive, or struggle to manage their work-life balance (particularly while working remotely), their employee wellness status will suffer.

As we move increasingly towards software-defined services at work, employees need easy access to the applications they need to do their job, and sufficient training to use them.

Tech for employee experience

Organisations and employers need to ensure that their employees are being treated as the valuable professionals they are.

In the current rollout of new tools and technologies to support remote working, it is critical that the employee (and user) experience sits front and centre.

Organisations must ensure they are deploying services that reduce stress and increase possibilities for productivity, so individuals can work without technological distraction.

The need to be agile and dynamic in approaches and strategies has proven to be successful in times like these, and people can do more than they think when they push outside their comfort zones. Using analytics that continuously monitor anomalies to prevent security breaches, or micro-apps to reduce administrative waste, may also enable the employee to work smarter and be more productive, boosting morale and happiness.

Allowing I.T. and other managers to combine best practice enables the organisation to capture the positive effects of letting the end users have a say in designing their jobs better, and therefore empowering them to improve their productivity and quality of work.

Human-centred tech

Historically, services have emerged from algorithm-based designs that are built by data experts, but over the last year we have seen the importance of empowering the human in this process.

When such decisions are removed from employees, they no longer feel accountable and the effect that was intended as positive becomes a negative instead, increasing stress and frustrations.

Thoughtful, human-centred technology design can also work as a predictive or preventive measurement in human sustainability, almost becoming ‘work health as a service’ by removing stress elements and increasing return-to-work rates.

Employee wellbeing

Moving forward, the digital experiences employers provide for their employees will be as important as salary. Potential talent will consider not only the values, culture and management in a role, but also the digital experience a potential employer is going to provide, and the priority that is placed on human sustainability.

When considering the digital experience, forward-thinking employers should look to integrate their wellbeing programmes: the digital experience is not just about connectivity, security and access, but should also include mental health and stress reduction.

‘Do not disturb’

It is well known that enterprise applications are often hard to use; if we compare them with the apps we use in our personal lives, the differences can be stark.

Employers need to reduce the number of complex applications available, either by only providing the workflows employees use though micro-applications and workflows or by eliminating them completely.

When adopting new software, employee wellbeing should be a consideration and decision makers should ask whether it will improve the employee experience.

We can use AI to minimise the most repetitive tasks, or simply disable other distractions when we are in meetings.

‘Do not disturb’ should be automatic and embraced. If we consider the distractions through notifications alone – corporate email, corporate chat apps, WhatsApp and the personal stuff we use for communication – it soon mounts up.

This change in mentality needs to be backed up culturally, and particularly if the corporate culture is set up for presenteeism through rapid email response rates, for example.

Wellbeing and the digital workspace

Employers should incorporate and signpost wellbeing services within their digital workspace. In fact, every digital workspace should have ‘Red Button’ access to mental health and wellbeing services.

The problem with many well-intended wellbeing programmes at work is that the information is often hard to find. Bringing it front and centre is critical, as it should be easy to locate in a time of crisis.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that it is fine to admit when we are not OK. Many employers now offer programmes such as Mental Health First Aiders and counselling services provided by external third parties.

Accessing these services – alongside corporate applications and everything else we need for work – provides a better experience for employees and helps to make it ‘normal’.

The concept of the digital workspace needs to extend beyond the traditional idea of a place to access apps, to encompass everything we do at work and in our home life.

If we do not deal with the stress of work in a helpful way, over time it will become chronic – especially during a global pandemic.

As many of us have learned over the last 12 months, the dividing line between home and work is increasingly difficult to define, which makes it harder – or impossible – to switch off from work.

Human decency

Human sustainability encompasses all aspects of an organisation, and it therefore follows that everyone has a part to play.

Employers and employees can no longer perceive wellbeing programmes as a ‘perk’; they are a fundamental human right and need to be embedded into the culture of any organisation. Without people, an organisation is nothing.

We can talk about the ‘good’ a wellbeing programme does for employees and employers. In simplistic terms, it is good if employees do not suffer whether they are at home or work, so that productivity will increase – and with it profitability. It makes good business sense.

However, there is a far more pressing – and, frankly, more important – reality: the global pandemic has created an urgent need for people to be respected and wellbeing to be protected at all costs.

The best employers will be those who make wellbeing essential to the world of work, and who embed trust and honesty into the very heart of their organisations. It is not enough any more to provide wellbeing programmes as a perk: it has become a matter of human decency.

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