6 Reasons Communities And Culture Are Key To the Next Normal At Work In the post-COVID world, evolution of the workplace will focus on innovative practices and fostering a healthy work environment

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With most of the workforce across industries working from home since the past few months, conversations about adaptability to this "new normal' are getting stronger. The current crisis has led to organizations looking at innovative solutions to incorporate into their business models, keeping the focus on managing revenue, streamlining processes and increasing productivity, while prioritizing the health and safety of the workforce.

As companies and businesses work towards innovation based on evolving consumer behavior, employees are focusing on staying productive and avoiding burnout, as opportunities of offline networking and collaboration come to a standstill. The argument for a return to the workplace is strengthened by the following concerns.

Working in isolation causing stress

Working from home has led to a feeling of isolation as there is no set date to return to the office. The conversation around mental health has become louder in the last few months as people aren't able to "switch off' from work.

Results from a Thrive Stress Poll conducted live across 50-plus organizations with more than 10,000 individuals over a period of 12 weeks indicate that, on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 for extremely stressed), the average stress score was at 6.4 with 37 per cent of respondents feeling very to extremely stressed. Also, top three concerns for most participants were job security and work, health and well-being, and family and connections.

No "room' for relaxation

With home now serving multiple purposes, one that is used for work as well as relaxation, rejuvenation and entertainment, there is an exhaustion sweeping in from the utilization of this space over an extended time period.

Another Thrive poll on current sleep and movement habits for a closed group of around 165 respondents shows 36 per cent find it difficult to allocate time for exercise through the week and at least 35 per cent believe seven to eight hours of sleep per night to be a luxury they can't afford.

It has also been noticed that the physical and mental effort that goes into attending online meetings is much more than in-person meetings leading to the phenomenon of virtual meet fatigue or coma.

Office space stimulates and strengthens productivity

What has emerged is that working from home is not a long term solution as it has challenges that wouldn't be sustainable over an extended period of time. According to a Thrive Global Sciences 2020 survey, 70 per cent of employees say that they won't be able to focus as much if working from home and are feeling less productive since the outbreak.

Employees across businesses have also expressed concerns about lack of suitable infrastructure and necessary services that will boost the transition to working from home. Services such as timely meals/tea/coffee for the large portion that stay in flats and PGs and uninterrupted Internet connection which are the norm in an office space or a flexible workspace are untenable at home.

Additional services such as game rooms and gyms provided by flexible workspaces are known to boost employee productivity.

Hence, keeping employee well-being in mind, companies need to look at cultivating sustainable workplace practices that can be implemented during these testing times and adopted in the future.

Fostering community connections

The ease of collaboration and networking with team members and the larger community, comes with an office setup. A strong community of hardworking individuals can be the backbone of an organization as they make for a support system that is critical in enabling communication.

Thrive Global Sciences findings show that 85 per cent of employees now worry about losing touch or connection with their team and/or co-workers since the outbreak.

Being part of a community of team members with consistent conversations, transparency and cultural diversity contribute to a healthy and positive vibe. People thrive at work when they can rely on fellow team members and fall back on them during times of need.

For entrepreneurs, business owners and even workers, local connections and networking among the community will be needed more than ever to regain footing after the impact of the crisis has subsided. In times like this, individuals and organizations alike would benefit by working towards enriching their community bonds.

Enabling self-care in the digital era

With the emergence of telecommuting and rostered shifts, virtual meetings and interactive sessions will become the norm and a means to drive engagement among employees. Apart from regular office meetings, the need of the hour is sessions on wellness and overall well-being. Both physical and mental wellbeing need to be focused on as companies need to enable its workforce in refining their lifestyle, encouraging cultivation and achievement of fitness goals.

Sessions on the importance of taking care of one's mental health and rollout of employee assistance programmes would go a long way in ensuring that employees are well taken care of.

Research shows corporate wellness programs result in improvements in physical activity, diet, and body mass index/weight, mental health, while showing significant reductions in tobacco and alcohol consumption, decrease in absenteeism and healthcare costs.

Apart from focus on wellness, employees would do well with sessions that entertain and rejuvenate as well. Entertaining sessions that take away the workday blues and aid in rejuvenation would be sought after by businesses as they boost morale and contribute to a positive office culture.

Employee-first culture

An enriching culture has become an important factor that is a make or break when talented individuals choose the workplace they want for themselves. With millennials making up close to 50 per cent of the workforce across industries, a positive and upbeat culture that encourages upskilling and provides consistent learning opportunities would be sought after by talented employees who seek self-growth. The millennials seek an office environment that is motivating and binds them with their community. They have the desire to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves where they wish to make a life, not just a living. A culture that is focused only on work output without investing in its employees and their growth is considered unhealthy. Hence an employee focused approach, which fosters collaboration, learning and focuses on overall well-being is what companies would aspire for.

Being aware of these evolving needs holds the key to a successful transition into the future of the workplace.

*Nihal Shetty is a general manager at WeWork India and Dr. Marcus Ranney is a general manager, at Thrive Global India

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