person working remotely at desk with coffee
As businesses move forward through the COVID-19 pandemic, development must be a focus not only on technology but on interpersonal skills, as well. — Getty Images/Maryna Andriichenko

As workplace disruption continues amid the ongoing spread of COVID-19, organizations need to rethink the support they provide for their employees, according to a virtual panel discussion called “Resetting Normal: Defining the New Era of Work,” which was presented by The Adecco Group.

The support employees need includes not only technology and training, but also support for workers’ mental and emotional well-being, the presenters said. More than a quarter — 28% — of workers said their mental health deteriorated from the stress and isolation of the pandemic, according to a survey by The Adecco Group of 8,000 desk workers around the world.

“I don’t think we fully appreciate the extent to which this could be a barrier to [economic] recovery,” said Mary-Clare Race, chief innovation and product officer at LHH, a division of The Adecco Group focused on training and development, during the panel discussion. “There is a need for organizations to do more to improve the mental health literacy of their leaders.”

Now more than ever, organizational leaders need to have “emotional intelligence,” she said. This emotional intelligence includes not only the ability for managers to identify and regulate their own emotions, but also the ability to recognize and influence the emotional response of others, she said.

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Alain Dehaze, CEO, Adecco Group. — Adecco Group

Seventy percent of workers said support for their emotional well-being will be important to them after the pandemic, according to the Adecco research, and 74% said they feel it will be important for managers to exhibit empathy and a supportive attitude.

Many of those surveyed feel companies will need to provide ongoing training for managers to better handle the needs of employees who may be working from home at least part of the time. Three-fourths (75%) of C-suite/executive managers believe additional training is needed for managers who supervise remote workers, and 69% of managers and 60% of workers agreed.

“We see after the pandemic there will be a huge need to rescale managers around soft skills,” said Alain Dehaze, CEO of the Adecco Group.

Crisis highlights management and training flaws

The challenges of the current environment have exposed weak managers and highlighted flaws in the training and development of these individuals, said Race.

“A crisis like this makes it easier to identify where we need to improve,” she said. “During good times, poor leadership will typically go unnoticed or be ignored, whereas challenging times really expose and amplify the harmful effects of poor leadership.”

Overall, the Adecco survey found that 75% of employees said they wanted flexibility around office and remote working after the pandemic, and employees on average said they would like to split their time about evenly between working in the office and working from home.

There is a need for organizations to do more to improve the mental health literacy of their leaders.

Mary-Clare Race, chief innovation and product officer, LHH

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Stijn Nauwelaerts, corporate vice president of human resources, Microsoft. — Microsoft

Workers are expecting more than just flexible hours, however. They also expect managers who will be empathetic to their needs, from childcare and health concerns to the challenges of navigating new technologies that will be required going forward.

“Areas such as collaboration, relationships with colleagues, and mental well-being have faced significant challenges which need to be addressed as businesses transition to new working practices and ‘reset normal,’” the Adecco report concluded.

Rethinking performance measurement

The evolving workplace environment, in which a significant number of employees continue to work remotely, may require managers to rethink the way they evaluate performance, the panelists said. Rather than focusing on the number of actual hours worked, it might make more sense to focus on the actual output of individual workers and the overall impact they have on company performance.

“I don’t care where or when my people work, but we want to make sure we are focusing on impact, rather than activity,” said Stijn Nauwelaerts, corporate vice president of human resources at Microsoft, during the discussion.

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Charandeep Chhabra, president, General Assembly. — General Assembly

Microsoft had been revisiting its values around how it wants its employees to work with each other even before the pandemic began, he said. Since the pandemic hit, the company has rallied its teams around the fact that Microsoft provides some of the technology that supports first responders. “Especially in a virtual world, people are looking for purpose,” Nauwelaerts said. “They are looking for the company to have a point of view, to have a stance.”

Charandeep Chhabra, president of General Assembly, which offers online training in a variety of technology fields, said companies are rethinking their business models in many ways — to accommodate remote working, to increase employee diversity and diversity awareness, and to enhance efficiency, among other areas that will require investments in training.

Workers seeking to advance their careers will need to be able to adapt to different technologies, according to Chhabra. Some of the skills most in demand will revolve around data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and software engineering, he said.

Going forward, training will need to incorporate the development of both technology skills and interpersonal skills, he said. “The need for leaders to be emotionally intelligent will be critical to the success of business transformation,” Chhabra said.

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