How the Adaptive Leader will Succeed in the Future Workplace

Keith Weston
About the author : Keith Weston

Director Corporate Services, Education & Healthcare at Sodexo

Published on : 10/20/20
  • Every day we’re wading further into uncharted waters when it comes to changes in workplace operations and employee work-life. The pandemic has induced a shift in how workplaces operate, and research suggests a reluctance to return to a pre-pandemic way of working.

    The return to work for Sodexo, as for businesses across Australia, has been gradual. It’s required a suite of new business protocols, processes and internal infrastructure to prioritise the health and wellbeing of our people.

    As we navigate this return to work and a ‘new normal’, leaders must be adaptive and understand the future needs of their employees and clients. We need to ask ourselves, ‘What can we, as businesses, employers and leaders, do to be flexible and adapt to the new normal?’.

    Sodexo recently commissioned a research study with Harris Interactive, surveying more than 4,800 respondents across USA, UK, China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Australia, to understand what is top of mind for employees in the current working environment. This research has helped us to understand how we can improve the daily lives of our people, despite COVID-19’s impact on the entire work-life continuum.

    What is Top of Mind for Employees?

    The Harris Tracker survey uncovered important insights from the Australian workforce across the following key areas:

    1. Employee’s state of mind in lockdown

    An uncertainty about the future and job security, a lack of exercise, and eating unhealthily all resulted in employees experiencing lower mental and physical wellbeing, which had a negative impact on productivity. Around 8 out of 10 respondents want their employers to provide them with solutions and resources to improve their mental wellbeing, and a third believe it is their employer’s responsibility to do so. 

    2. Employee work from home experience

    Employees miss the social and collaborative aspects of working in an office, but also enjoy the flexibility of working from home and benefits such as spending more time with family. A staggering 85 percent of respondents said they would like to continue working remotely in the future. A major challenge for businesses will be creating a sense of community and collaboration while still accommodating flexible working arrangements moving forward; however, more than half (52%) are confident their organisation will be able to accommodate this over time.

    Compared to global respondents, Australian employees seem to prefer to work from home – 61 percent (compared to 55% globally) declared they had a good home working environment and 47 percent (compared to 41% globally) said they had a higher ability to get the job done at home.  

    3. The employee perspective on back to work 

    While employees are positive about returning to the office, there are still major concerns from more than half (55%) of employees around their health and safety in the workplace. Employees put a significant amount of trust in their employers and leaders to protect them and we must be prepared to maintain that trust by creating safe working environments. 

    Overall, employees were fairly confident in the ability of companies to ensure hygiene and safety in the workplace, whether from employers (86%), the facilities staff (85%) or the food services staff (84%). Regular audits, the display of hygiene and safety training certificates and repeated safety instructions and notices were identified as valued changes in the workplace. Further, disposable towels or hand dryers in the toilets and prominent antibacterial gel dispensers were the things that made Australian employees feel safest in the workplace.

    4. Sustainability practices

    Interestingly, the pandemic has caused an increased expectation among employees regarding employer’s sustainable practices, such as improving indoor air quality, environmental protection and waste management. 

    5. Communication during COVID

    Effective and regular communication was a lifeline for many employees while they were working from home, ensuring they still felt connected. Many Australian companies did this well. 
    Businesses did particularly well in communicating plans for business continuity and ongoing working arrangements. Australian employees reported the second highest rate of positive feedback (70%) on company communication, after the US (78%), and more than two-thirds (67%) of Australian workers felt well informed on how to work effectively in the changed circumstances.

    Keeping Employees at the Centre

    As I write this, our Perth, Sydney and Brisbane support centres are remobilising and many of our people are now able to return to the office. When COVID-19 first devastated the world, it seemed we might never step foot in an office again. Our support centres went completely remote, and more than half the Australian respondents of the Harris Tracker survey (53%) experienced work from home during this time.

    Unsurprisingly, going back to a more ‘normal’ life and working alongside co-workers, in a physical sense, were the main two primary reasons to feel happy at the idea of returning to the office. So far, Sodexo’s own return to work has been a great success, but not without some pretty significant changes to how our employees interact with the workplace.

    For us, keeping the health and wellbeing of our people at the core of our decision making has ensured employees feel safe and enabled a smooth transition back to the workplace.

    Translating employee solutions to our clients

    With clients across Corporate, Health and Aged Care, Education, Government and Energy & Resources, we watched the unique impact the pandemic had on each of these industries. 
    Sectors which require frequent human-to-human contact, such as education and aged-care, have been impacted more severely from a business continuity perspective. 

    To remain flexible and responsive to the changing state of play for each sector and state, we developed our Rise with Sodexo service offering, helping clients to implement daily changes to their operations while prioritising safety, wellbeing and productivity.

    Our Rise with Sodexo program and service approach prioritises safety, wellbeing, and productivity, and is informed by insights into what employees are looking for in the new normal way of working, such as those discovered in the Harris Tracker study. 

    For our client Sancta Sophia College, we needed to create an effective COVID Safe plan to ensure the residents of the college could continue to dine on-site. We made a number of changes to the dining experience, such as transforming the dining room configuration and redesigning the menu to enable practical service and upscaling over time.

    Our approach enabled changes to be implemented within a fortnight while maintaining a high-quality service, working in partnership with the leadership of the college. 

    The Way Forward

    Employees need to feel safe within the workplace and have an expectation that employers and leaders will implement positive changes to support the return to work. 

    To continue improving the quality of life and work for our people, it is essential to keep asking questions, keep listening, keep innovating, and most importantly, keep the conversation going.

    Adaptive Leader ebook

    Download our e-book: Thriving in the Worklife Evolution, for more insights from the Harris Tracker global survey. This is a fantastic guide for leaders looking to lead the charge in the work-life evolution.