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New year, new commitment to supporting employees

Business leaders must think about how to best support their employees by fostering a work environment that enables people to thrive amid a desirable company culture, even from a distance.

New year, new commitment to supporting employees
[Jacob Lund / Adobe Stock]

People have been wondering when the world will return to “normal.” Now, as the world begins a third year of living with Covid-19, returning to our “normal” lives seems less likely. Pre-pandemic, lengthy commutes to the office in which we spent five days per week were routine for most, with high importance placed on physical “face time.” All too often and frustratingly, people came to work despite being sick, which, of course, is a huge no-no now.

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These pandemic years and the related deviation from “normal” have shed light on how practices like those long commutes had been impacting businesses and their employees adversely. Now, as businesses around the world contend with the “Great Resignation,” business leaders have to think about how to best support their employees in this new paradigm by fostering a work environment that enables people to thrive amid a desirable company culture, even from a distance.

To best support employees in 2022 and beyond, here are a few things for business leaders to consider when reshaping the workplace for a more flexible future:

INGRAIN FLEXIBILITY INTO COMPANY CULTURE

When the pandemic forced many businesses to operate remotely, it became clear that businesses could operate effectively and productively regardless of location. Many businesses even found that their employees’ productivity increased as a result of working remotely.

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Now, three years later, many people have become accustomed to the flexibility and benefits of remote work and are reluctant to give up those benefits. In partnership with Ipsos, my company, RingCentral, recently conducted a survey exploring the pandemic’s impact on the workforce. When asked where respondents preferred to work, 56% expressed a desire to continue working from home. Our research also found that one in three U.S. workers will leave their job if forced back into the office.

Although some offices continue to plan for some form of a return to in-person, in-office work, our findings support the importance of a “return to office” plan that offers flexibility. In-person face time is all but dead, and the pandemic killed it; video face time has replaced physical face time as a viable and even desirable substitute. We found that 69% of employees say they feel just as connected over a voice or video call as they do in an in-person conversation.

Especially as many companies face increased hiring needs due to the great resignation, savvy business leaders who want to attract and retain talent in 2022 and beyond will need to embrace and even tout the availability of flexible work arrangements instead of considering such arrangements to be a perk.

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LEVERAGE THE BEST COMMUNICATIONS AND COLLABORATION TOOLS

Many have wondered if a decreased amount of physical interaction among co-workers due to the nature of remote work might impact employee engagement. Per our survey, 60% of Americans shared that they don’t feel isolated in a work-from-home environment, and half of those surveyed felt anxious about meeting co-workers in person. There are many indicators supportive of the idea that relationship-building in the workplace can happen (and has been happening) outside of the four walls of an office—and that employees value that option, in part, for safety reasons.

As well, I find the businesses that are thriving most are seizing the advances in online communication and collaboration tools that help their employees maintain crucial interactions with each other. We’ve known for a while now that such digital transformation is mission-critical to satisfying not just customers but employees, too. A 2019 report our company published showed that employees were more likely to leave their workplaces when frustrated by technology that doesn’t facilitate effective communications.

Good technology tools are essential to the establishment and maintenance of effective and meaningful work relationships, even for those who have never met their co-workers in person.

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REMEMBER THAT COMPANY CULTURE MATTERS EVEN IN VIRTUAL WORK ENVIRONMENTS

Keeping employees engaged and teams united in virtual spaces requires more than flexibility and proper collaboration systems, though. To foster a desirable culture in a remote world, business leaders need to consider personal touches that remind employees that they matter and are valued—and not just because they’re important to the bottom line.

In my view, optimal company culture exists and is sustained when employees feel supported personally and professionally while also enjoying their work and each other. Most often, in a virtual space, it’s the opportunities to have fun together that are missing. Absent a physical water cooler, managers need to enable those casual moments in which we can share some laughs, catch up on each other’s interests and families, and share dreams and accomplishments outside of a work context.

There are many ways in which interpersonal connectedness and a close-knit culture can be fostered over video gatherings. Consider hosting virtual birthday parties, themed days, or casual conversations on the topic of self-care ideas or favorite books. Companies can also experiment with the gamification of work objectives. Many of us continue to connect with family members virtually, so too can we connect with our colleagues.

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In sum, the Covid-19 pandemic has forever changed the way we communicate, interact, and work, and we know that people are looking for support beyond a paycheck from their workplaces. As we continue to wrestle with the still-new landscape of our remote-working world, it is important for employers to recognize that supporting their employees on professional and personal levels looks different and requires more effort in order to ensure they remain engaged, encouraged, empowered, and effective in 2022 and beyond.


Faiza Hughell is RingCentral‘s Chief Customer Officer focused on customer success across all markets and geographies.

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