The past two years have been a time of rapid ‘pivoting’, adapting to the new ways of working and living amid a global pandemic. In his opening address at the 2021 TCS Innovation Forum, Amit Kapur, Head – UK and Ireland, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), referred to technology as the “unifying fabric to make all of us come together.”
Ashok Krish, Global Head – Digital Workplace, TCS, introducing an expert panel on The Changing Nature of Work, Life, and Wellbeing, addressed the advantages of home working, saying that employees gained greater flexibility, and a broader talent pool opened up for employers, enabling a more diversified workforce.
He also acknowledged that being at home also made it much harder to draw a line between work and private lives. “In a sense, we've moved from a work-life balance to a work-life continuum,” Ashok Krish said, adding, “there are serious concerns about wellness, burnout, and anxiety.”
What approaches have organizations taken to mitigate this blurring of work and home lives amid the digital employee experience, and enabled employee wellbeing? And what are companies doing in order not to leave behind those who cannot work from home?
The power of downtime
Brian Kudeba, Vice President, IT Strategy and Transformation at French pharmaceutical company Ipsen, pointed out that one of the biggest issues for those who work from home is the lack of downtime. “You used to get up, get your bag ready, commute to work. There's a break there. At work, you have coffee breaks and a lunch break. On your commute back home, there's another break,” he said, adding, “now, it's just blended—you get up and sit at your computer all day.”
When the pandemic began, Ipsen had upgraded its network and communication infrastructure, partnering with TCS. The company used its digital toolkit not only for day-to-day work but introduced wellbeing sessions, team events, and celebrations to make up for the lack of in-person encounters, which Kudeba said helped in working though the situation.
At Microsoft, group exercise sessions were launched to encourage staff to get away from the screen, explained Mark Smith, the company’s UK general manager and board member. The software giant also set clear lines for the beginning and end of a working day, for example, by holding end-of-day team meetings.
Protecting in-person workers
In sectors like manufacturing or retail, there is the additional challenge of supporting people who had to be on-site to perform their roles and yet integrate closely with their home-working colleagues.
Marks and Spencer’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Yorwerth highlighted the burden store and distribution workers faced in the wake of the pandemic. “Our frontline workers, they felt the pressure and the burnout much, much more than any of us in this room will have done over the last two years,” he said.
The retailer is taking a two-pronged approach to tackle this challenge. It has been investing heavily into collaborative technology and training to ensure all store workers remain connected with the rest of the company. Everyone has access to Microsoft Teams, and all tasks get distributed using the platform. “But the second side of it is how we can help people through the mental challenges and their mental well-being, which is a critical part of creating a great work environment,” Mike Yorwerth added.
Blending corporate priorities
Mike Yorwerth also pointed to a fundamental change in what business performance depends on. It’s no longer a question of choosing between performance and people focus; they are inextricably linked, he said, adding “to drive great performance, you have to be people-focused, and that people focus has got to come through thinking about how work has changed for our people.”
Pointing toward the acute skills shortage in the UK and globally, Microsoft’s Mark Smith added that choosing an employer no longer mainly rests on location and paychecks, saying “it's about the culture; it's about learning; it's about the environment. It's about the employee experience, which is so important for the future, and how we're attracting talent into all our organizations.”
The key to this is for businesses to have a well-defined corporate purpose to group their people around, concluded Mike Yorwerth.