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The Post-Pandemic Office Requires a Culture of Innovation. Here’s How to Improve Innovation in the Workplace.

Posted on November 1st, 2021 Read time: 9 minutes

In the early days of pandemic lockdowns, there was a lot of talk about what work would look like post-pandemic. Although some businesses believed that everything would eventually go back to the way things were, many others thought employees could forget about going back to the office altogether.

As the pandemic wore on, workers began to discover where their own preferences lay. Many people found that they were able to achieve a better work/life balance while operating from home. They could ditch the commute into work, avoid office distractions, and take care of household chores on their lunch breaks — all while maintaining pre-pandemic (and even increased) levels of productivity. In fact, one study found that 94% of employers rated productivity as “the same or higher” since the pandemic forced many employees to work from home.

Some, on the other hand, discovered that they missed the camaraderie and collaboration that come more easily with in-person work. As it turns out, watercooler chats don’t really happen as naturally over Zoom, and it’s more difficult to form cross-departmental bonds when there’s no work-related reason for departments to connect or message each other on Teams or Slack.

Now, as companies begin to form post-coronavirus business plans in earnest, leaders have to figure out what these differences mean for office life going forward. Although some companies aren’t going back to the office at all and others are bringing everyone back, many organizations are instead opting for a middle path: the hybrid work model.

This model is an attempt to get the best of both worlds, providing workers with enough in-person contact to foster new collaborative relationships and strengthen long-standing ones, all while offering at least some of the flexibility of the work-from-home lifestyle. And to create a hybrid model that’s sustainable and effective, businesses will need to find ways to fill the gap between remote and on-site work.

Navigating the major changes in the workplace that will come with heading back to the office after more than a year of exclusively remote work won’t be easy. However, rather than shy away from any challenges, now is the perfect time for businesses to embrace the benefits of change and innovation in the workplace and create an environment that vastly improves upon pre-pandemic work life, sparking more innovation and creativity in their teams than ever before.

How can businesses embrace new innovations in the workplace while still staying on track when it comes to productivity? Let’s look at several workforce strategies for creating modern, innovative workplaces built to take advantage of the lessons learned from working during a pandemic.

 

How to Create a Culture of Innovation in Your Workplace Amid Change

To inspire innovation in the workplace, start by giving employees designated innovation time. Often, workers are overloaded with repetitive tasks and meetings that leave no room for doing anything outside of the norm in their daily routines. With this in mind, it’s also important to provide employees with a specific space carved out for innovation.

Depending on your company, creating time for innovation in the workplace can be accomplished in a variety of ways. For some, it means creating no-meeting days or half-days once a week to allow for uninterrupted focus time for pursuing new and creative ideas. For others, it means working with IT on business process automation so more of their employees’ time can be dedicated to innovation rather than routine tasks. It might even mean hiring contingent workers to take over specific areas of the business to give other workers more intentional space to brainstorm and innovate.

Some companies actually allocate a certain percentage of time specifically for innovation. At Intuit, for example, leadership famously allows engineers and product managers in most of its divisions to devote 10% of their workweek to new ideas.

As another example, one of IES’ clients had a need to automate some repetitive tasks in its call center to give its team the space to work on more high-level, innovative thinking. It needed to export and sync a large amount of data into its system to make this automation possible. To tackle this project, IES helped the client hire and quickly onboard a team of 10 contingent workers for a three-month contract. As a result, the process was automated, which saves each call center employee 10%-15% of their time per week, which they can devote to innovation.

With the addition of “freed up” time, the next step is to ensure workers know how to utilize this allotted time to innovate. This means ensuring workers are encouraged to take creative risks and use this time for ideation. Stress to employees that experimentation might involve failure, and that’s OK. Not every idea will be a go; however, that is where the greatest lessons and opportunities for growth come from. It’s important for businesses to first create a culture of collaboration that fosters and welcomes all innovation. Ensure your workers know that all new ideas are encouraged — even ones that might not be what the company is looking for. This will also create opportunities for employees to feed off of each other’s ideas.

Think about the idea for Airbnb, for example. The creators founded the company to make some extra money for rent, but they realized how beneficial renting out homes or rooms could be for travelers. The company faced rejection from investors, but it was valued at $47 billion at the time of its initial public offering, making it the largest IPO of 2020. An idea that seemed far-fetched — letting strangers pay to stay in your home — was a massive success.

In order for innovative change to stick in your workplace, upper management needs to be involved in driving a positive culture of innovation within the company. Employees need to feel like they have the freedom to be innovative, and that communication comes from leadership’s top-down approach. This is about more than just encouragement — management needs to provide the structure and tools necessary to foster creativity.

Not only that, but leaders also need to find ways to connect innovation time to the company’s values, mission, and business objectives. That way, employees can focus their creativity on outside-the-box thinking that still moves the needle toward meeting business goals and customer needs.

Make sure to regularly reevaluate your company culture to confirm that it still fits with where you want to be now and five years from now. By fostering a robust culture that is demonstrated from the top-down, you can encourage innovation that works within company goals rather than outside of them.

 

Adapting to Change in the Workplace Means an Increased Focus on Employee Health and Wellness

A thriving, innovative company culture is nothing without healthy employees — both physically and mentally. If employees are feeling mentally burnt out or physically ill, then it can be difficult for them to remain engaged in their work and provide innovative solutions and ideas for the company. And though ensuring employee safety has always been a huge initiative within most businesses, employee health and wellness hasn’t always received the same priority treatment. Now that more companies are having teams work from home most (if not all) of the time, it’s the perfect opportunity to address this.

There’s no question that accidents can still happen at home, but this shift in location marks a good opportunity to consider other challenges to employees’ well-being that might not spring from physical accidents. With major changes in the workplace comes a lot of added stress to employees. In fact, 57% of U.S. and Canadian workers report feeling stress daily, and that number is up eight percentage points from 2020. That stress can not only have a detrimental effect on their work and ability to innovate, but it also can lead to real health issues. Now more than ever, it’s vital to ensure workers have the resources to cope with these changes both at home and at work. That means investing more in employee health and wellness.

Part of that investment is simply a matter of optimizing the company’s health insurance benefits if possible, but it doesn’t stop there. One sorely neglected area of employee wellness programs is mental health resources. Mental Health America found that 3 in 5 employees don’t receive adequate support from their supervisors to help manage stress. Employee mental health should be treated with as much urgency as that of employee workplace safety, and businesses should work to incorporate more access to mental health resources in their programs.

That might sound like a tall order, but technology has made it easier than ever to provide these resources to employees. Talkspace, for example, has made it possible for employers to pay a monthly fee and give employees access to free therapy sessions through their smartphones. This sort of offering is just one way employers can take advantage of innovation in health to improve their employee wellness programs.

The benefits of employee wellness programs are pretty clear. Not only do they help employees better maintain their mental and physical well-being and therefore perform better at work, but they also show that the company is invested in taking care of its employees — treating them as valued partners. Creating employee wellness programs that really take care of the person as an individual will be paramount in the success of this new, ever-changing world of work.

 

Hiring Contingent Workers Sparks More Innovation and Positive Change in the Workplace

Another important player in today’s world of work is the contingent worker. Hiring contingent workers makes sense when you’re looking for people with highly technical or creative skill sets. Over the past decade, there has been a huge shift in the necessity of contingent workers in a variety of industries; after all, the flexibility and scalability contingent work provides have become a strategic advantage for many companies. What’s more, the ability to hire based on skills can be a game-changer for companies looking to operate nimbly in a constantly changing environment.

In addition to addressing skill gaps in the workplace, one of the major advantages of contingent workers is tapping quickly into the experience and skill sets of someone ready to hit the ground running. This naturally helps with innovation in the workplace — contingent workers can help spur on new ideas, collaboration, and creativity within your existing teams by sharing the expertise that led to their prior accomplishments.

Now, the biggest challenge won’t be deciding whether to take advantage of a contingent workforce, but rather how to best ensure these workers can hit the ground running and inspire further innovation in your workplace.

 

How to Onboard Contingent Workers and Seamlessly Integrate Them Into Your Existing Workforce

The notion of what qualifies a candidate for a particular position has changed drastically, thanks in large part to the rise of contingent workers. For many businesses, contingent workers are part of a company’s core workforce, providing the flexibility and up-to-the-minute, relevant skills needed for businesses to think and act on their feet. In many ways, a contingent worker can act as a precision instrument, providing you with the exact skill set you need to tackle projects in a specific time frame. Overall, contingent workers have extremely specialized skill sets that are perfect for helping you meet business objectives.

For businesses that haven’t yet taken advantage of leveraging a contingent workforce, it can be difficult to know the right approach to onboarding contingent workers and integrating them to ensure they quickly start performing the job they were hired to do.

IES had a client that was navigating a huge software rollout while also dealing with a lot of employee turnover. It needed 20 SQL programmers to finish the job, but only for six months of work; therefore, it didn’t want to bring on and train full-time employees. The talent it found to complete the task was located in several states and even other countries — but the company wasn’t registered in those locations. By partnering with IES, it was able to bring on 20 contingent workers from different states within the U.S. and three countries. IES also helped the company onboard the workers within two weeks, and they completed orientation as a group to hit the ground running quickly and efficiently.

How you bring contingent workers into the fold is critical to their success. To get the most out of a worker, it’s vital to have a solid onboarding and training plan in place so they know how to be productive in their role immediately. Even independent contractors — who don’t usually require training — should still have access to the right teams so they can get up to speed quickly.

One mistake many companies make is excluding contingent workers from appropriate meetings simply because they’re not part of the internal team. This can be a major hindrance to getting work done. As much as you can, make your contingent workers feel like part of the core team. If it’s appropriate, think about inviting them to some of your team-building, nonwork activities so they can get to know people on a personal level.

The key to a successful relationship with your contingent workforce is to remember that as much as you chose them, they also chose you. These workers have the pick of where they want to be — and if they don’t feel like they’re a valued part of your organization and its mission, they’ll go somewhere else. However, if you properly onboard and integrate them into your team, they can help push your company to even greater heights through innovation and transformation in the long term. In fact, Brandon Hall Group and Glassdoor report that effective onboarding processes improve companies’ new hire retention rates by 82%.

One of the best ways to determine whether your new workplace normal is truly effective is to look at the innovations happening within your teams. With the right leadership and culture — and a reliance on contingent workers to help fill in the gaps — innovation and creativity should be thriving in your post-pandemic office.

 

Contingent work provides flexibility and scalability, and it can be a strategic advantage for many companies. Certain skill sets help boost innovation or fill gaps in your full-time staff. An employer of record such as IES can help onboard the contingent talent you need quickly and compliantly, both nationally and globally, and in more than 150 countries. To learn more, schedule a FREE 15-minute strategic consultation with an IES contingent workforce expert today!

 

Written By: Kara Hertzog, President

Kara Hertzog is president of Innovative Employee Solutions (IES), a leading global employer of record in more than 150 countries that specializes in payrolling and contractor management services for today’s contingent workforce. Founded in 1974 in San Diego, IES has grown into one of the city’s largest women-owned businesses and has been named one of its “Best Places to Work” for 10 years in a row.

 

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