For millions around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense workplace disruption and compelled many companies to reassess how they do business. By this time last year, about 50% of the South African workforce was working from home, while globally, this number was up to 76%. The emergence of a hybrid working model, in which companies and employees balance remote work and being in the office, has created a new working paradigm. The companies that thrive in this system will be the ones that adapt best to this new status quo.
Long live hybrid work
If we have learnt anything from the pandemic it is that nothing is certain. More importantly, barring another event on a similar scale, it is unlikely we will ever move back to a full time ‘back to the office’ model. There will always be specialised functions that need to be conducted on-site and those will evolve over time but for most organisations and certainly ours, the hybrid model looks set to be the future of work.
Recently 3,300 workers at 70 different companies in the UK began trialling a four-day work week, in the biggest pilot of its kind ever. Portugal also announced that it is now illegal to text employees after office hours and, Indonesia is now offering special a five-year business visa to encourage digital nomads to pass through. Wherever you look, companies and their employees are grappling with the practicalities of what this new working paradigm looks like and the results are encouraging.
With that in mind our task, and that of organisations across a spectrum of industries, will be to find ways in which this new reality can work best for all parties involved. Agility and flexibility are key to determining the success of our operating model going forward. As companies build maturity, predictability and accountability into their team and individual work outputs, more flexibility will be allowed into hybrid work models.
While the flexibility of hybrid work offers a lot of opportunities to reimagine how we work, what is obvious for most companies is that there will never be switch to a 100% remote work model. For a company like Santam the need to remain laser focused on serving our client and broker base optimally will always be a priority and that requires the need for face-to-face interaction. Being able to meet and work in person is required for team affiliation, ideation and ultimately innovation.
How to manage a team and foster company culture in a post pandemic world
Communication and connection are key to ensuring that work teams in our post pandemic future are running at their best and that the company culture remains robust. As staff increasingly look for modes of work that prioritise organisational culture and their wellbeing, our leaders will need to authentically employ ‘empathetic leadership’, as a means of deeply understanding their people and ensuring that they can realise the inherent potential in each of them.
The post pandemic world has also shone the light on the psychological distress many people struggle with daily. If we do not take the time as leaders to connect, support and serve our people ‘at their moment of greatest need’ we will have increasingly dysfunctional organisations.
Incorporating transformation, inclusivity, and diversity into the new paradigm
What has been heartening about how the world of work is changing is the number of doors it has opened for staff and candidate staff who may have previously been overlooked, could not secure work or abandoned their careers due to traditional work practices. For example, in the past, many women left their careers due to family responsibility and employees with certain types of disabilities could not secure roles due to stringent work times or locations or organisational biases. We are now in a position to change that.
It has become too easy to look at transformation as simply being a numbers game. One of the reasons transformation is such a powerful tool in both organisational and societal reform is that it promotes diversity of thought. When people from different backgrounds with a plethora of life and work experiences, lend their rich and diverse views to the way we think about our customer value propositions and how we run and lead businesses, we become more than just a business. We become a reflection of the society we want to be.
Why Santam is different
Despite having been at Santam for only four years I am continually struck by our company culture daily. Throughout my time with South Africa’s largest short-term insurance group, we have exuded warmth and empathy without sacrificing the constant innovation, drive and determination that is inherent in our 104-year success. Ours is a culture that is attractive to talented young people in our field, because we are constantly innovating, questioning, and evolving our business practices, products and ‘go-to-market’ propositions.
As we shift into this new working paradigm, it is important not to lose sight of what makes us unique. Our humility, teachability, talent and responsiveness to the world around us are all things that have marked us out as market leaders for over a century. They are also the things that will ensure we thrive well into the next one.