‘Companies need to keep checking in with their staff’

Niamh O’Brien, Director, BDO Talent Management featured in The Irish Times Special Report on The Future of Work. Read Niamh's extract below.

Keeping people safe is part and parcel of an employer’s obligations. Ensuring a sense of wellbeing is important too. More than a year into the pandemic, the challenges of remote working are starting to show.

“Among employees generally across the country, in the beginning, everyone was ‘great, remote working’. Over time we have seen it give rise to sense of isolation, burnout, lack of morale, and people feeling they are not part of something,” says Niamh O’Brien, Director, BDO Talent Management.

For employers, managing culture is a challenge when employees are working remotely. “Companies have to realign their culture in terms of what it is now and what it will be in the future. Unfortunately, it has become more apparent, the longer this goes on, that a lot of companies don’t have a fluid culture. Now they are finding that out they really need to have one,” she says.

Companies that have depended on amazing office amenities to attract talent are now having to find less tangible attractions.

A strong and positive corporate culture is an important aid to employee retention and engagement, but fostering one in a remote environment is tough.

“You have to work harder to communicate your culture. It has to be done informally and consistently. For example, it could mean scheduling in a full team call each day at 9am, to help replace the workplace coffee or the unscheduled chats you used to have in the lift. It’s simple, but it’s important to provide time to talk not just about work. The difference now is that you have to schedule it and, because of Zoom fatigue, it still feels like work.”

She has seen many organisations opt for online get-togethers, from baking to cocktail-making classes. At BDO, the thrust has been to do bonding exercises that allow people to be social but also get away from their screens, such as a team-based walking challenge.

“You can see how the other teams are doing with their steps, it gets you out and gets you healthy,” says Niamh.

The post-pandemic world will leave its mark on the world of work in the form of a hybrid workplace, a mix of home, office, and other places where people feel most comfortable such as remote hubs.

All companies now need to take a slow and steady approach to what works best for them, she says, running pilot schemes and starting small, “rather than building and retrenching, after all this is a learning curve for everyone with no rule book to follow,” she says.

“That’s why companies need to keep checking in with their staff, to see that their needs are being met, as well as the company’s.”

Once the pandemic recedes, the demand for old school, away day team building exercises will soar, she reckons. “There is going to be a real appetite for it and huge pent-up demand. We are together, we are working away, but that social interaction is what we’ve all missed.”

Content adapted from The Irish Times special report, ‘Companies need to keep checking in with their staff’

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