Digital transformation was already a huge talking point for companies before 2020, but that conversation went into hyperspeed when the pandemic hit. Almost overnight, not only did organizations need to have the right technology in place to keep business operations running, they quickly came to rely on software services to support remote teams in the months that followed.

This has contributed to a period of unprecedented change, not least in the expectations of employees looking for radical flexibility, and for employers who are now under pressure to deliver. Today, workers want jobs that fit into their lives — rather than lives that fit into their jobs — and many are prepared to go to greater lengths to make this happen.

However, for some, fully embracing the shift in mentality, culture and processes required to avoid getting left behind doesn’t come naturally. Others have found that while the switch to remote work was practical in an emergency, their instinct now is to return to their “old normal” ASAP. That’s creating a dichotomy where employees simply vote with their feet.

So, how can employers balance the realities of rapidly changing workplace culture with employee expectations? Consider these critical priorities:

Establish trust. For organizations that have struggled with changing workplace culture in general and remote work in particular, the problems often center around trust. Some leaders cite accountability or performance as a reason for limiting or rejecting remote work. Instead, they prefer a traditional environment where physical proximity means they retain complete control.

In contrast, digital-first organizations are setting the standard for progressive employment. Back in 2020, many well-known brands were committing to the “new normal” for the long term, fully appreciative they would need to build trust in processes that were still a work in progress.

Trust alone doesn’t drive a remote business forward. Instead, putting the proper structure in place allows teams to fully align on their goals. This requires documentation where roles, responsibilities and goals are recorded, along with an accountability structure that is clearly communicated. By doing so, intentionality can be elevated, managers and employees stay in sync and people are trusted to deliver outstanding results.

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Invest in empathy. Increasingly, the top success factor for contemporary leaders is empathy. This is a quality exemplified by people who show the will and patience required to listen and understand vulnerabilities experienced by others and positively connect with them emotionally.

While empathy is frequently innate, it can also be learned. Any organization focused on effective recruitment and retention must invest in it because its absence can have devastating professional and personal consequences. Conversely, demonstrable and genuine empathy can be a game-changer for job satisfaction and the quality of employer-employee relationships.

Embrace flexible technologies. In a remote, digitally transformed and connected world, the unifier is the adoption of effective technologies. Using them to bridge communication and collaboration gaps between people has been one of the positive workplace trends to emerge recently. Looking ahead, organizations must raise their game further to help remote teams to flourish.

Many of us have experienced “Zoom fatigue” and seen the etiquette of video-based communication pressure people to project an “appropriate” image. Instead, organizations should customize technology to meet individual preferences and needs. Flexible working benefits from a flexible approach to selecting digital tech.

Step up on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion. While organizations everywhere are acting on the need to address societal and workplace DEI weaknesses, many others are paying little more than lip service. The issues are highly nuanced, but those that view DEI as an opportunity and an obligation will realize the undoubted benefits of workplace diversity.

Take the democratization of opportunity, where international businesses are going where the talent is and taking opportunities to people, wherever they are based. Once more, technology has become an enabler, with employers better placed than ever to find, hire, onboard and develop diverse remote teams with proven digital infrastructure designed for remote work.

At a time when skills shortages are becoming a serious impediment to growth, the era of the truly international workforce has arrived. But remember, organizations must live and breathe this ethos. For those who have got only as far as creating a page on their website or including DEI as a section in their annual report, it’s time to step up.

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