The new normal in business

We should all join the debate and consider where the “new normal” is taking work patterns and corporate structures.  Perks are an example of innovation in people management, but they also reflect the wider social and societal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Remote working has been seized upon as a solution to the risk of infection, as well as the “inconvenience” of commuting.  It has been embraced with scant consideration of the complex ramifications for workers with children or other dependants, those sharing limited living space, in areas with poor or unreliable internet connections, or lacking the experience and self-discipline required to juggle personal and working time schedules.

Here are some thoughts to fuel the debate:

  • Perks are personalised but random.  They cannot be entirely consistent and have no unifying effect within the workforce.
  • Perks are aimed at individuals across the organisation and are egalitarian but not meritocratic.
  • Perks are sticking plasters providing first aid to combat loneliness.  Repaying an employee’s student loan doesn’t replace lost conversations at the water dispenser.
  • Perks are a defence against low morale, lack of motivation, insecurity and lack of commitment.  They are reactive solutions to avoidable problems.
  • Human interaction and co-operation are catalysts for ideas and inspiration.
  • Socialising and sharing experiences bond teams and groups, improve understanding and encourage co-operation.

For rewards and recognition to be effective they must reflect exceptional individual and team effort.  High achievement and excellence come from fully trained, motivated and valued employees or channel partners who understand and support the corporate mission.

Seeing the success of top achievers sets a standard for others to emulate.  A disconnected workforce lacks the awareness and stimulation that comes from being immersed in the cauldron of attitudes, ideas and opinions that is created in a shared working space.

Working in isolation

Isolation (home working) may seem like a “new normal” inevitability.  Offenders in prison are put in isolation as an extreme punishment.  Isolation will damage and impair the development and productivity of workers in the long run.  They will have to be “controlled” remotely.  Feeding them perks is a slippery slope.  How do managers avoid perks becoming a “given” and how will they avoid “perk envy”? 

The key threats of isolation are deteriorating performance and early burn-out, as the natural support and protection of human collectives disappears.  We are a gregarious species.  Isolation is not normal.  The main driver for home working comes from employers seeing reduced fixed overheads and flexible employment contracts as a route to greater profits.  This trend will lead to fragmented workforces, ineffective teams and disjointed communication.

The new normal in customer service

Perks are an example of a rapidly growing new management approach.  They have become increasingly necessary because of the switch to online commerce.  The service sector, from banking to fast food, has abandoned workplaces and personal customer service for remote electronic communication and automated, scripted responses. 

The gig economy means major corporations rely on poorly paid, overworked, self-employed delivery drivers to represent the brand.  On the telephone, call-centre operatives are now working from home, monitored remotely by managers who they seldom meet.  As service-providers become even more faceless they will need to invest increasingly in brand messages and deliver expensive brand promises.  Products delivered to the doorstep come with “free” and flexible returns policies that eat into profit margins. 

This is a brave new post-Covid world in which human instincts and behaviour patterns are being manipulated.  Corporate greed could destroy so much and ultimately cost a fortune to repair and restore.  We must not deny and destroy the sustainable benefits of face-to-face employee interaction which foster collaboration, motivation and achievement.  Performance management relies on strong relationships, secure connections and mutual understanding.