Many employers expect to maintain the flexible and remote-working policies they’ve recently put in place once the coronavirus pandemic is over, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson.

The survey, which polled 200 U.S. employers, found 59 per cent said they expect their work-from-home policies will remain in effect after the pandemic, while 49 per cent said the same of flexible-working arrangements.

Employers also said they expect certain issues to linger once the pandemic ends, with 64 per cent anticipating higher levels of employee stress and anxiety over the next three to six months and 60 per cent expecting to have to deal with maintaining employee resiliency.

During the crisis, employers have ramped up communications with staff. The majority said they’ve boosted communications on health and safety tips (88 per cent) and provided tips on working from home (84 per cent) and managing remote workforces (76 per cent).

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“It’s important that employers lay the groundwork now for greater stability in the workplace,” said John Jones, North America head of talent at Willis Towers Watson, in a press release. “Initiatives such as work from home, virtual meetings and enhanced communication will shape how workforces operate in a post-crisis world. And learning how to best leverage technology will be essential to support their employee experience.”

The majority of employers have reasons to feel positive about how they’ve handled the crisis. Most (89 per cent) said their managers stepped up to support employees during the crisis and 88 per cent said their organization has been effective at removing obstacles so their staff can work efficiently. The majority (92 per cent) said they’re providing needed technology, tools and resources for staff to work productively for an extended period of time.

But employers are lagging in some areas, with just 24 per cent saying they’ve increased training and development opportunities for managers during the crisis, with another 32 per cent planning or considering doing so sometime this year. Further, only 31 per cent of employers said they’ve conducted employee surveys this year, with another 29 per cent saying they plan to do so in 2020.

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“By all accounts, respondents are giving managers and leaders high marks for guiding workers through the crisis so far,” said Jones. “At the same time, more formal and regular listening strategies such as employee surveys and virtual focus groups will be needed to keep a pulse on the employee experience amid the pandemic. And employers will need to double down on training and development for managers to prepare them to support employees in what are likely to be different working environments.”

The survey also found 63 per cent of employers said the changes they’ve made to handle the crisis have been having a positive impact on their culture, while 59 per cent said they believe they’re enhancing employee well-being, followed by employee experience (55 per cent) and employee engagement (52 per cent). However, just 36 per cent said they believe they’re enhancing employee productivity.

Talent strategies have also shifted during the crisis, with many employers saying they’ve made changes to their onboarding strategy (59 per cent) and their talent acquisition strategy (45 per cent). Much fewer (16 per cent) respondents said they’ve changed their performance management strategy and 32 per cent said they’re planning or considering changes to their performance review cycle.

“This is a moment of grief, loss and unprecedented change, for many workers,” said Jones. “While organizations are doing all the right things in the immediate crisis, they must move on from the essentials to understand the impact on people and build that into their talent and communication strategies.”

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