The Employee Experience in COVID-19: Laying Safe Foundations for the 'New Normal'

THE IMPORTANCE OF ‘PEOPLE’ AS we enter  the "new normal" post covid-19

Covid-19 continues to be a moving feast of uncertainty! But it has reminded us about what’s important... PEOPLE! The protection, safety and lives of each and every one of us, as we move towards the 'new normal'.

Since Covid-19 came knocking, we had to batten down the hatches, shut our doors and not mingle physically with people outside our households. All over the world, people have worked tirelessly together to reduce the threat, spread and impacts of Covid-19, especially our key workers – thanks once again, these guys have done an amazing job!

Our 2020 plans went out the window, both personally and professionally. Weddings postponed, holidays cancelled, people stranded abroad, businesses closed, people furloughed and remote worker numbers soaring. 

Numbers are in a constant flux but a recent survey by the Office of National Statistics showed a rise from 7% of employees occasionally working from home, to a whopping 38% of us doing it now.

The impacts and personal stories are more than anyone could have imagined - there’s never been a time like Covid-19.

We have all felt, and will continue to feel it’s psychological, social and economic effects for some time to come. But (as a nation) we have proved once again that people are adaptable, resilient and full of empathy. We’ve shown that in considerately unprecedented times, people have the potential to be so creative, unbelievably considerate, and we will bounce back from this.


As countries and governments cautiously relax restrictions and give schools, shops, restaurants, and businesses the green light to re-open their doors, it brings about fresh fears, anxieties and challenges of course, but also new opportunities.

We will navigate our way through Covid-19 and lay safe foundations for the “new normal”. By working closely together (metaphorically speaking) we can make the foundations stronger than ever and aim for even better!

So much has changed in such a short space of time and we’ve all had to made sacrifices in some way. We’ve all changed too - we talk differently, we walk differently and we now live, work, play and care differently. We are different now and we can’t re-write what’s happened, but we can recognise that difficult times also inspire great ideas, which makes Covid-19 a unique opportunity.

The opportunity to hit the restart button post Covid-19 is great news, even if it will be a little daunting. Sure there will be tough times, but with a positive approach it could also be exciting and incredibly rewarding too. This is an opportunity to explore new possibilities, reimagine the future, even kickstart a better one if we rise to the changes and challenges together.

The best way to predict your future is to create it.” ― Abraham Lincoln


It will look a bit different, we can certainly count on that.

Change is constant in life, not as rapid as recently maybe, but constant. With all the new social distancing measures we’re experiencing due to Covid-19, we know the employee experience has changed, but how it continues to evolve into the “new normal” is up to us.

Change will impact some more than others, but we’ll all feel it in the workplace, or 'workspace' as many are calling it now. We’re all going through change, some are socially distancing across workplaces, while a lot of us are working from the same place we eat, sleep and play. All whilst trying to educate and entertain the kids full time too.

Everything has changed so much.

Even if our businesses have remained opened or closed, have remote workers or furloughed employees, none of us can rely on the working environment to embed the culture of our organisations during Covid-19. Leaders and managers must recognise this and create new engaging, yet social distancing ways to make that happen now.

We must remember that Covid-19 hasn’t just threatened us physically, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster too. Employee wellbeing is everything now, and not just the physical, but mental and financial health weighs heavily on our minds as we transform. People and their safety are now the top priority for a positive employee experience.


It’s clear that people bring about change, they’re a vital source of inspiration and information, all great leaders know this! By working together, we can make quick, appropriate and effective decisions to create a better employee experience.

Let’s take a deeper look…


Be prepared” - Baden-Powell, Soldier and founder of the Scouts.

Easy to say, but we’ve all seen things go badly because of poor planning. So some tough love on this one, restarting in Covid-19 is no time for winging it. Kick-off the right way and like Baden said “Be Prepared”. 

We’ll do well to restart in Covid-19 with an agile approach to planning and managing change. Agile practices are highly adaptive and respond quickly to change, they also put people at the heart of any project by encouraging transparency, open collaboration and continuous communication.

Agile reduces time spent on unnecessary tasks and provides flexibility to allow for transition in phases, safely and efficiently.

Safety is the #1 priority for all employees, and this includes your remote and furloughed workers. In preparation to restart there will be risk assessments, new environments, hygiene measures to get exactly right and more. Managing the physical space alone requires a fair amount of work to meet new regulations and mandatory requirements for social distancing.

There’s lots to do, yet it’s still wise to get a holistic view of the impacts on your people and business, taking into account the mental and social factors too. As we continue to evolve quickly, we all need to change behaviours dramatically.

Leaders and managers must devise new strategies, take a thorough, thoughtful and ongoing ‘people’ approach to managing change and uncertainty in Covid-19, and not just to get up and running either.

We should prepare strategies that ultimately incentivise and change behaviours, that recognise the challenges and rewards positive responses to them. We must prepare a plan that aims high to improve the employee experience right now and create a new culture to keep it fit and thriving. 

E - engage and support

Most leaders know by now that high employee engagement goes hand in hand with high productivity. It’s not just a communication plan of important guidance and information to help employees, it’s so much more.

Engagement should support and motivate employees to embrace and change behaviours. It must define and explain the changes happening, describe the vision for the future, be clear about the impacts and show care to incentivise new ways of working.

Engagement is required at every level to improve morale, and it’s the job of leaders to hold it all together. Leaders are the engine room of engagement, they must get amongst people, be seen (social distancing applies) and they must do it constantly, continuously and consistently to inspire and embed a positive culture in our organisations.

Great engagement understands the perspective and needs of employees - it activates our motivations and gets us onboard. It will help reform a positive community at work (and home), one that fits with the “new normal” and future direction of our lives.

O - Optimise Performance

We need clear and achievable goals to stay on track and engaging leadership to create a positive employee experience in Covid-19. Everyone should recognise the extra efforts and sacrifices being made, and work should still be rewarding.

We should take a little more time to show gratitude and appreciation to each other, say thank you and look for kind and generous ways to recognise and reward the positive things employees bring to the workplace. If we’re honest, we all love a bit of praise and thanks for a job well done?

We’re all a little more grateful for the good things in life since Covid-19, it’s only natural that we appreciate people when they bring something positive to it. Showing appreciation at work breeds positive behaviours in people, it’s a simple act that shouldn’t be overlooked if we want to optimise performance.

p - protect the PHYSICAL, mental and financial wellbeing of your employees

The safety and protection of people is our #1 priority in the “new normal”.

But it’s not all about disinfection, social distancing and hygiene behaviours, although those things are super factors now that we all must address.

Following basic hygiene rules and observing some social distancing regulations shouldn’t be too difficult for employees, as long as the environment is safe and we know what’s expected of us. Let’s be fair, most of us thought some of the basics were happening anyway. Hands up who hasn't been washing their hands...

The emotional response may be a little more tricky to work through, it’s been a rough ride, even with a positive outlook. We’ve all seen our mental health impacted by Covid-19 and social distancing. Physical, mental and financial health is such a bigger deal now.

Covid-19 literally dashed our plans and kept us locked down with our own thoughts, fears and anxieties for months. Support and assistance in these areas is vital for employee health and crucial for business fitness in the “new normal”.

Not to be all doom and gloom, we know many people have had positive experiences too. Some have had a kind of awakening, taken lockdown as an opportunity for reflection and self-improvement. We’ve all seen the challenges on social media, dance routines, duets and more going on, and most of it to help or raise awareness for mental health in these uncertain times.

The engagement on social media has made sure we don’t forget that many people have experienced high levels of anxiety, stress, loneliness and many other intense emotions during Covid-19.

We don’t just have a duty of care to create a healthy work life balance for employees, it also makes total sense economically to assist and support in these areas of wellbeing, especially during uncertain times.

L - learn, adapt and support

Learning and development has been another positive experience in Covid-19. Okay, so it may have been thrust upon us a little at first, but then there was a shift and we started to embrace existing tech in new ways so we could stay connected and quickly adapted to new ways of working, we should keep it up.

Keep up the desire to learn and incentivise employees to develop and adapt. And make sure there’s learning opportunities for leaders too! Provide access to tools to help manage change, recognise shifts in morale, and motivate employee performance. Let’s face it, leaders and managers have a lot to do right now, it’s only fair they have the right kit in their locker to do it.

There’s been so many lessons learnt, we should keep up the momentum - keep learning, keep adapting and keep sharing ideas for a positive employee experience in Covid-19.

E -enable YOUR employees for a better employee experience

Enable employees to take the first steps safely and smoothly as we head back to the workplace, or not. Enable engagement and contactless ways of working to promote new hygiene behaviours and productivity.

Remember that structure, processes, systems and tools should not get in the way, these things must enhance and enable us to enjoy our jobs, do them well and create great stuff.

Enable desired behaviours with high engagement. Educate and enable personal development, growth and a healthy work-life balance, and don’t forget to recognise and reward employee contributions.

If we work from the inside out, put people at the heart of it all, we will enable a rich and positive employee experience.
Let’s not forget that real impact and change is brought about by people. Enable our people and we will rise with confidence together, to re-imagine and create a better normal in Covid-19.

One where we can all say with pride…

What is now proved was once only imagined.” – William Blake.

how we can support you through covid-19...

At Sodexo, we understand that companies need to prioritise their employees' wellbeing while also finding a way to resume economic activity, safely and responsibly.

Our expert team have created helpful resources for HR teams to tap into when looking for advice and support during these unique times. Visit our dedicated resource page for all of our HR solutions for COVID-19 and feel free to get in touch with us for any further guidance.


Click here for more information on our HR solutions for Covid-19