Beyond lockdown: redefining work culture and processes

Wednesday May 13, 2020

While the WHO is warning countries to take their return to economic ‘normality’ slowly, one thing is certain, our economy cannot sustain lockdown for too long. Over the past few weeks, businesses have changed how they work, made temporary changes to their workforce. But how do we reverse these changes with the lockdown easing? Should employers expect to see pre-coronavirus days soon or will life be a bit different?

Here are some emerging trends in the employee-business relationship:

Modified return to work
Employees and employers should prepare themselves to resume work albeit in a different way. This could include an increase in flexible work arrangements, shape shifting of job roles, modified working hours and more. It is highly likely that we will need to sit around the table and work out a short term plan. While ensuring changes are made lawfully, employers will also need to focus on their communication with employees to ensure the message is accurate and clear. Employees will expect sound leadership and fairness in decisions more than ever before and despite the ambiguity of the crisis itself.

Planning for the future
Important decisions such as re-imaging your business, adapting to changing customer expectations, product or service modifications are already being made. This creates an urgent need to assess staffing requirements to create a short – medium term workforce plan? Some factors to consider while creating your plan will include a review of health and wellness standards, creation of new roles, assessing the need for training, etc. It will require modification of current employment arrangements. A quarterly review of the plan is recommended, to keep an eye on which changes may become permanent.

Working with the JobKeeper scheme
The JobKeeper scheme continues to provide financial relief to many businesses. While the scheme offers great financial benefits, it comes with some unexpected issues such as challenges with bringing some employees back to work, understanding rights and responsibilities and in many cases creating perceptions of disparity within teams with some working more hours than others. This is particularly challenging for businesses that employ a large contingent workforce and those considering a phased return to work plan.

Working from home – blessing or curse?
For many businesses, allowing staff to work from home was never on their radar, until they had no choice. While the first few weeks may have been tough, it’s given businesses and employees an opportunity to experience working from home and whether it works for them. Many workers will have enjoyed the freedom and flexibility that comes with working from home. That means employers might see a rise in requests to work from home once things get back into full swing.

The big question though is how this impacts health and safety obligations, teamwork and coordination issues with some employees working in the office and others working from home. Extending your plan for the future to include flexible working options and considering medium to long term impacts of the change will help create the right processes to support any changes.

A decrease in in-person meetings
We’ve all heard the grumbles about how much time is spent in meetings. Working from home has provided many people with respite from the hustle of daily work. For others, time in lockdown has given businesses the unexpected experience of successfully holding meetings via online platforms across state lines and globally. With this flexibility comes an opportunity for huge cost savings as travel is dramatically reduced. It won’t be surprising to see this trend continue well into the future.

Concerns over health and safety
Many employees may feel reluctant to return to work or to carry out certain duties for fear of exposure to COVID-19. There are 3 main health and safety concerns that employers need to consider:

1. Risk of exposure. An objective risk assessment of your workplace can help identify hazards and a mitigation plan.
2. Increased impact on mental health. Having a mental health program and increasing visibility of your Employee Assistance Program can be useful.
3. Health concerns due to working from home. For many employees, their home has become their new place of work. This does not diminish the employer’s responsibility in ensuring safety of the employee. A robust risk assessment process for all employees working from home is recommended.

What if it happens again?
Many employers were caught out by the crisis without important policies or procedures to support the changes they wanted to make. Many others have learnt more about their business by identifying their critical employees, processes and gaps. It would be prudent for employers to document the learning from this experience and make changes to their policies, procedures and systems. Whether these get used during another crisis or just help you run the business more efficiently – the benefits are definitely there.

It’s wise to ensure you are prepared, so start planning now.

Preventing People Problems

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