Virtual RoundTable “Imagining the New Normal - Work Life after COVID-19”

Virtual RoundTable “Imagining the New Normal - Work Life after COVID-19”

Michele Beale Virtual RoundTable, Market Insight

“Imagining the New Normal - Work Life after COVID-19”

One step forward, two steps back: the COVID-19 pandemic is giving new depth of meaning to this well-worn expression. It’s becoming very clear, in just about every country and in every industry sector around the globe, that we are going to have to get used to waves of disruption and, as a result, a constant battle with the ever-changing "new normal". With government regulations constantly in change to cope with outbreaks, how can countries and companies transition toward the next normal?

Reimagining the workforce is a vital but challenging task. Executives everywhere are assessing how to bring people back to the workplace and how they will do their jobs. The pandemic has forced the adoption of many new ways of working, and organisations must now reimagine their work and the role of offices in creating safe, productive, and enjoyable jobs and lives for employees.

Some companies are planning a new combination of remote and on-site working, a hybrid workforce model in which some employees are on premises, while others work from home. However, it is essential that companies ensure that a common culture is shared between both in-person workers and remote workers and that there continues to be cohesion and collaboration between all employees regardless of working location.

Speaking to many of our clients over the past 12 weeks, we noticed a commonality in pressure points and issues that had arisen due to the pandemic and the role that HR and HSE professionals were required to take in order to establish BAU for their businesses and their workforces.

Continuing our series of virtual roundtables, Michele Beale, Director Head of Safety and Charlotte Perkins, Manager Contract & Interim Melbourne, were delighted to host a group of Senior HR professionals from a broad range of industry sectors. The topic for the virtual roundtable was “Imagining the New Normal - Work Life after COVID-19”

From the conversation we compiled the following key takeaways:-

What does the future office look like and why?  What do we give up and what can we gain?

The pandemic has forced the adoption of new ways of working. Business leaders are beginning to use the lessons from this large-scale work-from-home experiment to reimagine how work is done—and what role offices should play, in both creative and bold ways. However even with the vast amount of benefits to remote working, history shows that mixing virtual and on-site working might be a lot harder than it looks—despite its success during the pandemic.

  • Covid-19 has made employees see the benefits of working from home and there is now an expectation for there to be a good split between working from home and working in the office. A recent survey showed that 2-3 days at home was seen as the “sweet spot”. Very few employees wanted to work at home full time. Some wanted fulltime in the office and people still need to fee connected People still have the need to feel connected
  • Where lockdowns have eased in some states, businesses are starting to reopen and allow staff back into the office, however there is also now an expectation from some staff, and a sense of entitlement that people want to continue working from home or work remotely
  • Remote working has magnified issues in terms of “keyboard warriors”. Face to face meetings are very different from communicating online as when people are on email emotions can be heightened
  • Whilst there are many positives to a blended workforce (mix of remote and onsite), the downsides arise from the organisational norms that underpin culture and performance, including the ways of working, and the standards of behaviour and interaction, which both help create a common culture, generate social cohesion, and build shared trust.


Has COVID-19 changed the expectations that we have of over leaders?

COVID-19 has been an epic test of character and determination for millions of people around the world, and for CEOs and business leaders it has been the ultimate leadership test. When the pandemic shut down the global economy, business leaders were expected to show purposeful calm and bounded optimism. Everyone wants a leader to demonstrate empathy—and, at the same time, be highly engaged and fact based in their actions. And whilst teams look to them for direction, many are grappling with the boundless questions for which they don’t have answers. Simply put, the COVID-19 crisis is a once-in-a-century event, and no training or experience from any previous downturn has prepared CEOs and business leaders for it.

  • Some managers have never had to manage staff remotely before, it’s a whole new experience
  • Organisations need managers to step up in a crisis: ‘Don’t manage the process, manage the outcome’
  • Some managers have fallen short in terms of how to actually manage employees. The old style of management isn’t relevant anymore, especially during the current crisis. Managers and leaders had to quickly learn to support staff, but not get involved in employees’ personal issues or concerns
  • At the start of the pandemic, the issue was with managers not understanding the need for human support and realising that it’s not just about business support
  • Many companies are finding new leaders in unexpected places, well down the org chart. Some young middle managers are defying the problems and frustrations of this difficult period to achieve far more than others


Flexible work approaches - enablers and blockers

With flexibility now proven to work, what is the balance for companies with allowing employees to continue working from home permanently or asking them to return to the office? Is it unrealistic to allow employees to work from home 5 days a week? What effects these decisions.

  • Long-term flexible work arrangements are challenging the old way of thinking especially with advances in technology allowing employees to work from home more effectively and efficiently. 20 years ago, we would have been in a completely different situation
  • Whether a long-term flexible working arrangement will essentially work for an organisation depends on the type of business, the maturity curve of a business, and if the business is ready for the change
  • A blocker for flexible work is that there is no replacement for human connection. Whilst working remotely and connecting virtually is working now, ultimately the split will get larger
  • For every employee, they have a role to play within the organisation. It’s not just about being able to successfully complete the job at home, it’s about things outside of the tasks and function of the role. An employee’s broader role in the organisation is very important
  • In the long term, to ensure good corporate culture and employee engagement, physical connections and interactions are needed
  • Working from home also creates issues in terms of creativity and innovation. With employees working in their “silos” at home, there are not as many ideas being shared that would normally happen if in the office.


Mental Health & Wellbeing support during and after a crisis.

The pandemic will affect the mental health and wellbeing of employees well beyond the immediacy of the initial crisis.

  • Mental Health & Welling management during the crisis has revealed the changing role of the manager. There is so much more around mental health and wellbeing but a lot of managers simply aren’t equipped to deal with this
  • Where businesses thought that they would be ok from a managerial point of view with managing mental health during a crisis, the skills and confidence levels are not there, to have confronting and vulnerable conversations
  • Some organisations are introducing Mental Health First Aiders into the business to help and assist staff during the crisis. Employees who are trained / qualified and certified to be the point of contact, outside the management team, that employees that need support can go directly to
  • Companies are normalising the conversation around domestic violence. Until recently the topic has taboo but especially now during the COVID crisis it is essential to bring the topic to the forefront. We all assume that we are all in a safe environment when working from home, however there are people that use work as an escape from home. When work from home becomes a mandate it can become very problematic for some, so businesses need to make sure that employees understand that if they are in a vulnerable situation that can speak up
  • At the beginning of COVID, companies were so focussed on working parents, and the need to balance working from home with home schooling, that some forgot that there were other employee groups that been missed that might need support such as single people living at home, and extraverts that are not use to being alone and need human interaction. But are there other gaps and what people are slipping through the cracks.


General Health and Safety - at the physical office and at the home office

In Australia, the model WHSE laws still apply if workers are required to work somewhere other than their usual workplace, for example, from home. However, what an employer can do to minimise risks at a worker’s home will be different from what they can do at the usual workplace.

  • Organisations need to be providing guidance to employees on what is a safe home office environment, including what a good workstation set up looks like and how to keep physically active
  • Ensuring workers familiarise themselves and comply with good ergonomic practices is more important than ever
  • To help with remote WHSE, companies are creating “Work from Home” guidelines for employees including home office risk assessments, to ensure employees’ homes are suitable for carrying out their duties and helps establish whether employees require any assistance from the employer
  • Companies need to identify who their vulnerable staff are and what requirements they need
  • With lockdowns lifting, companies are now looking at the physical workplace to ensure that they are “Covid safe”, and ready for employees returning to the office.


If you are interested in being part of our conversation and/or would like to join one of our Virtual Round Tables, please get in touch with one of the Frazer Jones team here.