The pandemic has hit many people hard and heading back to work involves a huge mental shift. With so many unprecedented challenges, organisations around the world have had to act swiftly to safeguard employees and move to new ways of working.
Working life after the pandemic was never expected to fully go back to what it once was, and now as so many industries cry out for a relaxation of quarantine measures – the question is: what will working life be like as we move forward?
The full extent of the changes remains to be seen, especially with the recent surge of new cases in Spain and the possibility of revised travel restrictions coming into force.
However, typically working life after Covid will echo aspects of our personal lives, with people generally wary of large congregations. Face masks, hand sanitiser and social distancing being a mandatory precaution, until reliable and accessible antibody tests and a longer-term vaccine is in place.
As businesses begin to pick up the pace, many are looking to Covid testing kits to form part of their return-to-work strategies. Whilst these tests can be an important part of the process, it’s worth understanding their benefits and limitations. Testing though is just one element of support, the bigger problem is employee mental health and well-being, which has been severely impacted by the pandemic.
This is a pivotal moment for organisations to normalise mental health and well-being at work, with a myriad of possible psychological issues emerging after lockdown. For many, the pandemic has caused acute stress, job insecurity, financial pressures and disconnect. Business aside, there are people trying to cope with redundancy, bereavement, relationship problems and family fractures.
Individuals working from home need reassurance, before fully re-engaging with the new working norm – leaders need to be compassionate and understand that people need time to adjust. Emotional stability is at an all-time low and organisations need to acknowledge the long-term changes to be able to adjust and thrive.
The way we engage with colleagues and customers physically, has now changed for the long run. The World Health Organisation issued a set of guidelines in March covering working life after Covid in anticipation of the inevitable return. However, one thing we didn’t expect to see was the decline for required office space.
Before the pandemic, the consensus was that offices were critical to productivity, culture, and winning the war for talent, and previously there were only approximately 1.7 million people in the UK predominantly working from home, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Physical distancing rules now create a number of problems in terms of office space, when planning desk separations and how many staff members will be allowed to work from the office at any given time. Not to mention, companies that operate in multi-story buildings, will need to revise stairs and lift protocols for people who need to access higher-level floors.
Requirements for office space are changing. Many organisations that continue to operate from buildings are looking to either reduce their physical footprint in terms of their square footage or are considering a move to a building where they can better control the environment and ensure the well-being of their workforce.
That being said, there is an overwhelming obligation for business leaders to answer the question: What impact does working from home have on our productivity?
With so many employees being fast-tracked into the uncharted territory of working remotely, and organisations that continued to function as normal as a result, have found a new respect for TRUST emerging.
There is no longer a requirement for companies to control the number of hours clocked at a desk, the focus is productivity and using time effectively to produce results. Trust is a two-way street, and individuals should be empowered to manage their own workload and time, without the need for structure.
Leadership in the face of change requires trust, and employees need to trust their leaders to communicate, promote transparency and lead by example. The only way to truly understand if this is happening, is to measure your team relationships, behaviours and alignment.
However, despite many workers saying they feel trusted and that employers have done well in implementing working from home over the past month, almost half of workers expect a return to limited flexible working policies once the Coronavirus lockdown ends.
Amidst warnings that some lockdown restrictions could stay in place into 2021, organisations are wrestling with the cultural shift in how we work. It’s great to see the likes of Facebook and Google extending their work-from-home policies into 2021 and Twitter announcing that all employees can work from home ‘forever’.
What is your organisations return to work plan?
No one can predict the future, but we can be open to positive developments in the world of work. The more open minded you are, the better your chances are for success.