How to Navigate and Plan for post-COVID Workplaces

As we “dread” through more lockdowns in Melbourne, let’s get ahead of ourselves for once to imagine what work will be like post-COVID.  

No doubt you have seen unofficial reaction-based polls on attitudes on working from home. They often returned with how people would like to work from home at least one day per week, rather than staying in the office all the time. 

In fact, prior to the pandemic, LinkedIn did an official survey and found that: 

  • 82% of working professionals would like to work from home one day a week or more, 
  • 57% wanting to work from home 3 or more days
 

The COVID-19 simply got more people on the bandwagon, sooner. 

 

 

Why? Most of us don’t miss the traffic and enjoy working outside the office. 

According to McKinsey’s research

  • 80 % of people reported that they enjoy working from home. 
  • 41% say that they are more productive than they had been before and 
  • 28% that they are as productive. 
 

Why the mixed results, you may ask? 

While some employees thrive in this environment, it can have a significant impact on the mental health and productivity of others. Research from the United Nations International Labor Organization found remote working can come with a number of challenges. 

That is, while employees are often more productive when working from home, they are also more vulnerable to working longer hours. Particularly for those with school-age children, have to deal with frequent interruptions, distractions. In some cases, this leads to greater stress. 

Many workers rely on the office for structure and connectivity and it is central to achieving a balance between their personal and professional lives. 

Others who have liberated from long commutes have found more productive ways to spend that time. They enjoyed greater flexibility in balancing their personal and professional lives. 

So what now?

We need to better engage with employees and adapt the way the workforce is managed and looked after. 

When the time comes for some of us to return to offices, workers’ health and safety, as well as productivity, will have to be front and center. 

New types of offices, attitudes, and creative thinking will be needed.

Apart from a fair share of staff to continue working from home when the lockdowns are lifted, here are what I see in the new workplace:

 

The masks are maintained in the offices and we will still be (1.5m) apart.  

Many companies will require employees to wear masks at all times, redesign spaces to ensure physical distancing, and restrict movement in congested areas (for instance, elevator banks and pantries). As a result, even after the reopening, attitudes toward offices will probably continue to evolve.

Some forward-thinkers are making apps to help make a contactless office a reality. 

Such as using near-field communication instead of keycards to give employees access to a building or lift system via their smartphone or to buy food and drink from cash-free workplace canteens. JLL, the real estate services firm estimates that only 5 – 10% of companies are currently embracing these workplace apps successfully

 

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In the short-term, it seems likely that many of us will remain working from home even after government orders are lifted. A staggered workforce may become standard, with smaller groups coming in on alternate days and shifts that avoid rush-hour peaks. 

At least, before a vaccine becomes widely available. 

This leads us to the next point. 

We must hone on new workflows and digital tools to manage a staggered and dispersed workforce. 

COVID-19 has forced a radical shift in working habits and will continue to change the way we work, together or not

During the lockdowns, most organisations have simply ensured that most important processes could be carried on remotely, imitating what had been done before the pandemicThis has worked well for some organisations, but not for others. 

This is certainly a major challenge for organizations that are struggling to connect work to the people who are now working remotely and scattered across homes. 

Especially in between lay-offs, it is only natural for one to lose count of who is still in the company, who is available to complete a particular task, or who is skilled enough to execute the project. 

This could be attributed to outdated employee information, lack of an efficient process to staff projects, or a lack of network outside the core members of your team who you work closely with. 

So, the goal here is to adopt a digital tool that engages the employees, as well as allowing you to best leverage their potential. 

This tool needs to offer the work that employees have the skills, availability and interests to do, wherever they may be located. 

It is important NOT to underutilise their skills. In fact, it is one-of-five silent killers of employee engagement

The ideal tool will be adding value by connecting the best ‘hidden’ talent to the right work, and: 

  • Build visibility on the entire workforce
  • Distribute tasks and projects to suited internal employees 
  • Allow people to work undisrupted while being geographically-dispersed
  • Boosting overall productivity. 

Only with more enhanced technological capabilities such as clear and concise platforms for workflow management, talent discovery, as well as reformation in the company culture that values trust and output versus physical presence, companies can quickly adapt to this new environment.

Communities will be united and supported online. 

With more companies now getting on board with remote working, people are increasingly dispersed over multiple locations and working more in isolation. 

It’s a challenge to make people feel part of the team even when they’re not in the office.

Let’s dig a little deeper. 

It has been difficult for extroverts like us at the Xrosswork team, who can’t see colleagues and friends. But it’s equally hard for introverts. 

You may assume that introverted people would love lockdown and working from home.
They probably did in the first few months, but they are missing connections too. The people, the opportunity to connect, explore and have more profound conversations.  

Similarly, there are some in the extroverted bunch who are shocked at how much they value the slower pace, downtime, and the chance to be at home quietly. 

So, it IS equally important to support people to make connections and feel empowered to manage themselves to work (how they want) to the best of their abilities through 2020’s challenges.
AND, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to managing workplaces, especially given the velocity of recent changes. 

TLDR: The value of a flexible approach cannot be underestimated throughout this period. 

 

For the Leaders: Be proactive. Be flexible. Start exploring the new ways of working. 

As we move past the initial phase of COVID-19, businesses are processing how the virus will have lasting impacts on how and where we work. It is important for firms to already be devising answers to the question of why employees go to an office, how often and for how long. 

It’s up to leaders and managers like us, to explore what the new world of work could look like and create conversations that help people explore. 

Understand that during this recovery phase, we need to learn and continuously adapt to a re-imagined workplace, culture, and way of working

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