It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity” – A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens (1859)
The effects of ‘you know what’ have been spectacular so far, and the full effects are yet to be realised. Society and the economy are so intertwined that neither appears able to exist without the other. As restrictions ease and the ‘new normal’ is determined for society and workplaces, appropriate and clear communication, recognising what people have gone through, and not denying the human condition are imperatives. As we sail into unknown waters, workplace relations expert, Charles Watson, provides some insights into the social impact of COVID-19 on the workplace and poses questions that employers need to consider.
BECAUSE …YOU KNOW …PEOPLE!
We have seen the best and the worst of people over the last few months. Selflessness, empathy, commitment, and generosity have been pitted against fear, ignorance and self-interest. This is all part of the undeniable human condition. For those who read history, the human behaviours we have witnessed appear normal for any negative societal incident over the millennia. Overall, we have seen the best outweigh an over reported poorly behaved minority.
Some of the most important impacts have come from lower paid workers. Workers in retail, health care, charity, transport, and waste management have all proven themselves essential, without whom we would not be eating, be living with our garbage piled up in the street, and our less fortunate and most vulnerable in society would be in a desperate place.
The recent challenges to our health and wellbeing have reinforced our need to be resilient and the joys of simple things. Ultimately frivolous past-times have been our go to for repose and comfort. Whether its sour dough starters, picking up that dusty guitar or learning the almost disappeared crafts of our forebears. Whatever gets you through and doesn’t frighten the neighbours.
Online yoga classes and meditation have seen a huge upswing, helped by the present quiet of our cities, making it easier for our minds go to that state of awareness. Years ago, the late great 9th Khalka Jetsun Dampa from Mongolia, told me (via a translator) to go and practice meditating on a roundabout in the middle of a busy crossroads…if you can meditate there, you know you’re cooking with gas. Let’s hope we all keep going with some greater level of introspection.
THE WHOLE WORK THING …COMMUNICATION IS KING
Most workplaces will continue to go through some form of change for at least the remainder of this year. For some there have been permanent and fundamental shifts in workforce planning. Each business will do this at a different pace, but be intentional. It will need to be well thought out and managed. Run through every conceivable scenario before making solid plans.
There are those who have continued to attend workplaces and enjoyed quieter roads, and work colleagues not leaving dirty coffee cups in the kitchen sink. Many who haven’t gone into an office have never stopped working, we just changed how and where we work from. We have all adapted, up-skilled, re-skilled and shown initiative to overcome what has been thrown our way.
If working from home arrangements are currently productive, consider the necessity of workers returning to the workplace too soon, or at all. If you haven’t scoped out the pros and cons, and the legalities of WFH arrangements, now is the time. Some large corporates have already determined that workers can continue working from home for the remainder of the year, and have their eye on making it permanent. Their workplaces will be turned into meeting spaces for when it is absolutely necessary.
For workplaces where it is returning to BAU, workers may find the increased presence of colleagues creates anxiety. Workplaces in countries that have ‘opened up’ have seen increased rates of absenteeism. It is an imperative that employers continue to monitor and manage the wellbeing of workers on a regular and ongoing basis.
As society reawakens workers will start attending larger social gatherings, using public transport and eventually attend sporting events. This will result in concerns over a resurgence of COVID-19. Employers need to be careful that a well-meaning suggestion about out of work behaviour may be taken as a direction, which would be an overstep of an employer’s rights. Plans for dealing with a COVID-19 workplace incident should remain front and centre for the remainder of the year.
As we move forward, workers will need reassurance on how they add value. For workers returning from stand down or furlough, consider whether they are fit, able and charged up for undertaking their duties. Have they forgotten any aspect of their duties? Are they adequately resourced? A company memo will unlikely suffice and it should be taken down to a level of personal check-ins. Meaningful, supportive and participative communications needs to be maintained.
WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY
This is not like turning your computer off and on again. Fostering courage in co-workers and developing deeper relationships in the workplace should be on the agenda. Will we champion the future beyond the fiduciary watermark, or seek to return to BAU? Let’s not waste the opportunity to flip this ‘thing’ and make an authentic commitment to genuine big picture impact. There are a lot of resources out there to help you make this happen. History shows those who accepted a situation, dealt with it quickly, and then looked to the future have the highest likelihood of future and ongoing success. I wish this for all of you.