What is the future of work? That’s one of the biggest questions left hanging in the air as a result of Covid-19, and it’s one that has enormous repercussions for people’s wellbeing. A recent piece in The Guardian estimates that only 30 per cent of Australians will be able to work effectively from home in future and asks what will happen to the remaining 70 per cent, who risk either working in an unsafe environment or losing their employment altogether. Many small business owners, it reports, see no possibility of resuming their business on a profitable basis, and are considering throwing in the towel. And while there are some clear benefits to employers in terms of cost savings from having their workers based at home, those employees risk the feelings of isolation and lack of motivation that come with the territory. Global research company, Gartner, surveyed 317 CFOs and business finance leaders and found that 74% of them plan to move their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post Covid-19. Office hubs will still need to function under new compliance measures.
Despite the glaring issues there is still apathy
If you haven’t already, take your head out of the sand and move to ‘eyes wide open’, this counts for employees as well as employers– no need to strive for perfection but equally, do not surrender to inertia. Return to the workplace is happening slowly and is limited. There are compliance measures that must be met and the world of tech innovation holds many welcome and cost effective solutions; Condeco is a market leader in workplace management and resource scheduling software, Vpod supply visitor management software and Ricoh offer consultancy and services to an expanding client list in facilities management to name but a few. But, do not make the mistake of imagining that challenges will be solved by technology alone, the future of wellbeing will be led by technology but defined by humanity – in recovery from Covid-19, never more so. That means culture and leadership that inspires trust, loyalty and shapes a new ‘employee consciousness’ will be the order of the day and will emerge as the blueprint (at least in part) for our new normal. When previously solid ground becomes an unknown it feels fragile, raises anxiety and promotes fear. Be laser focused on removing that fear and allowing trust, confidence and renewed team cohesion to replace it.
1) Communicate with your teams, frequently and regularly Reassure and feel ok about showing vulnerability as an employer – have an honest conversation about how people are really feeling. The Covid-19 circumstance is brand new for everyone (including employers) – respond progressively and act, ‘Done is the engine of more’ – be human, be kind and show compassion
2) Whether you are an employee, an employer or both take personal responsibility –“clean living (and working) is the new cocaine” – optimising our own holistic health has never been more important but so too, an ethical, considerate and selfless concern for others. Strong and compassionate leadership will reassure but a new dimension of awareness that we’re coining ‘employee consciousness’will need to be steered. Actions that people take outside of the workplace that make themselves vulnerable, may put others at risk within. For example, someone choosing to put themselves in a higher-risk non socially-distanced crowd then coming to the office may not be seen as team play for the foreseeable future – yes it’s a sensitive issue but one that will be won and lost based on the values and accountability of all, we’re back to culture and ethics.
3) You may not be taking your brand asset valueinto account amidst return to work changes, new policies or Covid-19 recovery culture. You should be. How you act as a brand and organisation says a lot about your brand integrity and will be remembered by employees now and noted by those who may apply to you in future. Ikea are a brilliant example of an ethical, conscious, leading from the front, company. There are examples at the other end of the scale too – what your employees think, say and feel about your brand matters not only for the PR value but for the effort and drive they’re likely to put in to help you recover. They want to be proud to be associated with an organisation that wants to contribute to a wider community than what is perceived to matter on the balance sheet.
4) Human connection, bonding and relationships matter to everyone. People want to feel heard, held and valued. Don’t underestimate that sense of tribal strength and community within your teams that many will be yearning for again. Whilst fewer days in the office is likely, you will still need creative connection, sparky brainstorming and simple human presence to move certain things forward. How will you capture that? It may be more purposed team events that can be held either in the office environment (socially distanced of course) or at a venue where everyone can participate. Having the opportunity as leaders, to address everyone together may sound overly simple but after months of solitude, apart from video conferencing, it may be the most human and empathic move one could make. When you do, revert to point one – share what your own fears have been, be personal and don’t be afraid of sharing your own vulnerability. Your teams will find comfort in their own ‘me too’ and those shared connections will grow for the good of all. Above all be human.
WFH has been a joy to many but reality bites
As the world slowly starts to accommodate life after lockdown, pressing questions will be put to the test. Sectors like hospitality will soon discover if there is a viable future in which social distancing still plays a key part, and for some areas such as theatre and live music, any form of re-opening still looks an elusive pipedream. Even those who can work from home face a new form of insecurity; as one prominent US lawyer pointed out, once employers realise that a job can be done from anywhere it may be outsourced to a much lower wage economy. Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other. Decisions that companies make moving forward will define far more than the success of their company, it will impact whole communities, even countries. A joined up, collaborative, unified approach is needed that will also shape innovation in the relationship between business and government.
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