Australia has undertaken a massive social experiment in flexible ways of working. As the new financial year begins, the immediate practicalities of getting staff to work from home effectively have mostly been addressed, boosted by the re-opening of schools. Slowly, social distancing restrictions are lifting in some Australian states, with many offices and places of work re-opening, albeit in a staggered and shaky way.
Employers have been forced to reinvent what ‘the workplace’ looks like, and how work gets done. This provides a unique opportunity to let go of suboptimal habits, outdated assumptions and clunky systems – many of which privileged a relatively small group of employees, and excluded others. We can use this moment to create a better experience for employees, to improve collaboration and to make the workplace more inclusive for all.
To make the most of this opportunity, employers now need to ask themselves 7 questions, which Rose Bryant-Smith will discuss at our upcoming webinar on 15th July 2020.
1. What has the COVID experience taught us about how we worked before?
The answer to this question will be different in every organisation. Each employer’s strengths supported it to adapt to COVID restrictions and business conditions, and its weaknesses worsened its ability to respond to change.
While there is no ‘one size fits all’, there are some observations that many employers are making.
Fundamentally, we’ve learned that many of our previous assumptions about how work gets done were, quite simply, wrong. The pandemic experience has proven that flexible work can be just as productive, and far easier for employers to facilitate that they had assumed. According to McKinsey research, 80% of employees report that they enjoy working from home, 41% say that they are more productive than they were before, and 28% say that they are at least as productive.
The conventional wisdom pre-COVID had been that the ability to congregate physically in offices was critical to productivity, workplace culture, the employee value proposition and attracting talent. Those offices were designed primarily for individual work; they will be designed very differently if their primary purpose in future is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration.
We can now unpack exactly which elements of in-person interactions, facilities and the sense of ‘place’ offered by offices, that employees value and want to reclaim.
The look, feel and functionality of the new ‘workplace’ – including satellite working spaces, unusual hours, and lower levels of supervision and oversight – is not pre-determined. This means that, within some constraints (such as inflexible leases of office space and tasks which cannot be done remotely), we have an incredible opportunity to design something better.
While working from home, one of the things people report that they miss the most is in-person interactions with colleagues and likeminded people. This ‘human element’ supports us to be ourselves, to work well together and to find ‘flow’ in the activities we undertake every day. Associate Professor Guillermo Aranda-Mena of RMIT University suggests that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to open-plan offices doesn’t really fit everyone, and one of the best things we can take out of the COVID-19 experience is activity-based working, which allows teams to form and to arrange spaces to their tasks and working styles. These set-ups can promote wellbeing, collaboration and innovation, as well as engagement and empathy.
Organisational redesigns in future will be less focused on efficiency and cost-saving, and more about building connection, resilience and responsiveness. Roles, structures and systems can be designed to increase agility and allow people to flex.
2. How can we tap into the employee experience and understand their new or altered expectations?
The changes being demanded of us require transformational thinking that is grounded in facts and in the employees’ lived experiences. Employers must regularly check-in with their people. Keeping communication channels open and maintaining employee engagement are critical during this period of disruption and change.
Pulse surveys will play a critical role in ensuring that you are on-track.
Employers can check in with employees across the workforce about:
- Where, when, on what platforms and how work can more effectively get done
- How the workplace culture is being maintained and enhanced
- What work practices and infrastructure are needed to support ongoing virtual work practices, collaboration and productivity
- Whether the team has established rhythms of work, and the manager habits of checking-in, to support them to achieve
- The sufficiency of the information and wellbeing supports offered to staff
Maintain a sense of curiosity about their requests and their experiences, and don’t assume that every employee will be seeking the same things.
The introvert thrives in a different environment to the extrovert; the person with carer’s responsibilities or a heightened health vulnerability needs something different again. This has always been true, but COVID has thrown into sharp relief the need for employers to accommodate individual needs.
Rose outlines the next three questions in part two next week:
3. Should all employees’ changed expectations be accommodated? When can employers say ‘no’?
4. We’ve all learned new skills, new tech and new approaches: which do we want to keep using in future?
5. Have our values, workplace culture and employment policies stood up to the test?
Free Webinar: Re-Start, Re-Set, Refresh: What kind of organisation do you want to be post-pandemic?
Register now for our next free lunchtime webinar on 15 July. In it Rose Bryant-Smith explores what changes your workplace implemented during COVID-19 and which do we want to continue using in the future to position your workplace to make the most of the disruption.
About Rose Bryant-Smith
Rose is passionate about building ethical and productive workplaces. She leads Worklogic’s consulting projects on organisational values, risk management, business ethics and corporate governance. Rose also creates digital products to build better teams and is an acclaimed speaker and author.