Inside FMCG: Workplace reset - Michelle Gibbings

Published in Inside FMCG, in this article Michelle says the work-from-home experiment of the last few months has provided an opportunity for change.

As employers and employees confront new ways of working due to COVID-19, the level of adjustment required across workplaces has and will be mixed.

For some employees, the rapid move to working from home has been successful – with savings in commuting time, the benefit of flexible working times, a better balance of home and work life, and appropriate technology ensuring productivity.

For others it’s been stressful, as they juggle homeschooling, having no defined workspace or the technology needed to do their job, and a working day that never seems to end.

As well, many employees’ working routines have changed little due to the essential nature of their work.

Looking ahead, regardless of the recent experience , there will be further changes to how we work and where we work.

Before COVID-19, close to 50 per cent of the workforce had never worked from home (WFH) before, while those that had typically only did so one day a week.

Bosses who have been sceptical of the workability of working from home have on many fronts been proven wrong – work from home works, with a few caveats.

It needs to be supported by effective technology and clear guidelines between the employer and employee as to How the arrangement will work. These may include what days people are required to come into the office, how meetings will be held and issues managed.

As a team, agree on the boundaries as to what’s acceptable regarding requests for work outside standard working hours. This simple practice makes
it easier for team members to have boundaries between work and home life and to be okay with not responding to emails or phone calls in personal time.

For organisations that have struggled with technology capacity over this recent period, they’ve had to adapt and quickly source workarounds.

Organisations will need to continue to identify and address any technology gaps or process inefficiencies that exist.

Work from home is on the agenda, and employees whose experience has been positive will be leading the charge for the option to remain.

Not all roles translate easily into WFH, and some employees are eager to get back into the office having missed the routine, their colleagues and the connections that come from working with other people.

Workplaces are changing as employers adjust to what’s required and act on the duty of care they owe to their employees to provide a safe place to work. Safe Work Australia has outlined the requirements, detailing the expectations of employers in this regard.

These requirements will shape the workplace that employees experience.

For example, there may be temperature checks on entry, and there will be hand sanitisers in office foyers and lobbies, as well as other relevant places.

Partitions will be erected, or there will be spacing between office desks and tables, ensuring adherence to social distancing rules.

Offices will also likely enforce a clean desk policy, abolish hot-desking and also remove elements from tea rooms and cafeterias that are communal.

So no more communal fruit bowl or biscuit tin!

There will also be far more regular cleaning across workspaces and workstations.

Employees will find wait times at lifts are longer and markings on floors to help manage queues and spacing. They will also see longer commute times – either because they’re driving and there are more people on the road, or there’s increased wait times for public transport.

Consequently, many workplaces will have staggered working days, staggered start and finish times, and a continued emphasis on team members working from home.

“One of the unexpected outcomes from this change is a recognition that many roles can be successfully carried out away from the office.”

Employees working in factory and manufacturing settings will also see an increased use of personal protective equipment to help manage COVID-19.

Across all workplaces, there will be an expectation that if an employee is feeling unwell – even just a little bit – they don’t come into work.

One of the unexpected outcomes from this change is a recognition that many roles can be successfully carried out away from the office. The ability to work from home means that the talent for positions can be sourced more broadly.

No longer will geography be a limitation for employment opportunities.

Humans are tribal creatures who are hard­wired for connection. Part of the joy and happiness that people experience at work comes from the banter and chats they have with colleagues. Nothing can replace the casual corridor conversation or chat in the tea-room.

Working from home is here to stay, but connection and time with team and colleagues will always be necessary.

Sitting down and participating in online meetings all day is exhausting, and Zoom fatigue (as it’s called) is real. Looking at screens and being on the phone all day isn’t how we are used to working.

So while working from home is great, not everything can be done remotely (or done as effectively remotely). Leaders will want to consider where face-to-face sessions are more productive and effective, and where remote will work just as well.

In a crisis good leaders rise to the top, and COVID-19 has been no exception.

As organisations, workplaces and employees continue to navigate an uncertain and challenging environment, issues will arise, and so too will stress levels.

Throughout this period and in the months to come, the crucial role leaders play in supporting and leading their team will continue.

For leaders, it’s essential to focus on establishing a psychologically safe environment where people are comfortable to share what is working or not working for them and how they are feeling.

It helps if leaders are willing to be open with their team about their pressure points, and how they manage stress.

As part of this, encourage your team mem hers to take care of their physical and mental health.

These practices may include taking regular breaks during the day, and ideally once a day getting outside the office. The key is to get away from
your desk because by shifting your environment you alter your state, helping to reset your mindset and get a fresh perspective.

Relationships and connection are at the root of all human existence. When you have strong relationships at work, it provides a support network to talk through challenges and get advice.

People want to feel that they belong to something, and this is hard if they think they are out of the loop and disconnected from their colleagues.

Find out what brings out the best in your team and how they want to connect and engage with each other. As well, ask each team member what they need from you to enable them to be their best each day at work.

With every change, there is an opportunity to reset how relationships work and bow workplaces work. COVID-19 is an opportunity to make conscious decisions about putting in place the frameworks, tools and connections to create a thriving workplace.

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