As the lockdown gets phased out, have you started to think about your own and your employee’s strategy for a post COVID-19 renewal? Sometimes life challenges us when we believe we’re least able to handle it and perhaps that’s the reason why. Perhaps we’re being challenged because we need to change our old beliefs in order to grow as we renew ourselves and evolve to the ‘next level’.
Coming out of a tragic and painful situation where we’ve experienced immense suffering is never easy. There are hidden factors that we sometimes don’t realise are there while they’re busy taking their toll on us. We often bury traumatic experiences because they’re challenging to face. A great way to describe what we’re left with in part after COVID-19, is post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that includes persistent mental and emotional stress as the result of severe psychological shock. A recent study by EY which surveyed nearly 13,000 consumers in 13 countries reflects that 94% of workers feel stressed at work, with almost a third saying their stress levels are high to unsustainably high. A Qualtrics Survey conducted in April 2020, shows that 44.4% of employees who are now working remotely have experienced a deterioration in their mental health since the beginning of COVID-19 and the The Economic Times speaks about a fall in employee productivity arising from remote working.
It’s healthy to acknowledge some of these more adverse effects COVID-19’s had on us and our work. But when we look back to the way we functioned before the pandemic was it really all that productive and ideal? Always rushing to get somewhere, spending numerous hours driving or catching taxis, mindlessly consuming resources and only seeing our loved ones for brief glimpses at the end of the day. Comparing that time to how we then functioned under strict lockdown with all the online meetings, constricted resource consumption and ongoing family contact and demands, highlights the stark differences in these two lifestyles. I’m sure many of you can agree that neither lifestyle was ideal. So where do we go to from here, as the lockdown regulations begin to be lifted and the pandemic starts to regress?
Ideally there’s a degree of flexibility required in order to strike the right balance. Yes in the beginning there were concerns raised about decreased productivity but, it’s important to note that as time’s progressed, productivity’s actually increased in many instances. Insights provided by Gartner show us how trust’s a key driver of productivity, Aaron McEwan the Vice President of Gartner says: “Remote-work success depends heavily on whether you trust your employees to do their work even if you can’t see them.” As we’ve adapted to working from home, we’ve found ways to manage our time more effectively and have become more productive as we don’t need to travel to the office or meetings, and we don’t get disturbed as often while working. On the flip side, many of us don’t have the necessary ‘office’ space and equipment. Chiropractors have seen big increases in musculoskeletal problems and we’ve also seen increases in general health concerns. Our increased levels of inactivity and prolonged periods of sitting have contributed towards these. People, often privately, express that their home’s their sanctuary and they enjoyed working in a separate environment where they could socialize with colleagues face to face. For many remote working isn’t an ideal or sustainable model even if you do put a whole bunch of great technology and supportive infrastructure in place. Flexibility’s required, we need to formulate the right policies and procedures and communicate these well ensuring we get the support and buy-in of our people. This is vital for making the changes we’re going to be implementing a success.
The question most commonly being asked right now is how do you decide who continues to work remotely? Gartner says most organisations, 93%, ask their managers to decide. These decisions should also take into consideration certain infrastructure constraints and other practical considerations (such as workstation spacing, PPE, screening and tracking, the Disabilities Act etc.). Not many companies will be able to return all their people to the office after all restrictions are lifted. Staggering your people’s return to the office is the preferred approach starting with smaller groups first (for example more essential workers) who can help identify potential problems that may occur during re-entry and, can also assist in setting up emergency re-exit plans. Now may best the best time to formally decide upon permanently keeping a percentage of your workforce remote. Data from Gartner reflects that:
- ‘By 2030, the demand for remote work will increase by 30% due to Generation Z fully entering the workforce, and
- 64% of today’s professionals say they could work anywhere and remote work policies are common (in place at 71% of organisations).’
As I highlighted earlier, mental health issues are a very real concern and it’s important to formally address these as well. WIRED recently published an article titled ‘As offices reopen, employers face a surge in mental health issues’. In it, stats from a Deloitte study at the beginning of the year are shared that estimated a sixth of workers were experiencing mental health issues. They estimated this was costing businesses approximately one trillion rand per year through lost days and reduced productivity and now with COVID-19, this cost has been estimated to increase by 16%! While we look at how to deal with all our mental health issues, it’s important to consider all the psycho-social factors having an impact on us right now and also going forward. Taking such factors into consideration helps us to come up with real people-centered solutions such as: having a meeting free day, increasing or setting up access to a counsellor, sending out regular reminders about work-life balance and positive messages, asking your people to take regular anonymous surveys to help understand how they are really feeling and coping, providing extra independent financial counselling and budget support, having one day a week in the office and having occasional on-site events. A word most often used when discussing mental health issues, especially with the added stress of the pandemic, is ‘empathy’. While we all know how important it is to be productive and profitable, we need to be forever mindful of the fact that without good mental health, things fall apart and so will our organisations. Poor performance and staff turnover become an issue when employees don’t feel properly valued and looked after and these problems cost organizations immense amounts of time and money. It’s best to be proactive when it comes to managing these potentially huge problem areas. Did you know that studies have proven poor health is linked to poor work performance?
In conclusion, as we enter into a ‘new world of work’, let’s choose to take it as a fantastic opportunity to reinvent and renew ourselves. Let’s get clear about what we want and how we want it to be. You can either set your own Agenda or you can let others set it for you. Be proactive and start working today to create a ‘new world of work’ that’s filled with great new opportunities. Finally, don’t forget to add to this a feeling of excitement because you know that what you’re building is vastly better than anything you’ve ever built before.