We could not have imagined that following a historically significant instruction to stay home and life to change as we know it. We would be contemplating a way of working, socialising, seeing family and doing business differently for what could be years to come – indeed, it could change the way we live forever. With every workplace, place of worships, charity and organisation affected we are seeing a revolution in the future world of work.
Over the last 20 years I have worked and supported thousands of businesses and watched over the years changing working practices in both the public and private sector. Even in the absence of COVID19 changes and innovations were made and sometimes people were consulted and sometimes, they were not – either way it made people step out their comfort zone, adapt and adjust to the new normal. Those new practices still continued and often permanent change was adopted over the decades.
Once upon a time travelling to work and having your own desk with your own computer and drawer right next to you (if you were senior enough then you might even get your own office!) was the norm. But then flexible working – from home and other places came along, away from your personal workspace, the adoption of hot-desking where it’s not your desk anymore so you couldn’t leave your belongings out. Individuals felt their personal space was intruded/violated and struggled with this ‘new normal’ where others felt this was the way to go flexible working from anywhere. Our resilience to change saw us through this.
Just when you were getting used to what you thought were the new working practices in came COVID19 – so what happens now? The virus has taken a hold of our normal lives, seen us separated from our families, loved ones passing away without family by their side. Saving lives has to be our number one priority.
How do we pave way for a path to a sense of normality in the face of such adversity?
The CORONAVIRUS has now violated our day to day life. Working from home, flexibly and remotely has become the norm for every business and industry – no longer confined to the offices of professional services.
How though will people feel about going back to work and how will they work; what will be the new norm? Many recent surveys and reports have been published on how people and businesses are feeling. Many people are scared of what happens next, ‘will we be protected in the workplace’ and ‘will we be forced to go to work when we are not feeling safe’ ‘will I be forced to work from home permanently’? lots of questions with not a lot of answers just now as everyone watches carefully how we move forward.
Employers need to behave differently and flexibly to get people back to work with choices for employees around working from home or an office, taking into consideration options such as splitting the work day to rotate staff in the office, staggering start times and breaks. Where there are industries that require you to be present appropriate safety measures have to be adopted and employees will have to work with these.
Today there is much that technology support, from motion sensors to ensure minimal surface contact, temperatures being monitored, cameras showing how many people are present and alerts if somebody comes too close, apps to control lights and temperatures and not to
forget automation that already a lot of companies were adopting. These may not be options for smaller businesses given the cost – but perhaps shared spaces and costs might become more essential options moving forward.
Industry and government will need to work in partnership to get the economy kickstarted again, implementing many of these measures will need support as well as the guidance given so far by the Prime Minister for those sectors already encouraged to return to work – such as social distancing in construction. But joint thinking will certainly be needed to find a way for hospitality, entertainment and leisure businesses to reopen effectively. With more and more businesses now questioning the need for their property portfolios, that sector will also need support to find its new purpose.
Businesses have voiced that government support is required so that they can have that navigating time to ensure they have a phased return to work plan. The Prime Minister has taken this into consideration hence why opening only certain sectors first and then providing a plan for others to return over the following months.
I have personally spoken to six organisations from different sectors and all different sizes; office, construction, retail, engineering, hospitality and manufacturing. They all had one thing in common they wanted to get back to business and had already started to plan their new working strategy while they were in lockdown. I was somewhat surprised but impressed to hear from the engineering sector one, not only had they planned their strategy in the UK on how their staff will work but also around the world. Another told me that they will be able to manage risk and safety in retail, just like the food shopping places have done by putting measures in place on social distancing and maybe adopting an appointment system. The interesting response was from the hospitality sector one who stated that yes it will be very challenging for many businesses in this sector especially due to the size of the premises, however it is not impossible especially for the medium and larger businesses to put restrictions on time, ordering through an app at your table, number of people and distance. Many hospitality businesses that I know had already diversified through the lockdown by shifting to a takeaway or delivery service and cooking classes online, you certainly have to adapt to survive in the world of COVID19 not just give up, and the resilience and versatility of our businesses has been impressive.
Could the huge shifts in our way of life being introduced as part of the fight against Covid-19 pave the way for the new norm of working? Positively using this pandemic to restructure and produce something much more flexible aligned with today’s humane life. To have any positive future we are reliant on how civilisation and government react to COVID19 and its economic and social after-effects. With the pressure of lockdown around the world we are facing an economic downturn thus now some countries have started to ease on lockdown measures including the UK. Our Prime Minister Boris Johnson will need to ensure that the economy can restart but ensuring that the public is safe to go about their daily lives- albeit in a new way.