Enjoyed working remotely? As the country prepares for work life to get back to normal, will your team be going back into the office willingly?

A sample of HR professionals and executives with HR remits from the region’s major employers congregated for Geelong’s HR Roundtable to discuss their organisation’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Several key themes came out of the discussion which we’d like to share with you.

The Crisis – Adaptation and Technology allowed Continuity

For many employers, some staff remained at sites (with greater hygiene requirements in place) and it was, by and large, business as usual however many office or customer contact workers were moved to home-based working.

The bulk of employers found they had the technology and access to allow for remote working and continual supply of services to clients.

Workers adapted accordingly. There are many examples of working from an office and moving and delivery the same outputs from home office within days and weeks. Even our largest employers commented on how nimble and agile they could be.


The Surprises – A Highly Productive, Committed Workforce

Most organisations have seen the productivity of many of their employees increase. With this comes the challenge of getting staff to stop working with some employers needing to put IT embargos in place to ensure balance was achieved.

The COVID-19 crisis has created winners and losers. For most staff, keeping their job and remaining working has created a climate of gratitude and commitment. Many employers reported increased levels of trust, respect, appreciation and commitment from team members and the politics, that sometimes emerge within an office environment, were eliminated. The boundaries attached to multi-site environments were diminished as workers no longer had an allegiance or affiliation with a site as “home” became one-site.


Innovations from the Crisis

Many organisations reported that underutilised digital platforms have now been harnessed. These include Learning Management Systems, video meetings to collaborative platforms for information sharing.

One employer has shifted its customer support centre to flexible home based. An initiative that had previously been put aside was now running with better productivity and less absenteeism than that that was reported prior to COVID-19.

Many organisations report significant time and cost savings of webinar meetings in addition to securing worker safety as video meetings negate the need for travel and the embedded risk that comes with travelling on some of our region’s roads.

Organisations with low risk tolerances by necessity embraced risks. These organisations now see the benefit of a lower risk aversion courtesy of the crisis. As a necessity organisations had to “give things a go” and ways of working that may never have gotten off the board room table have been established. This openness and the willingness to trial and fail will see further innovations and transformations come from the crisis.


Work Health and Safety

As can be predicted worker health and wellbeing is a theme that has permeated throughout and emerging from the crisis. Many organisations have undertaken pulse checks to understand what their employees are sensing and feeling. This has resulted in the roll-out of health and wellbeing programs, increasing resources for employees to access in addition to providing support avenues for employees, customers and families from employee assistance programs to further referral to other support networks.

While still an uncomfortable subject, employers addressed domestic violence, ensuring support and avenues were available to affected workers.

Our HR audience were aware that they had to address the myriad of emotions that were coming and the need to address these sensitively and with compassion.


The Return

Many workplaces are currently developing their COVID Safe Return to Work plans.

Many are addressing a gradual or phased return to work and being mindful of vulnerable workers or those with vulnerable family members and a greater degree of rigor to be applied to certain workers.

The overwhelming sentiment is that flexibility will remain. Employers are now addressing activity-based working where employers will be assessed on the outcomes derived not the hours worked. There will also be challenges as the necessary/needed workers may not want to return. Those that desperately want to return may not be the first and those that want to stay home, and have proven capable, how this can be achieved. There will be the challenge of sharing time amongst home and office. Many workers moved to home working, with their employer’s office equipment so the work site/home office balance may prove a logistical challenge.

There will be a greater use of digital platforms. Some employers will continue to derive the benefits of digital where other organisations want to bring the human element back. There will be a balance and it’s important that organisations need to be mindful to strike the best solution, not just the solution that brings highest cost and time savings.

Health, safety and hygiene was a major focus when considering COVID safe work environments. Organisations will have to establish routine, rigorous and transparent cleaning regimes to ensure the health and safety of their workers. And for the workers, the “badge of honour” of soldiering on when sick, is no more. There will be a zero tolerance for sick workers moving forward.

This information was used further in an article printed in the Geelong Advertiser Business Beat on 25th May, 2020. Read more on Success amid crisis. 


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