Many of the region’s major employers were represented at the recent Geelong HR Roundtable where they discussed their organisation’s responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Host Maree Herath, from Harvest HR, recounts the roundtable’s major themes.

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

From unlocking extra productivity to planning for return to the office, here are the key themes that regional employers have noted about their response to COVID-19.

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.

There are many examples of working from an office and then delivering the same outputs from home offices within days and weeks. Every 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 embargoes 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 under-utilised digital platforms have now been harnessed. These include learning management systems, video meetings and 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 compared with what was reported before 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 embraces risks. These organisations now see the benefit of 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 boardroom 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 the crisis.

Many organisations have undertaken pulse checks to understand what their employees are sensing and feeling.

This has resulted in the rollout of health and wellbeing programs, increasing resources for employees to access in addition to providing support avenues for employees, customers and families form 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.

The return

MANY workplaces are currently developing their COVID safe return to work plans. Many are addressing a gradual or phased return and being mindful of vulnerable workers, or those with vulnerable family members and a greater degree of rigour will be applied to certain workers.

The overwhelming sentiment is that flexibility will remain.

Employers are now addressing activity based working where employees will be assessed on the outcomes derived, not the hours worked.

There will also be challenges as the needed workers many not want to return and those that desperately want to return may not be the first.

There will be a challenge in sharing time among home and office. Many workers moved to home working with their employer’s office equipment so the worksite and home / office balance may prove a logistic challenge.

There will need to be a balance and it’s important that organisations are mindful when trying 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.

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.

Maree Herath is the director of Harvest Talent Recruitment & People Solutions. 

Geelong Advertiser, 25th May, 2020


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