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What to take from lockdown to keep in the workplace? 

We have all been affected one way or another by the Covid-19 pandemic – both businesses and people. While many businesses have had an extremely difficult time, some organisations and employees are enjoying the positive changes that have come out of it.

Frances Bearne, Founder of Human Focus Consulting talks more on what workplaces can take away from lockdowns.

A shift in location

The obvious initial shift is in the way in which we work, with many seeing this change as positive. For years, those of us who have worked in a desk-role have done so within a central office environment – where employees came, shared an office for the day and returned home. With the pandemic, and subsequent lockdowns and concerns about attending work while infectious – employees have been forced to work from home – and companies have had to shift rapidly to embrace this change.

In the past many employers and employees alike saw flexible working as a benefit. Post-pandemic many now see it as a simple and expected part of a modern working life. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, there are benefits to this change.

Working from home allows employers to recruit from wider locations and therefore a wider talent pool. With the ever-increasing competition for attracting talent, employers that embrace a shift to working from home will widen the talent pool they can tap into. 

We have seen a shift in employers who are open to workers who live in other parts of the city, country or even overseas – so long as they can complete the work required. This has meant more options to choose from which is important in this tight labour market.

Equally positive – some employees have chosen to shift further out of town or to the regions since being able to work from home more – meaning they can reduce expenses and enjoy a better lifestyle. More people can also now consider roles and organisations that they might not have been able to in the past, restricted by location.

Beyond this – some employers have taken the opportunity to transform into a hybrid organisation – shifting towards working environments where teams can work both remotely and in the office, giving them more freedom to choose how they work.

The hybrid arrangement – or indeed for those employers who have decided to do away with a permanent office completely and just bring employees together at shared workspaces for innovation or team building focused work – allows employers to reduce expenses such as rent and equipment, catering and office supplies that come with the traditional office setting model.

For companies to successfully work in this innovative way, they must be virtual-ready, and leaders must know how to effectively lead, manage, engage and train people virtually, and have the technology in place to enable this type of working. 

Read more: Work trends to look out for in 2023

This has led to a crash course across businesses in New Zealand, in embracing technology. The entire workforce has had no choice but to develop new skills during the pandemic. We have all been forced into using collaboration technology to communicate which means people have the skills and knowledge to work effectively from anywhere.

Businesses have been forced to adopt technologies in ways never done before. The new skills and technologies that we have learned will only continue to help businesses grow.

Overlapping personal and professional lives

Traditionally, we have almost always kept our professional and personal lives separate – or at least at a distance with very little intersect between the two.

With the rise of platforms like Zoom, Teams and Google Meet – remote working has given us an insight into colleagues’ personal spaces. When working from home, it is almost impossible to keep up an entirely professional persona, bringing to light the real, personal life of team members. We are now used to seeing children and pets interrupting meetings, commenting on the new wallpaper our team member has recently put up or seeing a more relaxed and casual side to our colleagues.

Frances Bearne.

While this might be seen by some as a distraction to the working day, these little peeks into other people’s personal lives can improve our workplace relationships. These small, personal interactions are not unprofessional. Instead, they allow teams to connect and get to know each other in new ways that we would not have had the chance to do working solely from the office. This slight overlap of personal and professional lives can help teams to work better together and understand one another’s everyday challenges.

Similarly – this glimpse into people’s personal lives has resulted in employees feeling more comfortable to bring their “true self” to work as we move back into the office – resulting in an increasing trend of people forgoing the more restrictive and traditional corporate uniform of uncomfortable high heels and button up shirts, shifting towards a more casual and comfortable corporate uniform for all – one that is more likely to embrace diversity.

This could include outfits that better reflect different cultures more openly during the workday e.g. people wearing a lavalava along with their corporate shirt. This more casual approach could also give non-binary team members the freedom to express themselves more fully at work, and women the opportunity to say goodbye to painful shoes forever.

Increased focus on mental wellbeing

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it a sharp rise in mental health issues. While this is in no way a positive, it has pushed businesses to focus more closely on employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

Companies are now doing more than ever to protect and promote positive mental health among teams; with many businesses putting in more effort to understand and acknowledge the importance of mental health at work as part of the pandemic. The changing attitude, and change in perceptions around mental health, is set to continue in the post-pandemic world.   

Taking what we’ve learnt into the future

The pandemic brought with it levels of pain and suffering that are difficult to comprehend. There is no doubt that it has altered the world forever and in ways that we still might not be able to see. If anything positive came out of it, it’s that we learnt more about what’s really important. This attitude can be seen in how people interact with each other, the choices they make and how they now choose to show up to work. If approached with an open mind, and an acceptance of change, businesses and employees can use what’s been learnt to transform the workplace into a more compassionate, and ultimately more human environment, leading to positive benefits and growth for all. 

Frances Bearne is the Founder and Director of Human Focus Consulting and an International Certified Coach. She created Human Focus because she’s passionate about helping corporates and SMEs to cut through traditional HR bureaucracy that slows down business growth. She applies a fresh and human approach towards people and culture management. As an experienced people and culture consultant and executive and team coach, Frances thrives on creating value for businesses and people through a transparent, honest, and values-led approach. She has multi-industry experience in finance, research and development, I.T., engineering, freight and logistics, government and construction.

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