We know that workplaces are going to look different after the pandemic. One expert helps us imagine how.
It’s obvious that the experience of COVID-19 has altered how many of us work, and navigating this new world will be one of the key challenges for businesses over the next decade.
Yet preparing for the many challenges and opportunities is far less obvious. For Professor Wayne Cascio, a Life Fellow of AHRI and presenter at the SHIFT20 virtual conference on 28 October, one of the key changes is rethinking what workers want in post-pandemic workplaces.
Cascio sits on the board of a company in Silicon Valley, and has taken an interest in how many big tech firms are allowing workers to relocate and work remotely on a permanent basis.
“They’re still compensating them at the high end of the wage scale of the geographical area that they are moving to,” he says.
“Employees are still able to live a good life, and companies are excited as this has opened up a broader talent pool.”
Not every company has the lure or flexibility of Silicon Valley, however, so Cascio says that more traditional firms need to focus on supporting their employees working from home.
“We are now well beyond the idea of employers being focused on physical wellbeing during the pandemic, and into how they can help their workers manage mental, emotional and financial wellbeing.”
He believes that while many workers still fear losing their jobs or being unable to cope with the ongoing stress of working and parenting from home, “the most progressive companies” are already listening to their employees about ways they can better support them.
“Some workplaces are providing babysitting credits, say $100 a week, or are providing or subsidising supervision of their employees’ children. In some cases this is a tutor at home or a ‘study pod’ with coworkers,” he says.
Managing the new normal
Cascio said that for many industries, the spike in productivity that we saw at the beginning of the pandemic has started to come down.
As working from home for many is simply part of life for the foreseeable future, how employers adjust to this is going to be critical for ongoing productivity of businesses and wellbeing of workers.
“There’s data showing that as many as 80 per cent of workers in skilled labor construction, legal, and insurance and real estate report that they’re uncomfortable talking about stress or mental health in the workplace,” he says.
These industries need to make huge strides to be able to adjust to remote working environments, such as identifying that their employees are stressed and how they can have smaller, everyday conversations about issues such as performance.
On the flip side, Cascio says that the industries most comfortable talking about their wellbeing are HR, food service, engineering, and nonprofits.
“The best place to begin to manage the new normal is to think about how people are going to be able to communicate or do one-on-ones and what the content will look like, and tailor them to the kind of business that you’re in,” he says.
“When we talk about the ‘next normal’, no one knows what that is going to look like. We’re already seeing more government intervention than ever before, businesses rethinking their basic business models, and a profound unevenness of who is going to come out of it stronger and who is going to fare poorly.”
Primed and prepped
Research from Roy Morgan found that over two thirds of working Australians (68 per cent) reported a change to their working conditions since COVID-19 lockdowns began in March, while the Australian Bureau of Statistics says that almost half of Australians (46 per cent) have worked from home.
Cascio notes that when planning for the future, we need to consider those many people currently working from home, but also those who are not. So while rigorous social distancing and cleaning protocols need to be implemented for shared workspaces, employers also need to manage stressors such as sudden absences and fears of job insecurity.
“We’re seeing that both companies and employees want to increase cross-training in the workforce to accommodate increased absenteeism rates,” he says.
Cascio noted that after every economic recession automation goes up, so upskilling is a challenge for employers as employees will want to remain competitive in the labour market.
“If there’s one word that describes the current world of work, it’s disruption. No one has been employed in a pandemic before, and many young workers have never even been employed during a recession,” he says.
“One of the things people want is communication from their employers that’s transparent and authentic. They want employers to listen to their concerns. They want to be invited by their bosses to help to create workable solutions.”
Want to learn more about the post-pandemic workplace? Wayne Cascio will talk about the new normal at the upcoming SHIFT20 conference Register now.