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Managing the next phase of COVID: The return to work

Vicky Skipp
Vicky Skipp
16 July 2020 3 minute readShare
The return to work

COVID-19 has brought with it great challenges for business — supporting employees, managing disruption and pivoting operating models. For many companies, it has catapulted them five years into the future. Not just in the way they work, but in the way that they engage with employees, communicate with customers and manage their business, writes Vicky Skipp.

What we learnt is that remote working can work — and, in some cases, companies even believe their culture improved during lockdown, as they worked harder than ever to look after their people.

As we find ourselves emerging from this phase, organisations are making choices about how to return to work and, ultimately, what their future of work will look like. What should we be looking out for and how do we manage a transitional return to work as we navigate through the next phase?

Communicate updates clearly to employees

For organisations that choose to go back to the office, strict social distancing rules will be in place and only a portion of the workforce will be able to come together at any one time. There will also be the possibility of local flare-ups of the virus forcing communities back into lockdown.

Ensure your policies, training materials and documents are updated and available for employees to easily access and search. Give lots of warning; be clear on decisions, timelines and considerations; be ready to answer questions and be transparent on decision-making processes.

Strive for flexibility

COVID-19 has touched all of our lives and impacted us in different ways. Among your workforce will be carers, parents, people who are high-risk, and people with mental health issues. Providing flexibility will be key to building a future that works for all.

Several organisations have already decided that they won’t be enforcing a return to work in 2020. We expect to see more companies following suit — many will continue to operate virtually, and we expect digital ways of working to mature as organisations have time to put best practices and procedures in place rather than “quick fixes”.

Continue to prioritise remote presence when apart

Companies that go back to the office will need to rely on digital communications to address the whole organisation — with only a percentage in one place at any one time. For many businesses, all of this will mean prolonged abnormality and economic uncertainty.

Make inclusion for those that can’t be there in-person a priority as you transition back to the office, especially as some workplaces operate at a reduced capacity. Organisations will need to be able to stay agile, keeping their employees safe and informed in changing circumstances, while continuing to innovate business models. We also anticipate VR spending will grow as companies invest in new ways to be closer together and maintain productivity.

Evaluate what worked

Lockdown had its challenges, but it also saw many of us grow new muscles and try new things at work. In many ways, it levelled the playing field for those that don’t work in HQ, can’t always be in the office or are based in different countries. During lockdown, we could all be apart together — among the challenges we learnt a lot and many organisations fast-forwarded their digital transformation by several years.

There’s no going back. Many people can now choose where they do their best work. Their employers should support this choice and continue to lay the technical foundation for a more flexible and fair future of work for all.

Don’t forget the frontline

Last year, just 13 per cent of frontline Australian workers told us they felt connected to HQ. Today, everyone has recognised the hugely important role that frontline workers play in all sectors. Frontline staff will remain pivotal to the COVID-19 response and have a critical role to play — whether in enforcing social distancing rules in supermarkets or on planes, or helping cure patients in hospitals.

We expect to see more companies taking the frontline into account when making IT investments so that they can connect everyone, rather than just HQ. Organisations must remember to continue connecting and listening to everyone in their business as they move into a new normal and support them through these unusual circumstances.

There is no certainty where the next six months will take us. Over this time, most Australian states will ease social distancing restrictions, but no workplace will look the same as before. Forward-thinking companies have come to value remote working and will take advantage of the benefits.

By Vicky Skipp, head of APAC, Workplace from Facebook

Managing the next phase of COVID: The return to work
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Vicky Skipp
Vicky Skipp

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic is the editor of My Business. 

Maja has a decade-long career in journalism across finance, business and politics. Now a well-versed reporter in the SME and accounting arena, prior to joining Momentum Media, Maja reported for several established news outlets in Southeast Europe, scrutinising key processes in post-conflict societies and enabling citizens to influence decision-making.

You can email Maja on [email protected] 

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