The new normal – the post COVID Workplace.

FY20 has been a difficult year for most businesses – with elections (state and Federal), rising unemployment, the drought, record national bushfires and, of course, COVID-19. It’s been a medical, a financial, two natural disasters and a leadership crisis, all in one.

Over and above all of these, the COVID-19 pandemic is literally changing the way Australians work. In our sector from Site Managers to Engineers, Project Managers to MEP specialists, it seems increasingly likely that the workplace may never be the same again. 

While this offers its own challenges, there are also a number of opportunities for both employees and employers. Remote working, shifts, different start/finishing times and social distancing are becoming the new normal for most employees, as company priorities shift. Many organisations are rethinking their staffing, office space requirements and business models to adapt to the new normal workplace.

The New Normal-Post-COVID Workplace

Here are just some of the ways we can expect to see our workplaces continue to change.

Flexible work arrangements

Over the years, Australian workplaces have increasingly been experimenting with flexible work arrangements that also reflect the personal needs of employees, such as childcare. Across Australia, there will undoubtedly be fewer people in the office.  Especially now, employees have tried working from home and often found this preferable and productive, and certain groups may seek out employers that offer the new normal workplace model.

There will be a number of employee and employer benefits to this continued model, even if organisations may have little choice but to limit the numbers of workers on-site going forward. Staggered shifts, enforced flexi-time, and 24/7 operations may become the norm, along with working remotely or via shared ‘hot-desking’ offices. To manage this cultural shift in the new normal workplace, especially onsite and within an employee’s home, new management, HR and OH&S policies and practices will be important to manage and resolve remote team issues.

Technology

This is hardly a surprise, as technology has been changing the workplace for many years and will continue to do so.  However, the speed at which we have had to accept and adopt change has meant many businesses in our sector (including CGC Recruitment) have changed their operating model and went agile in days or weeks, not months or years, largely thanks to readily-available technology.

Yes, there are security challenges, communications nuances, and frustrating video calls that lag, but the bottom line is that staff are operational in entirely new and unusual ways/circumstances. Even those companies that didn’t have the latest technologies had to quickly pivot, adapt, and make do with their existing systems in place. It’s likely that technology will become increasing integrated into the new normal workplace setup, as well as our professional and personal devices.

While some companies have found this relatively easy, of course others have found it more difficult or complex and are reduced to playing catch-up. This is a challenge for many CIOs and Operations Managers to address, as companies continuously improve their technology to better support their remote/off site workers.

New ways to collaborate

In a new survey from Asana, the Anatomy of Work, it was suggested that 98 percent of Australians were using a work management platform, messaging app or video conferencing, to enable them to continue working during the lockdown and restrictions.  With the improved technology discussed above, and more people working out of the office, turning to virtual collaboration tools to run meetings, share information securely from one central place, and work together remotely will become the new normal.

Tools like Trello, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams have become essential during the pandemic for teams to operate remotely. Although it’s 100% possible to make remote team collaboration work, it would be unrealistic to say it’ll be easy for everyone, as virtual team management comes with real challenges.  Each company will approach this differently, finding new ways to collaborate via the latest communications solutions.

Well-being and a focus on people

Like many of these topics, prioritising well-being and your people is theoretically not new. However, most companies shouldn’t have to use or tested this approach company-wide before. These new operating models are forcing businesses to rapidly change and while that might be good for some people, others may struggle. Worker well-being may also be increasingly difficult to pick up on as staff work more remotely and don’t meet as often face to face.

Whether you want to know how to manage a remote workforce, or your current staff is transitioning to a flexible work situation, here are some of the most common people problems/considerations:

  • Communication – arguably, one of the biggest challenges for companies transitioning to remote work as managers and staff must communicate more openly. In a time when people could feel more isolated than ever – the more you can facilitate strong connections, the better your communication and productivity will be.
  • Miscommunication/misinterpretation - With a lack of physical body language and increased virtual messaging, messages can easily be misinterpreted, which can lead to frustration and issues. Clear and simple, task-orientated communications can put an end to these before they disrupt work or teams.
  • Trust – leaders cannot monitor or assess employees in the same way, even if they’re only a few kilometres away. This may lead to heavier time and task management, and managers need to be careful not to micro-manage teams, possibly impacting trust.
  • Maintaining a schedule – just because we’re working from home doesn’t mean core hours are obsolete. Some businesses may already be more flexible than others, however, if appropriate and where it supports productively it may be helpful to maintain a work schedule. This isn’t just about those who struggle with discipline, we also have to consider those who may overwork due to a lack of separation of work from their home life.
  • Conflicts – lastly, conflicts can occur within any team, regardless of location – but a lack of face-to-face communication can make things trickier to manage. If a conflict does arise, do your best to stop it in its tracks. Schedule a video call in which people can air their grievances and opinions. Remote work can often make people feel less connected with their co-workers, so when you’re addressing problems, it’s important to reinstate that feeling of camaraderie.

What’s next?

All we really know is that change is here to stay, to a lesser or greater degree, for all businesses big and small. This will hugely impact how we recruit, retain, manage, and motivate teams. 

As recently reported in the AFR, even global giants like Worley Parsons are having to adapt, citing the current economic conditions as a catalyst for major change. The company announced in May that 46,000 of their people won’t be going back to “the office”, in favour of move flexible work arrangements.  Worley is even developing its own technologies to help support staff as it implements a new working/business model globally.

CGC in Focus – supporting our clients and industry

At CGC Recruitment, our team of experienced consultants specialise in all major infrastructure, engineering, and construction sectors.  We help clients throughout Australia deliver their projects by attracting the best candidates and talent.

To best support our industry and share our recruitment insights, we have created CGC In Focus.  This is our response to the unprecedented business environment, demonstrating where we see recruitment challenges and opportunities for both our clients and candidates to achieve positive personal, professional, and commercial outcomes. To register for a copy of CGC in Focus, click here.

Alternatively, to discuss a recruitment matter, connect with CGC today and one of our experienced consultants will be happy to help.

PRE-REGISTER TO THE CGC IN FOCUS REPORT