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Looking back on how COVID-19 changed the workplace forever
15 July 2021
COVID-19 left no industry untouched. Many
businesses spent the early months of last year racing against the clock to
adapt their spaces and operations to meet new health regulations, however, the
new normal seems to keep raising more and more changes to the work environment
as we know it. Whether they are retail or office based, companies around Australia
are still trying to come to grips with the new workplace paradigm in which safety
and flexibility are paramount.
One of the most important elements of the
post-pandemic work environment was the addition of social distancing
regulations. These varied from country to country and from industry to
industry, however, official guidance generally required businesses to ensure
staff and customers were always roughly 2 meters apart. These regulations seem
to be easing across the globe as vaccines continue to roll-out and the threat
of the pandemic begins to subside, however recent outbreaks across Australia
and the emergence of the Delta variant illustrate the potential for regulations
being upheld until the start of 2022 at the earliest.
Beyond this measure, businesses are continuing
to play it safe and take additional steps to reduce risks, bolster their
amenities, and make changes to the work environment as needed. Key methods of continued
- Increasing the number of
no-touch surfaces, such as faucets, door handles, rubbish bins, etc.
- Providing resources to staff to
ensure they follow health guidelines regarding hand washing and sanitising.
- Stepping up the cleaning and
disinfection schedule using approved products.
- Improving building ventilation
by supplementing HVAC systems with outdoor ventilation where air quality
permits it, switching to the highest possible level of central air filtration,
and keeping ventilation systems running for as long as possible even after the
working day is over.
- Incentivising mobility
alternatives that facilitate social distancing. This could mean encouraging
remote work, walking, carpooling, or cycling to the office instead of using
Hybrid working practices: Another aspect
of the new normal
Flexible work arrangements served as an
effective way of maintaining a healthy work environment during the pandemic
downtime. So much so, that flexible and hybrid working practices could very
well be here to stay. Some of the world’s most influential businesses
(including influential Australian businesses such as Canva and Atlassian) have
jumped on the remote working bandwagon and championed it as a long-term trend that
is set to become the rule
rather than the exception.
To comply with social distancing regulations,
some businesses limited the number of employees allowed in the workplace at the
same time. This required finding alternatives to keep their workforce
productive while keeping occupancy rates low. For many, this has meant
rethinking their corporate real estate strategy and moving away from traditional
workspaces and encouraging flexible office solutions that facilitate a hybrid working model.
But effective hybrid work arrangements mean
more than having employees work from home. Switching to a virtual workplace
successfully involves empowering staff with the tools
and resources they need to make the transition easier. This could mean
digitising information management systems, developing proprietary software, and
using asynchronous team communication tools if the workforce is geographically
Flexible hours and remote meetings can also
help comply with social distancing requirements. Some other options that may
- Staggering start and end times
to reduce commuting at peak times.
- Implementing rotating shifts.
The flexibility and changes to work
practices we have witnessed over the last 18 months have dramatically expanded our
previous notions of productivity and, if implemented wisely, they may pave the
way for a better work-life balance and increased employee satisfaction.