So, what is the new normal?

Voices from the HR community share their thoughts on the new world of work.

As Covid-19 forced us to change the way we work, there have been questions about what the world after the pandemic will look like. Here are five articles published in 2020 wherein voices from the HR community world share their thoughts on the new world of work.

1 Embracing the chaos

In a CHRSO SA webinar, author and employee engagement guru Debra Corey spoke about how the pandemic had intensified the urge to connect.

“I read a study recently that said social connection is as important for one's health as eating vegetables, exercising and getting sleep,” she said, adding that Covid-19 has allowed people to feel more comfortable being themselves.

“I'm sure you have seen it in your organisations as well, wherein the beginning, everybody was doing their Zoom meetings in professional attire while hiding their backgrounds. Now, people are allowing themselves to be who they are. Their children and pets interrupt them in meetings and it has led to people being more human.”

Debra said, however, that organisations needed to do a lot more to ensure that managers were clear on demands faced by teams and given the tools to deliver on it.

“All of a sudden we are expecting managers to lead in different ways and we really need to support them. We can’t assume that they just know how to manage a flexible workforce,” she said.

2 The new work order: lessons from Absa

Absa group’s executive: people and culture Dr Roze Phillips suggested remote work as a talent strategy.

Speaking at the 2020 HR Indaba Network Roze says the digital agility they developed in recent years enabled the majority of Absa’s 40,000 employees to move off-site when the lockdown was announced. Absa supported this move by allowing employees to take home screens and desks, increasing cyber-security measures and boosting the group’s VPN network.

What started as a healthcare strategy has evolved into what Roze now appreciates as a talent strategy: “Digital has made us location-agnostic. We can source talent from anywhere in the world. We can also tap into the gig economy more easily and reach talent who don’t necessarily want to be full-time employees.”

3 Head office - the silent killer

Author Ian Russel pointed out that just a few years ago, the end of the physical office space was widely predicted, as mobile, location-independent working was seen as the future for most employees. 

He asks why this trend has not materialised and offers three simple reasons: business ego, the role a building plays in reinforcing employee hierarchy and control, and the social cohesion that being together in one place creates for groups of employees. 

He explains that “the office bleeds the business dry because, not only are running costs and overheads massive, real estate, combined with a  lack of trust creates an employee ‘presenteeism’ problem. There is also the inward cost in the nature of a head office in so far as it detracts from having a customer focus. Organisations start to believe that it is as important as the ego statement of the building itself. That’s all before we even talk about Covid-19 type risks.”

4 Directorship in the age of Covid-19

Metaco founder Barbara Walsh explains how director roles have changed in light of Covid-19.

She says that while the role of the board is the creation of prosperity and value, undoubtedly the key in doing so lies in enabling executive, management, interdisciplinary and cross-functional teams to perform and deliver to the best of their ability. It is this Systemic leadership that allows for a collective effort to deliver significantly more than the sum of the parts.

In this respect, a key focus for the board is leveraging a network of teams within the organisation while also easing pressure by taking on the task of considering and engaging with external stakeholders such as governments, regulators, debtors, creditors, major customers, community organisations and yes, even the environment.

5 The new norms of working from home

American recruitment site Joblist, surveyed people working from home to track some of the most common habits they may be developing.

With more than 60 percent of employed Americans working from home at some point during the pandemic, and many continuing to do so indefinitely, employees are starting to develop new habits in their professional lives. 

Separating work from life can get much more difficult when your office overlaps with domestic life. Seventy percent of employees working from home confessed to distractions like multitasking during the workday, followed by too much screen time (58 percent), checking their phones continuously (50 percent), skipping meals (36 percent), and struggling to adapt to remote technology (35 percent).  With so many people navigating remote work for the first time, adapting to the increase in conference calls, emails, and video chatting can further complicate the struggle of working from home. More than one in 10 employees polled (12.6 percent) acknowledged they didn’t have a dedicated workspace while working remotely.