Use the Pandemic to Accelerate Your Workplace Transformation

When going through the trends identified in the Forbes article I referred to in my previous two blog posts and “the next normal” of work, there is a strong link with a single trend that needs to be applied or considered when looking at all the trends.

So, while this week’s blog looks at workplace transformation, I believe the adoption and success of workplace transformation lies in the workforce – the human. While identified as a standalone trend, Employee Wellbeing will continue to be a focal point when unpacking all the trends and most definitely when it comes to operational change.

Old Mutual did a study recently that shows that around 56% of South Africans are still working from home (or a split between home and another location). I think companies are now looking at permanent strategies that adopt a longer-term work-from-home approach. This is the reality of “the next normal”, where last year businesses scrambled to set up a remote workforce, it’s now become the norm.

While the concept is not new – there needs to be some work that looks at how companies use the pandemic to move their workforce into a new way of working quicker. And, where work-from-home is not an option, the workplace needs to be prepped for safety and optimized productivity.

I could probably write a blog on each of the below areas that need to be considered in your workplace transformation.

  1. Business and Leadership Maturity

I’ve put this as my first point for a reason. I read a stat from a recent study by Robert Walters, a global recruitment agency, that many senior leadership prefer a “bums on seat” approach to white-collar working. I was taken aback and realized the biggest barrier to a transformed workplace sits with leadership maturity – and even bigger – trust.

This is very much a South African culture. We are still behind when it comes to the whole flexible, remote working model. The “If I can see you – you’re working” mindset. The fact that this is just a pure mindset issue was confirmed for me when the study continued to say 66% of the same respondents said they saw an increase in productivity.

Given the stat around an increase in productivity, I am not sure there is much more to say around this one. Mindset is not always an easy thing to change, but the journey needs to begin. Start with the cost-saving and productivity improvements that this opportunity presents.

  1. Policy – Policy – Policy

Dust off the employment and company policy templates. We cannot simply use the same templates and wording if we want to accelerate change.

Given the longevity of COVID and the impact it has on the way we work, policies are even more relevant. Recruitment, performance management, engagement, and general management of teams have drastically changed.

Policies and employment contracts need to be drafted to include work-from-home, in-office or blended work processes and procedures. The below are some points to consider:

  • Work hours and online etiquette. The standard working hours in contracts may not apply – for both work from home and blended. If you work from home, you don’t always have to work within the standard 8-5 model – you can manage those hours throughout the day. Some consideration would need to be given to certain periods that staff should be behind their PCs – job dependent. For blended working, you would need to ascertain the percentage in and out of office hours.
  • Poly-jobbing. Something interesting that came out of the previously mentioned Old Mutual study was the concept of Poly-jobbing. Given the unemployment rate, you often find that the younger generation are forced to innovate and find additional revenue streams. Any “moonlighting” previously would be a big no-no. Given the changes in the economy etc., companies might need to consider how employment contracts deal with this concept.
  • Vaccination policies and/or in-office safety protocols. Mandatory vaccinations continue to be a contentious issue (See a blog we recently wrote on this). In terms of in-office safety protocols, the HR teams will need to work closely with the facilities teams to ensure the regulations are adhered to. I have come across smart work technologies that help large businesses with this – integrated scheduling, alerts when office space is too full, temperature and ventilation controls that ensure airflow is at the correct levels to reduce the spread of germs etc. These may be some of the investment’s companies may need to make if in-office is their only option.
  • Residential moves/changes. This is an interesting one, and something that has recently come up quite often when talking to peers and friends who work in this space. It seems that many employees are using this work-from-home situation as an opportunity to move out of town, to different provinces and so forth. A company’s position on this will need to be made clear in workplace contracting and policies. If you are at all planning to return to the office, blended or have the requirement for salespeople for example to still visit clients – Employees will need to know that they would have to apply to HR and their manager to get this type of relocation approved.

A closing point on this. Companies will also be open to the fact that they may need to tailor contracts per employee. Employees are now working as individuals and will want their contracts and terms of employment to be negotiated based on their unique situations.

  1. Technology

World-Wide Worx (WWW) conducted a survey among 400 firms in South Africa. It found that firms agreed on the necessity of developing digital transformation strategies, but that only 37% had produced such a strategy. Firms with such strategies in place before lockdown reported a 70% boost in productivity.

The investment in technology just simply becomes a necessity if you want to be productive. Given that there are some significant savings on coffee, tea, toilet paper, electricity, printing etc. I would say the best place to use these savings is in technology and the purchase of laptops and connectivity devices to make remote working possible.

Connectivity is the most important success factor for remote working. The WWW survey simply states – “Connectivity is the key to the digital office.”

Given the fact that South Africa does not have the digital infrastructure our global counterparts have, digitisation of the home office must consider the personal circumstances of the employee.  As such, companies will need to consider a variety of options here like mobile data connectivity, staff using existing fibre lines or their home Wi-Fi connectivity or even hot spotting to their phone.

This certainly does link in with the policy discussion earlier in the blog. You will need to be clear about the security of company assets and how the claim or subsidy process may work towards their internet costs and how the usage is managed.

  1. Employee Wellbeing, Communication and Culture

As I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, Employee Wellbeing will be the foundation of any “next normal” strategies including Workplace Transformation. Access to mentors, coaches and psychologists for staff mental wellbeing needs to be a priority. Following that, HR systems need to easy to use and accessible from anywhere so that its easy to participate in your wellbeing programmes company wide.

This leads me to communication. This is vital. If you have the right technology in place and you have set up a remote working environment successfully, the communicating should be easy – the commitment to communication is key.

You simply cannot maintain a company culture or implement any staff programme if you are not committed to communicating it. Start by using a single platform. In our business we got rid of all the comms channels we had like WhatsApp and other online tools. We now only use Microsoft Teams and it has made a huge difference. It has also drastically cut out unnecessary emails sent and received – much to my own relief with #killtheemail having been on the agenda of many management discussions. It has now become entrenched in the business and it’s the only way we communicate with each other, allows us to collaborate with each other and ensures all team members are in-the-know.

Onboarding is another consideration. Make sure you have a slick and exciting online onboarding programme. You need to make the new starter see and feel the company they are joining. A simple idea is to get your leadership team to call or send a personal message to new joiners to make them feel welcome.

Make the effort to meet with your teams regularly and have business-wide online get-togethers. Put the cameras on, it makes such a difference to see people in these meetings to keep the comradery going as you would experience in the office and the interactions become much more personal.

In Conclusion

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to transforming the workplace. I probably could have covered many transformation strategies but believe the above is a good place for a business to start. A topic I didn’t unpack in this article is Learning and Development, which is an area that could be included under this trend but feel that there is so much to cover on this. My next blog post will look solely at the importance of innovating your Learning and Development strategies in “the next normal’.

About the author

Scott Barrett is the Managing Director at NOVA Human Capital Solutions – a full-service Payroll & HR consulting and outsourcing partner. Scott founded NOVA 16+ years ago, built on a passion to create solutions that support businesses of all sizes manage their most valuable asset – their people! Scott’s previous positions were all the Human Capital space where he has built up over 21 years of knowledge on Payroll and HR systems, best practice, and consulting to name a few. Scott has built a team at NOVA that have deep experience and knowledge in this space and are fanatical about their customer’s growth & success.