Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. The coronavirus is forcing businesses to rethink the way they do business. Chances are that some of the changes made will stick. This article explores how Covid-19 may have permanently changed the future and evolution of work in Zimbabwe. The definition of business, as usual, as we knew it has been changed forever.
Covid 19 has not only affected the health of employees but it has also affected the health of businesses. It has been affected in the following ways:
- The Introduction of Remote Working
Today, the average worker is in the office, but WHO has advised that anyone is seeing symptoms that may be coronavirus related, they should stay home. Remote working is also increasing as a means of practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has brought about business transformation in the form of remote working. It serves the needs of individual employees, it provides businesses with new resilient and adaptive ways to engage with their ecosystem and deliver economic value, and it serves the larger community by addressing public health needs. With these mutually supportive returns, the rapid pivot to remote working demonstrates stakeholder capitalism in practice.
Led by business in response to calls from the World Health Organization, it is having a daily impact in helping manage the coronavirus. Once it becomes clear that remote working works for most jobs, it will start to seem normal for people not to go in to work most days. So a steep drop in commuting, lower greenhouse-gas emissions from, and eventually a lot of empty office space in city centers causing commercial real estate costs to fall is expected. Remote work may become the norm in most of the formal business sector.
- The rise of concern for worker health
Worker health is being brought to the forefront. Multiple executive comments have noted that employee health is a paramount concern and things like cleaning and sterilization are being prioritized. Companies have also been forced to realise that the health of their workers significantly affects their business. This has seen a need to focus on both the physical and mental health of the employee for the benefit of the organisation. The duty on employers to ensure the health and safety of employees in the workplace extends to physical and mental health conditions triggered or exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak. At the very least, as the coronavirus continues to disrupt people's working lives, employers should remind their employees of the resources available to them. This may include a 'mental health champion' scheme at work, access to counselling services and the guidance available from the WHO, Mind, and Mental Health Foundation, among other organisations. Employers need to also be ready to assist workers who are physically ill by providing support.
- Introduction of new HR policies and procedures
HR practices will change. Fewer humans in one confined space may mean fewer human resource issues and investigations. Already stretched HR departments could allocate their time better. New policies and procedures will be added to the HR Manuals in response to the changes brought about by Covid 19.
Examples of such new policies include the following:
- Telecommuting policy
As more and more employees request the opportunity to perform some or all of their work from a remote location, the need has grown for organizations to have clearly defined guidelines that govern employee and company expectations and responsibilities.
This policy describes the organization's processes for requesting, obtaining, using, and terminating access to organization networks, systems, and data to enable staff members to regularly work remotely on a formal basis.
- Emergency-related Excused Absence
This policy will address the anticipated need for pay continuity throughout with a new, temporary benefit for staff, whose work is disrupted by the Coronavirus lockdowns and emergency.
- Introduction of Catastrophe pay
To cushion employees who are unable to work due to Covid 19 or other illnesses, businesses may choose to catastrophe pay. This can be by paying a portion of the employee's salary even if no work has been done.
- Introduction of disaster management in strategy formulation
Disaster preparedness refers to measures taken to prepare for and reduce the effects of disasters. That is, to predict and, where possible, prevent disasters, mitigate their impact on business and respond to and effectively cope with their consequences. This should now be a major component in strategy formulation so that companies at least have a guideline on how to react in the face of unexpected scares. This may involve hiring consultants to consider all risks which may come up and with plans to react or prevent them.
- The exponential rise of the IT department
The use of automation will be accelerated to augment the workforce. Who makes the decisions about digital technology: the CEO, the CIO or the IT team? Working in digital spaces is about more than just applying digital tools and technology. It is about thinking about new behaviors and making sure everyone can use any tech tools seamlessly. The coronavirus outbreak will lead IT organizations to look at how they are supporting remote work. This may also lead to new IT policies such as the following:
- Remote access policy
This policy outlines guidelines and processes for requesting, obtaining, using, and terminating remote access to organization networks, systems, and data. It applies to scenarios where employees connect remotely to in-house data centers as well as off-site facilities, such as cloud providers.
As more and more users work from remote locations, the need for secure access to networks, systems, and data continues to grow. This policy provides guidelines to help IT ensure that VPNs are properly deployed and outlines acceptable use policies for end-users on company-issued and personal devices.
Risk management involves the practice of addressing and handling threats to the organization in the form of cybersecurity attacks and compromised or lost data. The process of establishing appropriate risk management guidelines is critical to ensure company operations and reputation do not suffer the adverse impact.
- Trust between the employer and the employee
Some companies have taken the opportunity to fire workers. This will cause a rift between the employer and the employees. What holds a distributed and virtual workplace together is the trust, patience, and support employees have for one another. Providing access to online tools and collaboration platforms is only half of the equation. Trust, accountability, and results are thoroughly baked into its culture whether individuals work in the office or not.
Another attribute of remote working is the number of distractions. It’s a given that professional and personal worlds will collide in the virtual realm. Staying focused, eliminating distraction and actively engaging at the moment is critical for creating a purposeful and enabling remote working culture. If the employees remain engaged they will be able to overcome these.
The Covid-19 outbreak is just another chance for companies to re-examine the relationship between companies and employees, and to elevate their corporate culture to be mutually beneficial. Simply put, the coronavirus scare may just show us a better way to work. How businesses navigate the coronavirus and changes to work will be interesting.
Fadzai Danha is a consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm.
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