More people than ever are working remotely or in changed circumstances that are, for some, far from ideal.
Not only is there disruption to the working environment, we are having to juggle added stresses like caring responsibilities, job security worries and the practicalities of working from home.
But amid the current wide-sweeping changes the crisis has created, there is also now momentum for transformation in our workplaces in the long term. When the lockdown ends, employers cannot ‘go back’ to how things were – for the interest of the business and their employees. So, what does the workplace look like beyond COVID-19?
With the government advising that everyone who can work from home should do so, the ‘new normal’ has presented challenges for managers and teams that might not have worked remotely before.
Logistically, employees are having to find suitable places in their homes to set up shop, battling with overwhelmed WiFi networks and new or changed working systems.
But while 70% of people say they have never previously worked from home, many are now adapting well. Recently I spoke to Linda Aiello, senior vice president of International Employee Success at Salesforce, an organisation that has championed remote working for some time. She said we have disproved the idea that it’s not possible to do certain jobs at home.
It seems impossible that organisations which have resisted giving people the option working from home can continue to do so. This will have been a learning curve for many employers, and some will have managed it better than others.
At MHFA England we have published free resources to help people thrive, and protect their mental health, whilst we continue work from home.
We’re learning more about each other’s personal lives and the impact this can have on our wellbeing and productivity. Flexible working to accommodate for home-schooling or caring responsibilities may have now become the norm for some who were used to commuting and the nine-to-five.
As employers, we must continue to trust our people to juggle these responsibilities with their work as best they can when our offices reopen.
It’s important to remember that everyone will be challenged by the situation differently; some may thrive, some may not even be in a safe or happy environment.
Managers might have found their meetings have been as much about checking in on people’s wellbeing as discussing work. That line of communication needs to remain open as the situation continues to develop and our people adapt accordingly.
Creating an atmosphere where people open up and discuss their concerns can also help empower them to be their ‘whole self’ while at work.
Google’s Aristotle study showed that people who feel safe enough to be vulnerable with each other and share their worries will form more collaborative, more innovative and ultimately higher performing teams in the long term. Sustaining this atmosphere could be a game-changer for the nation’s workplace culture.
Coronavirus has forced us all to rethink ways of doing things. The crisis presents numerous challenges but also long term opportunities for change. It is driving forward innovation in a whole range of areas and businesses need to make the most of it and adapt their people management policies to thrive in a post-COVID future.
Simon Blake is CEO of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.