It’s time to welcome staff 'forward not back'
Don't say to your employees "welcome back" as they return to the office after COVID-19 restrictions ease. It is all about "welcome forward".
That's the message from the state's top human resource experts who QBM and BDO gathered for a virtual boardroom lunch this month on the topic of workforce transformation.
Flexible work arrangements plus a suite of new health and safety initiatives and social distancing requirements will dramatically reshape the look and feel of most workplaces.
McCullough Robertson head of human resources operations, Leah King, says: "We shouldn't be welcoming people back to work, we should be welcoming them forward because ultimately we don't want to be going backward."
Seqwater general manager of people, culture and safety Melissa Williams shares this view.
"We don't want to revert to the old ways," she says. "I want to come out of this (COVID-19 period) as an employer of choice.
"I want people to say we managed it really well and we learned lessons from it."
But she says there are challenges, with a lot more "consideration, planning and time" going into the task of returning workers to the office than the almost overnight decision for everyone to start working from home.
"There is a lot that worked for us before that doesn't work for us now," she says.
For Martin Pearce, national support manager of Lift Brands, which owns a portfolio of businesses including Snap Fitness, the landscape for his industry has fundamentally changed.
For instance, gym goers will no longer be able to wipe down equipment with their towels.
"In the fitness industry ... the standard will be set really high from a compliance point of view," he says.
Endeavour Foundation executive general manager people and culture, Paula Holden, says the use of technology tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams had allowed her organisation's office staff to successfully work from home.
The not-for-profit group is gearing up for the return of 2500 workers post pandemic.
"Returning people is a lot more difficult than relocating people from the office because we have a lot more compliance that sits around that now," she says, noting that Endeavour had put a lot of effort into the logistics of how the office space will function, including the removal of furniture from kitchen areas and handles from some doors.
The HR industry anticipates one of the biggest legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic will be workplace flexibility, especially for office staff.
McCullough Robertson had about 20 per cent of its 420 staff working remotely one day a week pre-COVID-19 and went to almost 100 per cent in March. What percentage it will be 12 months from now is the big question, says King.
"What has been most surprising has been how quickly such a diverse group of people - in terms of a mixed generation workforce - has adapted to the work from home model," she says.
"There are a lot of changed mindsets. I think flexible work in the legal space has been quite slow moving up until this point. I think we have probably fast forwarded five years in the space of three months."
BDO associate director people advisory Joe Occhino believes attitudes towards work have changed, based on his discussions with clients.
"We have already had the change of mindset which is often the biggest barrier when it comes to change," he says. But he warns that those organisations that don't become more flexible will do so at their peril. He said in the early 2000s, the Google-style offices, enticing staff with ping pong tables and lolly jars, were considered the employers of choice.
"My feeling is that after COVID-19, workplace flexibility is going to be the differentiating factor."
Holden said Endeavour is currently surveying its workforce about their future. "I think the power of the masses will drive it," she says
One of Queensland's biggest companies Domino's Pizza Enterprises got ahead of the pack earlier this month and announced it would allow 250 of its head office staff to work from home, indefinitely after an internal survey showed that is what 85 per cent of staff wanted.
Williams says the work-from-home model still has to prove itself, over the longer term.
"We are all citing it as a success but we did it under COVID circumstances and there wasn't a choice so we had to make it work," she says.
"We also had a whole heap of leniency because of the extreme circumstances. I think there is a healthy level of caution that needs to be about whether it was a success. It was a success in a period of crisis."
For the HR industry, the COVID-19 period could prove to be a watershed era, Occhino says.
"The real opportunity for (people in HR) is to take a seat in the C-suite in a strategic role rather than a supporting function. That is the true opportunity to seize on," he says.
Originally published as It's time to welcome staff "forward not back"