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What does the new normal look like?

When planning around COVID was first catapulted into the boardroom of organisations, there was tremendous readiness by most tech companies to adopt this new way of work.  For the most part, teams were well equipped with the relevant mobile infrastructure such as laptops, personal smart phones, data/home internet to enable teams to continue working with limited disruption.

But with the realisation that these remote working arrangements are sure to last considerably longer than first hoped, we’d do well to review the effectiveness and evolution of the requirements to remain optimal from a home-office/study or in many cases the dining room table, co-inhabited by children who are dialling in to remote classrooms.

Key to sustainable business operations is access to reliable internet and connectivity to the enterprise.

This trumped only in a South African context by managing disruption to power given ongoing load-shedding schedules.  The cost of UPS devices has seen a drastic rise due to increased demand and furnishing every employee with such a device is not always practical. This means that organisations need to get creative about how these unique challenges are managed, such as flexible work schedules to accommodate planned load shedding.

In a transformation workplace, communication and collaboration channels need to simulate the face-to-face experience.  These channels allow for real-time knowledge sharing, team performance and engagement. Tools such as Miro or Trello are great tools to track input and collaboration as virtual whiteboards, accessible by members of the team, regardless of location. Similarly, communication platforms that have broad reach are highly valuable in ensuring wider communication.  Microsoft Teams for example is hugely popular as it caters for larger numbers and has a side-line ‘conversation’ allowing for participation from the team during the meeting.

Team building has also seen a shift in medium with many teams utilising online/virtual games to socially-interact with one another and foster ongoing cohesion and a sense of belonging.  These are important to ensure that the company culture is maintained, and during periods of lock-down and ongoing social distancing, provide a welcomed source of entertainment and variety – at work and at home.

It is encouraging to see how many companies have adapted their service offerings to succeed in a virtual world. Event companies for example, have successfully modified once-IRL (in real life) events to online events.  These include online dinner-party games, family treasure-hunts or virtual Escape Rooms – all of which provide that welcomed reprieve from lock-down fatigue.

The fitness industry has also moved to online in their endeavours to survive, with online gym workout sessions for the entire family, and if you are with incentivised wellness providers, you are still eligible to earn your points for every workout completed.

Health and wellness are vital particularly during social-distancing and uncertainty, and business and individuals should be placing focus on such. There is a dire need to take care of yourself and your teams, even if you aren’t able to ‘force’ a gym session on a reluctant employee, business must keep on top of general employee wellbeing i.e. mental / emotional health. Survey tools are particularly useful in temperature checking employee sentiment during these challenging times.

By measuring your team’s emotional wellbeing, organisations are more adept at identifying risks to the team.  Synthesis has developed a fantastic tool, called “Pulse” which allows us to temperature check our team’s health weekly. Where we detect issues, we can conduct individual deep dives to better support our teams and mitigate challenges to the business. We have found this to be so successful in identifying employee trends that we have launched this as an additional Synthesis technical offering.

Another factor to consider as we plan for prolonged working from home arrangements is the average employee’s office set-up. Given that many of our teams were pre-COVID office-based, there is a chance that home offices are not ergonomically optimal, which in the long term could result in physical health complaints such as musculoskeletal pain.

Awareness of the importance of proper posture and work-from-home space planning is necessary for organisations to help employees monitor their physical wellbeing. Sending out mail-flyers with sound advice and simple home tricks will ensure that your teams are better informed and less likely to cause neck and back ache which left untreated could result in absence due to the need for recovery.

This pandemic has forced businesses to rapidly review the way we and our people work and the challenges that they may face. The ‘new’ normal is weird yet wonderful in many respects; we all need to adapt quickly to survive, and hopefully post-COVID, to ultimately thrive.

Article by Aimeé McNamara, Human Resources Manager at Synthesis

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