Reflections on the past few months of work 
 
Back in March, just before the UK went into Lockdown, I wrote a blog to capture my feelings at the time.  
 
I had just started working from home and my daily work life was centred around listening to the daily 5 pm briefings, after which my team and I would try to work out what that meant for our organisation. When we were asked to “Stay home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives”, I knew that things in the world of work were about to change. 
 
Some of the things we had to do to support our staff and some of the decisions we were having to take were certainly unprecedented. Even Employment lawyers were perplexed, many briefings had caveats as there was no test case to work on. We were advised to use common sense, be pragmatic and what I call “Put the human in HR”. This was a time like no other and we simply had to do what we had to do to support our staff. Wellbeing started to appear on the agenda. 
 
Five months on, so much has changed. Wellbeing remained at the top of the agenda…and Diversity and Inclusion came on the agenda, following the death of George Floyd. COVID-19 was found to disproportionately affect people from the BAME population so that really got people talking. This time the response and the narrative appeared different, the ‘Black lives matter’ movement gained worldwide traction. 
 
Does the future mean a different kind of work-life? 
 
A year ago, not many people had heard of Zoom or used platforms like MS Teams or Google meet. Now, even the most technophobe among us is conversant with using one of these for everything from work to social events, even DJs hosting Friday night Zoom parties. 
 
However, Zoom fatigue quickly set in as people started to feel the ills of being tied to a computer screen all day long. 
 
Working from home meant that there was no demarcation of work/home life. With schools closed, there was also the challenge of ensuring that children were occupied, so there was the challenge of home-schooling and work. The teacher in me started well with my 15-year-old son. We devised a timetable and I thought that it was a good opportunity to improve his French (I used to be a French teacher) and for him to learn about other fun stuff so the timetable also included time for French and “Cultural studies.’ For the latter, I would set him a research task to look up a story or a fact which we discussed afterwards. It was fun to start with but after about a month, we found it difficult to keep up as his school was sending him a lot of work and I was busy too. 
 
Many people had never really worked from home before and experienced this for the first time. As with everything in life, there is always a trade-off. Whilst some people have enjoyed working from home, some have hated it, not only because they miss the social interaction, the coffee machine banter, the lovely lunches, but also because their home life may not be conducive to home working. 
 
As lockdown eased and business started to open up again the issue of safe working spaces became a priority for employers considering bringing staff back to the office. Having to complete risk assessments and make the work environment COVID-secure is no mean feat. This is a huge undertaking for even the largest companies. So I am not surprised that some organisations announced that they won’t be returning to their workspaces until at least 2021. 
 
At one point during Lockdown, there was talk of the end of the office. Is this the end of work as we know it? Lots of surveys have taken place to find out how people feel about a return to their offices. Results are similar all-round showing that whilst people don’t want a return to the old way of life, the long hours, the long commute, people want greater flexibility in how they work. According to a survey by Mind Gym 2/3 of people would like to continue to work from home in some sort of capacity.  
 
What is the impact of this for managers and people leaders? What does this mean for the world of work as we know it? 
 
The fact is that for most office-based roles, things are unlikely to go back to the way they were. Employment Law has not changed as yet but I am certain that flexible working will become the ‘new norm’. How can a business reject an employee’s request for flexible working when it has been proven that the job can be done remotely? 
 
Managing a team remotely and monitoring performance is one of the areas managers worry about. What happens if you are concerned about the performance of your team/member of staff when you are not able to do this as you are used to? 
 
The usual approach to performance management will need to adapt to fit the ‘new normal’. It will take time, but businesses will need to use this opportunity to develop better people management techniques. 
 
Here are a few tips on managing staff remotely: 
 
• Out of sight, not out of mind - Managers should try to maintain regular contact with team members and hold regular one to one meetings. This does not mean checking up on people every minute but regular check-ins to find out how they are doing, not just from a work perspective, but also from a wellbeing perspective. That will drive engagement and help people feel a sense of belonging. 
• Set clear objectives and have clarity. 
• Some of the pre-COVID objectives may have changed, with the business operating differently. The new environment may even mean that some of the objectives are difficult to achieve or no longer relevant. It is a good idea to review these, refocus, reset and clarify what is more achievable Set SMART targets and be realistic. 
• Focus on delivery and effectiveness and not how many hours people are tied to their computers. 
• Be flexible and understand that with working from home, some people’s home environment might be challenging. What’s important is delivery. As a manager, if you notice that someone is not producing work to the required standard, find out why and have a conversation and offer support just like you would in the office. 
 
Wellbeing/Health and Safety is now a thing 
 
One of the positive outcomes I have seen in this crisis is the fact that everyone is now talking about the Wellbeing agenda. With some people having to deal with illness, the loss of loved ones, losing their jobs, coping with working from home, kids being home-schooled etc, we have had to understand that we are human and that we need to take care of ourselves. The good employers have all ramped up staff support, had regular communications with staff and ensured that people have the support they need. 
 
As we move towards further easing of lockdown, and face more uncertainty, I do hope that this continues. 
 
 
 
 
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