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2021 a fresh start and back to the office?

Getting work arrangements right will be a huge challenge for many workplaces.
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2021 a fresh start and back to the office?

2021 a fresh start and back to the office?

11 January 2021

By Siobhann Provost

Recent COVID-19 outbreaks in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria "demonstrate that this pandemic is far from over and bosses cannot expect or demand that staff will simply return to the workplace in January and carry on as though it’s business as usual,” said Maureen Kyne, from Maureen Kyne & Associates.

2021 will be an experiment in remote and blended work arrangements and getting it right will be a huge challenge for many workplaces, Maureen said.

The Victorian state government plans to open up Melbourne CBD to 50% office worker capacity from today and workers to be masked at all times.

She says employers’ number one priority must be to make sure their staff feel safe returning to the workplace.

Ms Kyne says companies need to rethink their workplace environments - because the new office requires a new understanding, new practices and a new work model.

“The workplace in 2021 is going to look very different and structures that embrace alternative working arrangements, such as hybrid teams, will become the norm but it will also expose flaws,” she says.
“The changing workforce dynamic requires business leaders to re-think their office locations and layouts, the skills they need from their staff and their company’s culture and policies to accommodate their employees’ health and safety needs.”

Tips for creating a new workplace in 2021

1. Staff Wellbeing

With different directives around who must return to work in the new year, Ms Kyne says many office workers may feel uncertain about new routines and safety around COVID-19. She says business leaders need to re-think which roles they need to have in the office, and plan to reduce the health risks. She says employers are responsible for ensuring all workers, including those who have been working from home, feel safe.

2. One Size May Not Fit All

The question around who stays home and who returns to work requires a re-think by company leaders.  Ms Kyne says some employees might dread the thought of commuting again and others might be longing for an actual office space to separate their work and home lives.

She says managers must consult with staff about whether working from home is an appropriate arrangement and discuss alternative options around returning to work. She says transitioning into the new workplace requires leaders to reach out to their employees and understand their different skillsets and goals and work with them to shape their new workforce.

3. New Workplace Model

Businesses risk creating two very different organisational cultures - an office and a remote workplace - and when this happens, Ms Kyne says companies risk losing skilled workers, jeopardising team dynamics and compromising a sense of belonging, common purpose, and shared identity that inspires all of us to do our best work.

She says bosses need to reset expectations and drive new ways of working.  

4. Talent and Productivity

As remote work becomes more normalised, Ms Kyne says it may become harder to retain employees. Switching back from a highly flexible environment to crowded offices, set schedules and long commutes may no longer be practical or attractive. She warns forcing staff back into the office may result in job losses and a damaged culture.

Her advice is to keep your workers at the centre of culture and foster a more collaborative work environment to ensure the changes made, are for the better.

5. Team Dynamics

Ms Kyne says many companies moved to working from home in an ad-hoc way because they needed to - but the forced reality of remote working means companies now need to carry out detailed risk assessments to ensure the correct team dynamics are in place and remote working policies reflect the new workplace.

The risk of not addressing these five key elements will result in a variety of claims that are underpinned by bullying behaviour described Ms Kyne.

She says it would be a lot easier to manage staff if they all worked the same way but the post COVID culture of going back to the old ways of five days a week in the office means the structure and social side of our working life is possibly gone forever.

“Organisations need to address how they define their culture and workplace in 2021 because many workers will miss that camaraderie and collaboration the workplace provides.”

“How we work, commute, congregate and move within the workplace and connect has change and with this brings a whole new level of anxiety”.

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