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The post-Covid-19 workplace

In South Africa, like in all other countries, Covid-19 has created a massive disruption unknown to current generations, forcing everyone to adjust at an equally fast and somewhat disruptive pace. Employers had to alter their workplaces rapidly to make way for remote workstations, and focus on improved and innovative ways of keeping their business afloat while also easing employees’ concerns to reduce stress during the national, and to some extent worldwide, lockdown.

South Africa is well on its way to opening sectors and workplaces, albeit with a stringent list of health and safety regulations and directives – businesses will now be operating in largely uncharted waters for some time to come.

From an employee’s perspective this adds to the already high levels of stress and anxiety, as they will all be returning to an unrecognisable life, in many forums referred to as the ‘new normal’.

Fears are now mainly about what the life post-Covid-19 will look like. In the workplace it could be emotionally draining, impeding creativity and innovation.

The future for both business and employment is unpredictable, but trends are emerging, and the more we can spot them, the better our chances are of securing our jobs, businesses and futures.

Businesses need to adjust and acknowledge the long-term effects of and changes Covid-19 will make in the workplace and adjust to thrive in these turbulent times. This may mean expanding product offerings, altering services and transforming physical-contact retail to online stores. The focus should mainly be on retaining and attracting customers post-Covid-19 by continuously exploring various marketing strategies, as they may be ever-changing during this time of adjustment.

‘I understand that it is hard for everyone, but one cannot give in to emotions ... we'll have to draw lessons from the current crisis and now we'll have to work on overcoming it.’ Boris Yeltsin

The changes we are witnessing, although they have been sped up, were inevitable. We have been operating in a VUCA environment for some time: volatile, unstable, complex and ambiguous. The current pandemic may speed up the trend towards automatisation to eliminate human contact and minimise the spread of the coronavirus. The world may in many ways become ‘hands-free’ as delivery of products and services may, wherever possible, become contactless.

The workplace after Covid-19 will see an influx of talent as well as skills and abilities to work remotely. Soon we will be seeing a more agile workplace with headquarters, satellite offices and remote working options, all delivering a customised and high-quality user experience. This new way of working will be supported by the needs and insecurities of employees returning to the workplace, as they may feel uncomfortable working in close proximity to others in the fear of contracting the virus.

Covid-19 has to date made and will for the foreseeable future continue making people feel lonely, isolated and helpless, especially those who lost their jobs, businesses and loved ones. Added to this, the general uncertainty may create a heightened level of burnout and unease. Employers should therefore provide employees with the opportunity to develop new skills to balance professional and personal lives in the same space.

Companies should focus on a leaner, more agile and operationally effective way of working to thrive in VUCA environments.

Solving both the workplace and mental challenges of Covid-19 will be critical in the success and survival of businesses. All of this has a deep-seated impact on productivity, employee engagement and the ability to adapt to the changing environment and adversity.

Understanding social connections formed between employees from shared experiences and opinions can unlock business success and greatly assist with new workforce structures.

Employers and employees alike are encouraged to turn these challenges into opportunities and rise to the occasion as well as possible.

Source: Chantell Gericke │ Chartered HR Professional │ SABPP 57408035

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