Workplaces after COVID: What you need to know

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an estimated four out of five workers impacted by lockdowns and being ordered to stay at home. Organisations have been challenged to be both responsive to the evolving situation, as well as re-work how they operate in the new business setting.

So, as we emerge from what seems to be the worst of the pandemic, and organisations now have to shift their focus to what business will look like in the organisational setting, there are some key areas that should be considered in order to ensure this occurs with minimal disruption.

While there is much uncertainty in the return to the office setting, what we can be certain of is that things will look different, and it will not simply be a return to old ways of doing business.

This pandemic has created an imperative opportunity for businesses to re-engage with the workforce and reinvent the way they operate, and whilst most businesses didn’t have the opportunity to plan the transition into working from home, they can plan how to transition back to the workplace.

There is little doubt that the physical workspace will need to look different post COVID-19. Factors such as ensuring a safe distance between employees and visitors, and safely managing the flow of people in and out of the workplace and even meeting room spacing will need to be considered.

Others such as cleaning protocols, what needs to be provided to employees to ensure hygiene compliance protocols are maintained, training and communication – ensuring staff working in various locations receive the same message, will also need to be considered.

Furthermore, from a workplace employment perspective there may be some important considerations employers need to be aware of. The landscape we have to operate in moving forward may require businesses to be more agile and responsive to potential downturns, including potentially responding to a second wave of COVID-19 or something similar.

Business planning and strategies should therefore focus on this agility competency. Attention should be given to the employment arrangements that are in place and whether they need to be adjusted for the employees’ return. Assessing whether they are flexible enough to respond to a second wave needs to be considered, and ensuring these arrangements are able to drive efficiencies should be given attention.

With regards to changes in employment status or the way some employees were engaged, employers should review any documentation that has been issued to employees during the pandemic such as stand-down notices or reduced work hours, and if they are now changing with the return to the workplace, then these will need to be updated to reflect the new conditions.

Employees on JobKeeper and those that have award variations for flexibility need to have their employment conditions reviewed as those arrangements come to an end. Ensuring that there is continued focus on award compliance and underpayments etc will still need to remain front of mind for employers as the old ways of work return.

Employers may also find there are more requests for flexibility in ways of working as part of the 10 National Employment Standards (NES), and so decisions being made around these need to ensure they are complying with the Fair Work Act decision-making framework.

Whilst it may all seem overwhelming with regards to the myriad of areas for consideration, there are a number of tools available to employers to assist with managing this transition, such as the Safe Work Australia information and the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission’s Planning tool to help businesses reopen and be COVIDSafe.

Story by Kathryne Wall, specialist senior HR Consultant with Rimfire Resources.

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