Few businesses would doubt that the pandemic has had a challenging impact on the way businesses and sectors have needed to revise how work is undertaken, not only in the UK but across the world. Probably one of the most far reaching changes in this regard is the increasing use of technology platforms in the world of work, albeit that trends were already underway in this area before the start of the pandemic.
Before 2020, few would have predicted these trend would become seismic shifts and lead to fundamental change.
Businesses have had to adopt new management techniques for managing employees who work remotely in the ways of managing workloads and supporting and engaging teams remotely. A key implication of this is to recognise the impact on mental health, which has increasingly been a feature of concerns as this new way of working has evolved.
For managers, this has often resulted in meeting new staff for the first time virtually and in home surroundings, which can often include seeing their children, pets and a range of behaviours. Whilst many of these encounters can be productive and at times enlightening and entertaining, the challenges for managers are profound in terms of ensuring consistent application of policy practice and procedures.
It is likely, as we enter into this new way of working, that the challenges to traditional management structures will cause a drift from managing inputs and actions, to assessing outcomes. It is also likely that one of the consequences of these shifts will be the introduction of flatter and more flexible structures, a trend which was already being considered by many organisations.
Whatever the outcome, the pandemic is likely to drive and accelerate changes in behaviour. As a consequence, cultures within organisations will need to change in response to different expectations of employees and managers. If the predictions of scientists become reality, long-term planning will be challenged as uncertainty and unpredictability become commonplace. As a result, strategies for success in business will need to be inherently flexible.
The susceptibility of different age, ethic and other groups of individuals will demand different treatment by Management in a world where such discriminatory approaches have been verboten. Management will have to decide whether to prioritise duty of care or equal treatment.
New paradigms must be devised to deal with the unfolding HR challenges of delivering business needs. Collaboration between individuals and within teams will need a completely different approach and structure. The expectations and practices of employees and employers around all aspects of flexible working must also reach new, acceptable norms.
Homeworking may have advantages for some individuals, but has proven to be extremely challenging for others from a health perspective. Many if not the majority of homeworking spaces are unsuitable for prolonged and consistent use. Isolating an area for work without distractions from family members and the ergonomic unsuitability of furniture and appropriate technological devices has been challenging and has often resulted in strained relationships and musculoskeletal issues for employees, solutions for which were difficult to address due to restrictions during the pandemic, many were unrecognised.
Many health professionals fear that as we come out of the pandemic, the mental health impact and physical aspects of musculoskeletal issues could be profound and will need to be managed not only by Health professionals but by businesses. This is in addition to finding ways of accommodating those individuals who have post CoVid 19 syndromes, which can have significant and, in some, prolonged effects on their performance and resilience. Our understanding of the latter is far from clear in terms of outcomes. Homeworking is not possible for many sectors and the challenges here in many respects may be even more profound. Social distancing in some form or other is likely to be required for some time to come, expected and demanded in some sectors, depending on how the pandemic waxes and wanes.
Vaccines have enabled a positive vision for the future but with that, issues have surfaced for businesses. We have yet to understand and agree how this all works and what should be, or can be, expected and demanded: what compliance should look like, issues around individual preferences and responsibility, Health and Safety aspects, customer perceptions and demands, proof of response to the vaccine, and the likely reality that repeated boosters will be required to deal with new variants. This will be challenging and demanding for people, businesses, as well as politicians.
A new world may be starting to appear that will be challenging, time consuming, costly, and will require flexibility and innovation. There will be opportunities for those businesses that succeed. Those who make the right calls and can be flexible will be better prepared for whatever comes next!
Dr. Tony Yardley-Jones is a Consultant Physician and Specialist in Occupational Medicine
(c) 2021, Dr. Yardley-Jones