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Staying power of the new workplace

June 17, 2020

India can now advance a regulatory framework governing occupational health outside of the workplace, says Robbie Dagger, People Director, Tesco Business Services & Tesco Bengaluru.

Over the past few weeks, email inboxes have been inundated with research papers attempting to decipher the impact of COVID-19 on all walks of life. In amongst the melee of predictions and speculation, it is a useful time to consider which parts of our pre-COVID-19 ways of working are worth returning to, and which current practices should remain. The toll on society is heavy, and it will continue to be that way for some time. Whilst organizations and the workforce tread water to stay afloat, new working practices have emerged. Though some are being celebrated, but it will take greater reform in India for them to become sustainable.

Overnight, organizations were forced to adopt work from home practices. Success has been largely relative to the sector and the maturity of business continuity plans.

With impressive agility, virtual processes have been spun up, and helpful lobbying has been applied for state authorities to temporarily relax measures enabling services to continue remotely. For many employees, this has been their first opportunity to work from home for a prolonged period. However, the absence of appropriate workplace ergonomics, mixed with homeschooling and a sprinkling of household chores, creates a cocktail that is a little too sour for many people to take beyond a week or two. Many organizations recognize this and are already leading the way contributing to cover increases in the home utility costs, and where possible providing equipment. Some are making the most of the public relations opportunity to confirm that they will allow their employees to work from home for the rest of the year. Whilst this may be veiled as promoting flexibility, the costs of adapting the office facilities to accommodate social distancing mean it will be the most financially viable option for many organizations by default (and not necessarily to the advantage of their employees).

India can now advance a regulatory framework governing occupational health outside of the workplace. It presents an opportunity to build a constructive partnership between business and the authorities. A partnership that can build a framework for sustainable remote working.

Employees need more support than the gestures of a few organizations, but the support cannot be mandated to the extent that the burden of associated costs dictates which organizations can and cannot recover from the impact of the economic lockdown.

Keeping in view some of the long-standing traditions of the society, mean that working women are at the sharp end of household and childcare responsibilities during the lockdown. Juggling a full-time role and keeping the home running continues to result in exhausting days and little time for recovery. However, for permanent remote working to be sustainable, employers and families alike, will need to give additional consideration and be aware of the home dynamics for female employees, ensuring that wherever possible, they are not at a disadvantage to their male counterparts.

In the past few weeks, there has been a heightened appreciation of mental wellbeing. How we are feeling and our ability to cope with day-to-day life will be influenced by an infinite array of factors, but the COVID-19 lockdown dynamics have enhanced fear, worry, loneliness and many other difficult conditions that are difficult to manage and control. Discussing mental wellbeing is itself a healthy change in organizations. Stats from assistance programmes, demonstrate that employees are more willing to ask for help. It may have been on the agenda before, but it has now been accelerated, and the support for employees, will be there long after COVID-19. Recognition that mental wellbeing is equally important to physical wellbeing needs to be a permanent fixture.

I have witnessed first-hand the power of empathic leadership and a new level of corporate cooperation. In the moment recognition of simple gestures, through to big decisions that are right for customers and employees (despite the immediate commercial hit) have been frequent and refreshing. The positive sentiment from employees has followed, and there is a coming together to push the business forward and come through the most challenging of times. Organizations have dropped their guard to jointly solve common problems, knowing there is no prize for going first in this race. This is more than benchmarking, this is genuine cooperation. Long may it continue. In amongst all the Leadership skills and frameworks that exist in our corporate worlds, it’s the skill of empathy that is needed more than ever. To quote Hollywood actor Robin Williams – ‘Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always’.

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