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Re-imagining new workspace ecosystem

By Emmanuel Zvada

Just as business leaders thought they could start thinking about a new normal, a different kind of reality began to set in.

Business disturbances like coronavirus mean turmoil to the employees, employers, work and the economy at large. The new coronavirus regulations make disaster plans a top priority for all business leaders, including human resources personnel.

Employees worry about more than their physical safety, potential disruptions to their work, and wonder how the organisation plans to manage its operations.

Zimbabwe’s government reintroduced a set of restrictions as a way to contain rising coronavirus cases.

To some, the restrictions may look draconian, but they are crucial in taming the rising cases of coronavirus considering that we are in winter.

It is important that people should embrace these measures and those that are eligible for vaccination must get vaccinated.

Many business leaders handled various challenges during this pandemic but it’s not enough, it is now the right time for employers to take a fresh look and re-imagine the new workspace ecosystem that will enable them to survive now and in the future.

Imagining the new workplace

As a majority of global and local organisations engage in processes to reduce workspace occupancy, the question remains: What should the new workplace look like and how best can excess space be utilised? Organisations must re-imagine their workspace ecosystem to account for new challenges and possible future opportunities.

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, companies have switched to a remote work model at a rate and scale they have never experienced. As face-to-face collaboration is replaced with e-mail and video conferencing, human resources (HR) managers have to do difficult work under difficult circumstances.

Floating teams needed to keep business going

Some companies that were closed during the first and second national lockdown, such as retail shops and  the hospitality industry, hope to make up for lost business, hence the need for strategies during the restrictions.

Businesses should ensure that employees are safe at workplaces and to ensure the smooth running of organisations, there is need to create two teams of employees which are for example team A and B that will alternate.

In this scenario, team C can also be added in the event that employees in both the A and B teams had to be taken out of action due to COVID-19-related quarantine.

Team C is used as a floating team, available to step in whatever department, these are those that are multitasked.

Separation of critical skills and roles

Before COVID-19, critical roles were viewed as roles with critical skills, or the capabilities an organisation needed to meet its strategic goals. During the pandemic, the critical skills were those who are there to save a specific purpose but mainly for the good of everyone.

Now, employers are realising that there is another category of critical roles which are important for the success of essential workflows.

Many business leaders have broadened the “critical” category to include all the employees in critical strategic roles, employees in critical workflow roles, and employees with critical skills.

These are the employees needed for that organisation’s survival.

Separating critical skills from critical roles shifts the focus to coaching employees to develop skills that potentially open multiple avenues for them, rather than focusing on preparing for a specific role.

Humanisation of employees

While some organisations have recognised the humanitarian crisis posed by the pandemic and prioritised the well-being of employees, others have pushed employees to work in conditions that are high risk with little support. As an organisation, you should mind the approach you take to check if it is long-lasting or affects employees.

Employers need to adopt a range of measures to support employees in poor mental health as a result of COVID-19 and its effects on society and the economy.

Measures will need to range from supporting employees to regain an effective work-life balance and addressing fears about returning to work, right through to support for severe mental health conditions.

Transition to flexible work practices

As the nature of the work environment continues to change, new trends have emerged hence there is need for organisations to reflect on present working practices and adjust.

It’s a fact that being away from the office during the previous lockdowns has given employers time to reassess some of the work practices they used to employ to build a more responsive organisation, design roles and structures around outcomes to increase agility and flexibility and formalise how processes can blend.

Also, provide employees with varied, adaptive and flexible roles so they acquire cross-functional knowledge and training.

Diversity leaders will need to be involved in role design and creation of flexible work systems to ensure that employees of all backgrounds and needs are considered.

Digitalisation of virtual communication tools

In a post-COVID-19 world, organisations and governments will continue working online and will conduct part of the inner and inter organisational communication using digital and virtual platforms.

Face-to-face training may be a thing of the past in most organisations.

During this pandemic, businesses that have typically relied on face-to-face or classroom learning will have to develop a proof of concept for learning using the latest online technologies.

Zoom has done a good job of enlightening businesses and consumers of just how accessible and flexible technology is.

It will be noted that the remote working model and increased leverage on digital technologies will increase the need to upskill and reskill the workforce for them to be well equipped with new technologies.

The COVID-19 crisis is the ultimate test of management and leadership.

Leading during an extended crisis requires having an effective team and solid relationships.

Leaders are not just called upon to make decisions. They should make sure that their decisions are effectively, clearly and continually communicated to employees who are grappling with uncertainty over their jobs and who may be overwhelmed with good, bad, and indifferent information.

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