Across industries, COVID-19 has up-ended our visions of what is ‘normal’ in the workplace. In a previous article we discussed how changes made to work patterns throughout COVID-19 has led to many businesses and employees exploring new ways of working in the future.
For businesses, this change calls for fresh approaches around employment practices. It is on us, as leaders, to put new thinking in place to enable these approaches.
This new thinking needs to extend beyond a one-page work-from-home policy. We need to take a holistic view of our businesses. This involves reviewing the existing employment agreements, adjusting recruitment practices to bring in new team members, and refreshing the levers that we use to retain our employees.
We then need to take the time to develop a clear vision of the steps our business needs to take to ensure we are ahead of the changes that are unfolding.
Understanding how your current employees fit into the picture
While it is vital to take a long-term view of change, you cannot neglect the immediate impact of a shift like this. Managing the initial response to change in your workplace means working closely with your existing team, ensuring that they understand what they need to do to adjust to new ways of working.
While each industry’s and each organisation’s response to the change will be different – and on some level partially driven by the employees themselves – there are a few key steps every business can take to ensure that they are best prepared to migrate their staff to new ways of working.
Critically, you need to closely inspect your business model and your employment arrangements, ensuring alignment between the two. Your business model defines your overall strategic direction and positions you within the broader market. Your employment agreements document and clarify the responsibilities of team members as the enablers for achieving your strategy. Both are essential for success.
As the broader market has shifted dramatically, your position, your goals and your direction may also have changed. If your business has been significantly disrupted because of COVID-19, you may need to consider what employment arrangements now best fit your business model. There are a number of options – permanent employee agreements, flexible project-based arrangements on fixed-term or maximum-term contracts, or even the use of external contractors.
If you discover that the best fit means a change to your current agreements with employees – there are a number of factors that need to be considered, and it is highly recommended that you seek professional advice. Regardless of the level of change, you should also prioritise close consultation with existing employees as a part of the process, as well as a deep understanding of your regulatory environment.
If the end result sees you transitioning people to new employment agreements – be patient. This type of change does not happen overnight. It will be gradual and initially uneven, with timing often influenced by the expiration of existing employee contracts, and new employees being on-boarded.
Restructuring your workforce
While changes to employment agreements may be driven by necessary shifts in your business model because of market forces post-COVID-19, the preferences of your employees may also be a key catalyst for change. Many workplaces are currently exploring new employment arrangements as employees are looking for more flexible ways of working in the ‘new normal’.
Irrespective of the driver for change when it comes to employment agreements, the pros and cons of change for both the business and the employees need to be considered. From there, time needs to be invested to develop a change management plan that provides clear messages around new arrangements. This plan also needs to set a road map for moving forward. Consistent approaches for dealing with employee requests for changes to arrangements in the future – and setting expectations on how new arrangements will be monitored and assessed – is critical to ensure that changes made now are sustainable.
Also valuable to keep in mind is the changes that shifts in employment arrangements will bring to workplace health and safety practices for your business. Where previously workplace health and safety may have been sharply focused on threats to employees’ physical health, the move to remote work can put an increased focus on the mental health of employees. Helping them stay connected, supported and engaged may become a leading priority.
Recruiting for the ‘new normal’ – bringing the world into your office
Just as important as migrating your existing employees into your future workplace is the process of on-boarding new team members. In an era where more employees than ever before are likely to be working from home and relying on technology to connect – the need for staff who can work autonomously and problem solve is heightened, as is their ability to embrace technology.
If, through your assessment of your employment arrangements, you have discovered that a shift to flexible working arrangements or contract arrangements is an achievable and better fit for your business – take the time now to investigate the broader candidate market. Consider if your new workplace opens up opportunities to access outsourced talent, both off-shoring through international vendors as well as ‘in-shoring’ more high-touch roles to providers within Australia or New Zealand. This approach can provide significant cost-saving benefits, while delivering comparable levels of quality and allowing greater flexibility in staffing.
Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and should not be relied on as advice. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider your financial situation and needs and seek professional advice before making any decisions based on this information.