Labour Day: How Covid-19 has changed the workplace

Friday May 1 2020

Even though Zoom-dropouts and screaming

Even though Zoom-dropouts and screaming children have become familiar distractions, experts believe many of the more problematic aspects of homeworking can be addressed with strong oversight, small team working and the right messaging tools for the job. Net photo 

By Carolyne B. Atangaza

The way we work has not been spared the drastic changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. These changes can be seen in facets of organisations including the workforce, activities, security, financial, management, sustainability and work life balance among others. Some of these changes could persist well beyond the pandemic itself.

Working from home
According to Patrick Obita Ayiga, a management consultant, the measures being taken to contain the spread of the virus have already transformed not just how people work, but changed their perceptions towards work as well. One of the most visible changes is the work from home option.

“Some organisations or companies would never have even considered it possible to allow their staff to work from home, but now that they see the possibility, they will embrace it or other variations of it,” he predicts.
While this is a change worth celebrating, it brings with it the unfortunate complications of having to eliminate some positions.

“The pandemic has inspired a sense of pragmatism; employees and employers have had to rearrange work and take on different responsibilities. Many of the tasks employees are doing now could not have been thought possible before. Now that managers have seen previously undervalued staff transform into capable crisis managers or work-from-home coordinators combining several roles into one, they will most probably think of ways to keep them on in those positions thus eliminating many other people from the workforce,” Obita says.

Combing roles
Ivan Mpaabwa, an entrepreneur, confirms the likelihood of some positions being eliminated from the workforce for good. “Entrepreneurs everywhere are facing new pressures and they are being forced to become creative, especially in their human resource expenditure. For my businesses to survive this economy, I have to reduce costs by 50 per cent. So, I have closed down half of the physical offices because we now know it is possible for staff to work effectively from home. I have merged key positions and retained the few people capable of multitasking,” he shares. He however, says they will be open to take on more temporary and part-time staff.

Part time staff
“Part time staff does not cost the company as much since they have fewer benefits, yet they can get the job done. I think it is a win-win for both the employee and employer to maximize their time and not be tied down in one place,” Mpaabwa notes.


Work hours
Similarly, working hours are also changing. With the workday curfew or demands of working from home, employees have had to find an effective way of doing work in less time than the usual eight-hour workday.

Shorter and less meetings
“One of the major things which I notice has dramatically increased efficiency while cutting out time wastage is the absence of staff meetings. With meetings being held online, managers are precise and brief while communicating with their staff. There is no more need for those long presentations, as agendas are more focused; enabling meeting times to be cut dramatically, says the consultant.

People centric management
Coronavirus is providing another requirement to how managers carry out their duties. According to Obita, most managers are not people centric in their approach of managing others. They base their management on the guidelines or policies that the organisations or companies have, and implement them to the letter.

“This pandemic has exposed managers terribly, if it was not your style of being people centric. How are you going to apply those guidelines or policies where the staff is far away, and not in direct contact with you? Now we understand that work should now be secondary though important, because life is much more important, and the human being is the most important asset that the organisation or company has,” he notes.

Obita is optimistic that this realisation should encourage them to treat their staff with more care and support going forth, even after this pandemic.

Change in office structure
Simon Peter Kazibwe opines that new laws could be brought in to enforce a minimum area per person in offices, which will ultimately drastically change the current office space.

“Because of the physical distances required, there might be need for wider corridors and doorways, more closed partitions between staff. This could even change the way we build as we will be aiming for as much space as possible. With our current population growth, I see nowhere else to go but to building higher for offices and residentials,” he says.

Embracing more technology into work The coronavirus pandemic might have helped push the workforce into the fourth industrial revolution. Throughout history, people have always been dependent on technology. Of course, the technology of each era might not have the same shape and size as today, but for their time, it was certainly something for people to look at.

People would always use the technology they had available to help make their lives easier and at the same time try to perfect it and bring it to the next level. This is how the concept of the industrial revolution began. Right now, Covid-19 is forcing the worlds of business and education to embrace many of the tools that they have been avoiding, believing the old ways still work best.

Apart from normal precautionary rules, such as social distancing, banning business travel and curtailing face-to-face meetings, organisations are embracing tools that, until recently, were confined almost entirely to information technology workers and companies.

Companies may also need to invest in a new suite of contactless technologies to reduce disease transmission. Office doors which open automatically using motion sensors and facial recognition, while lifts can be operated from a smartphone. Technology could also be used to remind employees of social distancing.

Companies may need to invest in a new suite of
Companies may need to invest in a new suite of contactless technologies to reduce disease transmission. Net photo

And finally, the elephant in the room: will there actually be any offices? Will the world’s legions of new homeworkers want to return to their workplaces, and will employers want them back, when remote working could save them money? Even though Zoom-dropouts and screaming children have become familiar distractions, experts believe many of the more problematic aspects of homeworking, from low productivity to poor communication, can be addressed with strong oversight, small team working and the right messaging tools for the job.

As much as artificial intelligence, robots and the likes of 3D printing are touted as the leading edge of 4IR, it is the relatively simple process of taking an organisation’s processes digital that will drive the revolution. And the benefits of remote working will be the most visible outcome of that process.
The most common platforms and applications being used for remote working include:

Microsoft Teams:A “unified communication and collaboration platform” that hosts video meetings and presentations, file sharing and storage, document collaboration and “persistent chat”– meaning an online text conversation becomes an ongoing record of communication.

It includes Skype for Business, so those familiar with Skype will not have a steep learning curve.
Citrix Workspace: A digital workspace software platform that allows multiple users to remotely access and operate windows desktops via PCs, tablets and other devices.

It means workers don’t have to drag their workplace computers home, but can access their work desktop as if they are at the office. It avoids the need to license work software for home use and also includes Skype for Business.

Amazon Workspaces: One of the leaders in an emerging field known as Desktop-as-a-Service. It helps eliminate complexity in managing hardware, operating system versions and patches, and virtual desktops.

Office lay out changes
Simple solutions: How to keep desks clean? As well as obvious additions such as more hand sanitizer, some deceptively simple changes could help.

More signs: Think road markings, but for offices. From squash-court-style lines in lobbies to standing spots in lifts, and from circles around desks to lanes in corridors, the floors and walls of our offices are likely to be covered in visual instructions.

One possible approach is to encourage employees to walk clockwise, creating one-way flow to minimize transmission, as adopted by many hospitals during the current outbreak
Additional information from