Source: Forbes Communications Council

One of my favourite TikTok trends in recent weeks has been a series of posts where content creators list their “guidelines for return to the workplace” for employers. The tongue-in-cheek clips list some of the creature comforts that employees may or may not have become used to while working remotely over the last year, such as “business casual attire will now include sweatpants” or “it will now be acceptable to have a glass of wine by my computer throughout the day.”

I don’t anticipate that many organisations will give the okay for employees to swap coffee pots for carafes of merlot or sport joggers instead of slacks as offices reopen, but the humorous series of clips does raise a very real challenge. While the product and outcomes may be the same, the experience of working at home is very different from working in an office. It’s not just about having a different monitor or a different chair. The physical energy involved and the mental approach to work is different. In some ways, it’s much easier; in some ways, it’s more difficult.

While there are many employers that have declared their intentions for ongoing remote work scenarios, many other organisations are planning to bring employees back into a shared, physical office space sometime in the coming months as the Covid-19 vaccine gains adoption and we approach herd immunity. (It is worth noting that I believe this decision should be 100% up to each organisation based on their own unique needs and working arrangements. This article is not meant to advocate for or against in-person or remote work.)

This transition is one I experienced firsthand earlier in my career on two occasions. While I was working for two different PR agencies, my employers opted to close our existing offices for several months while staff worked in a completely remote environment. (In one case, this was due to a move, and in the other, it was for a building renovation.) Transitioning back to an in-office environment was not easy, but we followed a few key strategies that helped ease the shift. I believe these tactics can also help employees and leadership weather the coming transition as we return to the office.

Talk about your re-entry plan
Organisations should conduct thoughtful outreach to employees to lay out specific expectations for how and when employees will return to the office. In addition, it will make sense to use a phased approach in many cases where some employees rejoin the physical office immediately while others — perhaps those with small children who are still unable to return to school or those who are still at risk due to the virus — wait a bit longer. In this scenario, individual employees should connect with their managers to discuss their own personal re-entry plan.

Try to ramp up rather than dive in
We’ve all experienced the different types of energy we need when we’re working in our office as opposed to working from home. The reasons for this range from the added commute time to the energy required to engage in-person and the lack of creature comforts of home. (Even if the food is the same, eating lunch on my couch is more relaxing than eating at my desk or in the staff lounge.) Just like you would with any other physical demand on your body, be prepared for a few days of adjustment. Talk with your supervisor about ramping up. Maybe you could work in-office one day per week for a couple of weeks, then two or three, and then a full week.

Start adjusting your routine even while you are at home
When kids go back to school after summer vacation, many parents start incorporating elements of the new school routine during the final weeks of the break. Wake up when classes start. Practice eating breakfast by a certain time. Ween off of extra screen time. The same applies to reentering the office. When your employer starts discussing reentry, try to consider how you will need to adjust your schedule and start incorporating those elements into your routine now. Set your alarm earlier to account for your commute. Practice meal prepping and packing a lunch instead of just hitting the fridge. If you have been enjoying a lunchtime workout, consider where your workout will fit into your day once you go back to the office. Think through the little changes that may disrupt your flow and how you can adapt to them now.

Returning to the workplace, and all of the activities that we have missed out on over the last year due to the virus, could be a fun and exciting experience. By taking a thoughtful approach, we can help reduce our own anxiety, as well as the anxiety of our team, and create a smooth re-entry.

Source: Supermarket & Retailer

Mandatory vaccinations may potentially speed up the process whereby heard immunity is achieved. But can an employer (as opposed to the State through national legislation, or a court order) force employees to get vaccinated?

This is no simple matter. For one, in law, vaccination is a ‘medical treatment’, not a ‘medical test’, and the difference matters. Medical testing is governed by section 7 of the Employment Equity Act, 1998, and is performed to ascertain whether an employee has a medical condition. The Employment Equity Act would come into play in circumstances where the employer requires the employee to get tested for Covid-19. By contrast, South African employment legislation does not specifically regulate when an employee may be required to undergo medical treatment.

In order to answer this question, the starting point is the constitutional right to bodily integrity and control over one’s body. The National Health Act, 2003, gives effect to this right and states that medical treatment may not be provided without the user’s informed, specific and voluntary consent. There are certain exceptions to this rule, for example where the failure to treat the individual, or group of people that includes the individual, will result in ‘a serious risk to public health’, or where a law or court order authorises the provision of a health service.

At this stage, Government has indicated that the Covid-19 vaccine will not be obligatory and there is no law requiring anyone to be vaccinated.

So, employers considering mandatory vaccination are left with the public health risk exception, together with their own obligations to maintain safe, healthy workplaces under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2003, to justify their decisions.

Factors such as the level of risk, nature of the workplace, the work performed and the availability and suitability of means to remove or mitigate the risk come into play. An employer’s obligations will also need to be balanced against an employee’s right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief. Such beliefs must be reasonably accommodated where they form part of the inherent tenets of the particular religion or belief system, unless the means to accommodate result in unjustifiable hardship to the employer.

Applying the law in practice

Employers who exclude unvaccinated employees from the workplace are effectively forcing them to be vaccinated, undermining the voluntary nature of consent.

However, the extent to which this may be the case will likely depend on the consequences that may arise if the employee is not vaccinated. If the employee simply continues working remotely and is not prejudiced, it may be arguable that the employee retains the ability to decide whether or not to have the vaccine. But, where the employee cannot work remotely and the employer’s policy effectively makes it compulsory to obtain the vaccine to retain one’s job, the voluntary consent principle will be violated.

There are circumstances where a mandatory vaccination policy will be permissible, namely if not having the vaccine may create a serious risk to public health. This could be the case in work environments with large groups of employees, such as call centres, mines and factories. The argument is that this increases the risk of transmission among the employees, and so too the risk of subsequent transmission in their communities. Public health risks may also be triggered in workplaces where the public is served in large numbers or may be impacted, such as retail operations, hospitals and food manufacturing operations.

Where there is not a serious risk to public health and there are less intrusive means to ensure a safe working environment (such as physical distancing, mask wearing, hand sanitising, etc.), these measures should be taken. Accordingly, when it comes to office-based roles with limited contact with fellow employees or the public, an employer would likely meet its duty under OHSA by implementing the (now) normal health and safety protocols. In these circumstances, the public health risk exception in the National Health Act would not apply.

In many circumstances, it may be more effective (and carry less legal risk) for employers to educate employees on the vaccine and encourage them to be vaccinated, rather than making it a strict requirement for entry into the workplace.

Given the competing rights and potential risks involved, and in the absence of a general law mandating vaccinations, employers will need to tread most carefully when considering making vaccinations compulsory for staff.

Post-pandemic, most office workers are looking forward to returning and increasingly say they prefer to spend the majority of their workweek there too to meet face-to-face, socialise, brainstorm, and connect with each other again.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says that while workers have some new needs and expectations driven by COVID-19, most of the issues and trends raised were already here pre-COVID — and were just exacerbated by the pandemic.

Here are five workplace trends that have been accelerated and now are driving priorities for the new post-pandemic office:

1. Mobile

“Workers will now expect the ability to work remotely and the autonomy to match work to the right setting far beyond the pandemic”, said Trim. “Our pre-COVID research has consistently shown that people who spend at least a portion of their typical workweek outside the office have higher workplace satisfaction and score higher on indicators of innovation. She added that people working in a “hybrid model” – balancing days at the office with working from home – appear more deliberate with how they use their time and have higher job satisfaction overall.

2. Choice

Employees’ variety of work settings must now include the home. Said Trim: “Workers’ desire for choice in the workplace is not new. We find that employers who provide a spectrum of choices for when and where to work were seen as more innovative and higher-performing.” Our previous research found that innovative companies spend more time collaborating away from their desk and spend only about 3.5 days (74%) of their workweek in the office. Many workers depend on specific resources at their office. But the nature of work is changing — we’re becoming more versatile, agile, and collaborative. We need a wider array of solutions — both inside and outside the office.

3. Privacy

Many workers already struggled to find privacy in the workplace — now they expect to maintain the privacy they have become accustomed to at home.

“The trend toward more open environments has led to the rise of shared or unassigned seating to provide more space for collaborative areas for group work, but to the detriment of space for focusing or personal use,” says Trim.

Employees don’t want a complete reversal of these trends, but better space allocation. In our consulting, we find that “mostly open” workplaces were associated with higher performance and greater experience, but noise, privacy, and the ability to focus remain key determinants of workplace effectiveness. Striking the right balance will be key in the future.

4. Unassigned seating

Just months before the pandemic sent office workers home, global design and architecture firm Gensler reported in a 2020 Workplace Survey that workplace effectiveness was in decline. And those in unassigned seating were struggling the most. Says Trim: “In South Africa we’ve noticed workers overwhelmingly favour a desk assigned only to them and are typically not willing to trade an assigned desk for increased flexibility to work remotely. Organisations will need to develop clever space reservation programs to balance space utilisation, employee and team schedules, and safety.”

5. Health & well-being

“People expect health and wellness to be built into everything. As workers reprioritise the importance of health and well-being, employers now face mounting pressure to combine indoor and outdoor spaces, nudge healthy behaviours, and support a sense of psychological well-being.”

Across the globe, workers have experienced working from home, and many find their home environments provide greater comfort. Employers must now work harder to establish how their offices and workplace policies can support health and well-being.

“Now is an opportunity to create spaces where employees not only want to be, but to do their individual and collective best work,” Trim concludes.

Source: Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr

Law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr has outlined some of the key considerations for employees returning to work this January.

Returning from holiday and working from home

Where an employee is able to work from home while quarantining, the employee may do so and will therefore be entitled to their full salary. In cases where an employee is unable to work from home, the employee may make use of their annual leave for the quarantine period.

Where an employee has exhausted their annual leave, the principle of no work no pay will apply and the employee will be placed on unpaid leave.

Employers should alert employees to the fact they will be required to self-quarantine upon return from a hotspot area and that they will need to make use of annual leave or unpaid leave for this period where they are unable to work from home.

Under the exceptional circumstances of Covid-19, requiring an employee who has returned from a hotspot area to self-quarantine, it can be argued that this does not amount to unfair discrimination

“Unless the employer can show that the conduct of the employee has damaged the employment relationship in some way, the employer is not entitled to discipline the employee for their conduct outside of the workplace,” Cliffe Dekker Homeyr said.

“A balance must be struck between an employer maintaining a safe working environment post the holiday season and an invasion of an employee’s privacy. Employers can only encourage employees to adhere to government protocols outside of the workplace.”

Obligations at the workplace

In terms of the adjust level 3 regulations, an employer has the following obligations and responsibilities:

  • To adhere to all sector-specific or other health and safety protocols issued to date;
  • To appoint a compliance officer to enforce compliance with the adjusted level 3 regulations and all other health and safety protocols issued to date;
  • Prohibit employees from entering the workplace or performing their duties unless an employee is wearing a face mask;
  • Determine the floor plan area of the workplace and the number of persons who may enter the workplace based on the floor plan area, while still maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres;
  • Ensure all persons queuing either inside or outside their premises maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres;
  • Take measures to enforce physical distancing of 1.5 metres in its workplace, including implementing measures such as remote work, restrictions on face-to-face meetings and taking special measures in relation to employees who are considered vulnerable due to their age or co-morbidities;
  • Provide hand sanitisers outside its premises.

10 back-to-office changes in 2021

By Daphne Leprince-Ringuet for ZDNet

For some, it will soon be a year since the last time they set foot in an office. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep through countries, it is sometimes hard to remember that days were once punctuated by a daily commute, water cooler chats and afterwork drinks. But although the timeline is still unclear, offices will inevitably re-open in the future – leaving many wondering what kind of a workspace they will be stepping into on the day that they get to dust off their office shoes.

Of all the transformations that the past year has spurred, the spaces that we work in are among the most likely to be altered in the long term. In an attempt to get a snapshot of the office of the future, ZDNet has rounded up expert opinion.

Here are their top 10 predictions on the topic:

1. The traditional office isn’t going to disappear anytime soon

News from Silicon Valley companies that employees will be able to work from home forever may spark concerns that the ghost-town business districts caused by the pandemic will become a permanent part of city life.

This won’t necessarily be the case, because not all workers will choose to stay remote – in fact, research shows that about half of them will actively want to come back to the office. “We will witness a 300% permanent increase in remote workers,” says Andrew Hewitt, analyst at research firm Forrester. “In other words, one in five workers working remotely permanently.”

The majority of employees will still be coming into the office, even if not every day. Although there will be fewer people working on company premises at any given time, therefore, Hewitt believes that most organisations won’t ditch their office space altogether. Instead, they will re-think their real estate investments to cut under-utilised space, and work on better designs to make sure that the remaining square meters are used efficiently.

2. The immediate priority will be health and safety

According to Forrester, the first priority when re-opening office buildings will be to create a sense of physical and psychological safety in the workplace. Despite the encouraging news of a vaccine, the firm found that two-thirds of US workers would like to have health precautions in place even after they go back to the office.

Companies will, therefore, be modifying office layouts to maintain social distancing and taking extra measures for cleanliness and sanitation. There will also be more investment in new technologies like temperature scanning, predicts Forrester, to provide employees with both physical and psychological reassurance.

3. Investment in voice assistant technology will rise to enable contactless operations

In the last few years, voice assistant technologies have been snubbed by businesses, which couldn’t find a suitable use case for them. For Angela Ashenden, principal analyst in workplace transformation at CCS Insights, this is about to change. “The need for safer, contact-free interaction with applications is driving renewed interest here,” she tells ZDNet.

Voice-enabled technology will be used to request services within the building in a more intuitive way, ranging from ordering a coffee to booking a room. Employees can also expect to find voice assistants in shared spaces such as meeting rooms, office lobby areas and elevators.

4. Companies will equip employees with new tools to make better use of office space

To make sure that office space is used efficiently, employers will provide digital tools that enable staff to visualise the availability of space in conference rooms, working desks or even parking spots. This might come in the form of a central repository where employees can access building information, for example.

Stefanie Woodward, head of interior design at real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield, told ZDNet: “Inhabitants of these spaces will be able to get an upfront view of the actual occupation. Tenants within the building may be using their own booking apps for their staff to assist planning ahead, and maintaining safe working conditions.”

After switching to remote working by default, some companies, like digital identity firm Okta, have in fact already implemented tools to let their staff book a spot in the office via an app before they come in.

5. The market for connected whiteboard devices will surge

With half of the workforce at home and the remaining half in the office, visual collaboration tools that can unite distributed teams will be popping up all over the workplace. Among the pieces of hardware that will rise in popularity, CCS Insights identified connected whiteboards such as Google’s Jamboard, Microsoft’s Surface Hub and Samsung’s Flip – which the firm expects to be joined by new and less expensive devices that will equally meet the needs of a hybrid workforce.

Physical meeting rooms, therefore, will fill up with technology that bridges the gap between on-site and digital workers. “We expect to see a surge of investment in meeting room devices generally,” says Ashenden, “but this goes beyond screens and cameras to tools that enable co-creation and innovation, like connected whiteboard devices.”

6. IoT technology will create offices that boost employee productivity

To convince employees to use their workspace, companies will provide offices that go above and beyond working from home, according to chief executive of the British Council for Offices, Richard Kauntze. “In particular, I expect to see more offices use smart technology that adjusts the office environment throughout the day to aid employee productivity and wellbeing,” he tells ZDNet.

Booking a meeting room could trigger an increase in airflow based on the planned occupancy, for example; and smart LEDs could automatically adjust lighting based on the temperature, daylight levels or individual circadian rhythms. Armed with new data and insights, employers will be able to maximise employee experience, drive productivity, and attract workers back into office buildings.

7. Businesses will re-purpose office space as on-site childcare and education facilities

Finding appropriate childcare for working parents was difficult before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the health crisis has made the need for available facilities even starker. Research firm Gartner predicts that in the next two years larger organisations will have designated spaces in the office dedicated to caring for children who require supervision during the workday – leading to a 20% increase in employee retention.

“In addition to retention and gender parity benefits, accessible, employer-provided childcare options will lead to greater employee engagement and productivity,” Emily Rose McRae, director of future of work research at Gartner, tells ZDNet. Reports show that during a typical year, employers in the US lose an estimated $13 billion in potential earnings, productivity and revenue due to inadequate childcare resources. “We estimate that the productivity gained from the provision of on-site childcare will largely compensate for the fixed costs associated with establishing and maintaining care facilities,” says McRae.

The analyst predicts that the groundwork for this offering will start in the next six months to two years.

8. Monitoring and tracking devices will proliferate in the workplace

With mental health now top-of-mind for many business leaders, tools that assess employee wellbeing will boom, according to CCS Insights, which predicts that features that track worker sentiment will appear in all collaboration and HR applications in the next year.

“We could potentially see the use of AI technologies to monitor employee sentiment, for example through their written communications or even through their facial expressions,” says Ashenden. Similarly, tools that track activity, such as time spent on calls, in meetings, or working after hours, could be deployed to workspaces, both remote and on-site.

Monitors and trackers, however, are only a small step away from surveillance technology, and are likely to be met with resistance from some employees who are concerned with privacy.

9. Robotic co-workers will become commonplace

Automation has been on the rise for many years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the potential for machines to carry out human jobs – not only in factories, but increasingly in workplaces, too. For CCS Insights’ vice president of forecasting Marina Koytcheva, more robots will be deployed to undertake tasks such as health monitoring and cleaning, housekeeping, food services and payments, especially in hard-hit industries such as hospitality.

“These new roles extend beyond the uses for robots and automation in the home and delivery networks we predicted in 2019,” says Koytcheva. As robots make an entrance into the office, Gartner even anticipates that HR departments will soon expand to include resources specifically dedicated to the automated workforce. By 2025, predicts Gartner, at least two of the top ten global retailers will have re-shuffled their HR departments to accommodate the needs of their new robotic workers.

10. The ‘out-of-the-office’ office will be born

One major change to the office will actually take place outside of the traditional workplace. Emma Swinnerton, head of flexible-leasing solutions at Cushman and Wakefield, anticipates the emergence of a “flexible workspace ecosystem” that balances working from the office, from home, and from a network of “third places”. Those third places will be located nearer to employees’ homes and provide an appropriate space for focused working, without the need to commute to city centres.

For example, vacant high-street retail units could be re-purposed to accommodate the changing workforce distribution. “With people working more frequently from home, high street retail could see a new lease of life by becoming the ‘third place’ in the total workplace ecosystem, offering flexible areas to work close to where people live,” says Swinnerton.

Urban planners are already adapting their designs for out-of-the-office workspaces. Tom Venables, director at urban planning firm Prior+Partners, tells ZDNet that although city hubs will continue to be important for businesses, work is underway to transform suburban and residential areas into worker-friendly zones.

“The answer lies in providing flexible commercial space as part of neighbourhood centres, which could be office, workshop or light industrial,” says Venables, “as well as places where computer-based workers can touch down, like pubs and coffee shops.”

The office of 2021

The coronavirus pandemic will have long-term effects on offices around the world, as the habits and routines developed over a century of work have seemingly vanished overnight.

“While the office has an important future, the 2021 version is likely to be markedly different: materials, layouts and even how we interact with it will all evolve,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, one of South Africa’s largest workplace design specialists.

The office as a whole

Keeping the office as germ-free as possible will require material changes. Surfaces like unfinished wood, soft stone, and stainless steel can be breeding grounds for germs and bacteria and are on their way out.

“Offices might turn to furniture made of antimicrobial synthetic materials, plus metals like copper and brass for door handles and other high-touch surfaces.

Other touchpoints, like keypads and control panels for lighting, climate control, and AV systems, will likely be replaced with apps on employees’ phones,” Trim says.

Ultraviolet lights installed in ducts could purify air before it’s blown out onto the office floor. Architects might even make tweaks like curving the place where the floor meets the wall. This can eliminate corners that collect filth and germs, a practice that some hospitals have been using for decades.

Larger-scale changes may also be coming.

Says Trim: “With more employees working remotely, some desk space could be converted into more thoughtfully designed open spaces. And companies will certainly seek out offices with more access to outdoor space both as a means of social distancing and a way of making them more inviting to employees whose alternative is to stay home.”

From here on, the office will be purposely designed to be more than just a workplace, It will be a community place, a cultural place, a place of learning.

The workstation

For the sake of cleanliness, companies might have to reconsider the long-held tradition of assigned desks. Forcing employees to remove their belongings at the end of each day will allow for more effective cleanings that can’t happen when desks are covered with clutter.

“An alternative to that approach is to keep the dedicated work station but implement a ‘clean desk policy’: Each employee gets a cubby or locker in which to store things at the end of each workday, and desk surfaces are cleaned each night. The employee is then the only one in that space. There won’t be this introduction of another person sitting in that chair or touching those surfaces,” Trim said.

Adding more separation between workstations–something being done out of necessity in the short term, might become a long-term trend meant to give employees more privacy.

The remote-friendly workplace

“We’ve long advocated for choice in the office: you can sit in a lounge space or small huddle room or the outdoor patio, depending on what allows you to do your best work.”

Many more companies will update their office spaces so that the choice of workspace is not just a nice to have someday but it’s rather a must have soon. These changes will also be a major factor in businesses being able to attract and retain top talent.When we only come into the office a few days the quality at the office has to be exceptional. “It’s no longer about having just a gorgeous front entrance. It is now about giving your team the best facilities and environs for a great sense of purpose and that are better by degrees than what they can get at home, “ Trim concludes.

BTS: expert tips for staying healthy

Source: Healthline

Back-to-school season is often full of anticipation and excitement. But it can also bring on a whole lot of germs.

As your kids head back to the classroom, you might be wondering what you can do to protect them and the rest of your family, not only from COVID-19 but also from the flu.

Taking a proactive approach can help your kids — and you! — stay healthy as they head back to school. Here are seven expert tips to get you started.

Practice proper hand-washing
It’s one thing to tell your kids to wash their hands, but it’s another to make sure they’re following the correct steps.

“It is so important to ensure that children learn to properly wash their hands by scrubbing them with soap and water for 20 to 30 seconds,” explains Gina L. Posner, MD, a paediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Centre.

If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser and rub it into your skin for 20 to 30 seconds.

Remind your kids to avoid touching their face and keep their hands away from their eyes, nose, and mouth. Also teach them to properly wear a mask and maintain social distancing in school and among their friends during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay current on vaccinations
It’s vital to keep your children up to date with their vaccinations, especially their flu, pneumonia, and whooping cough shots, according to Daniel S. Ganjian, MD, a paediatricians at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre.

Even if you’ve skipped the flu shot in the past, experts stress that this isn’t a good year to opt out, due to COVID-19.

“We want to protect their lungs as much as possible,” says Ganjian.

And the same rules apply to the rest of the family.

“The entire family should be up to date with their vaccines to increase the herd immunity in the household,” explains Ganjian.

Make mealtime all about the rainbow
Why not make mealtime full of colourful fruits and vegetables?

“Fruit and vegetables contain immune-supporting antioxidants like vitamin C,” says Katie Cavuto, MS, RD.

Kids need about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables each day. Fill their plate and lunchboxes with foods like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, spinach, broccoli, and kale.

Get back on a regular sleep schedule
It’s easy to get caught up in everything you want to get done in a day, but don’t neglect the importance of sleep.

“Sleep is essential for immune system health and general well-being, and not getting enough can also lead to an increased inability to fight off infections,” says Cavuto.

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night for children ages 6 to 12 and 8 to 10 hours each night for teens ages 13 to 18.

A simple starting point is to create and stick with a sleep routine.

“Our bodies like consistency, so aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. And kids and adults alike respond well to a bedtime routine that includes wind-down activities like screen-free time, reading, warm baths or showers, and soothing sounds or a guided meditation,” Cavuto adds.

Get plenty of exercise
Daily exercise can help reduce stress and boost your child’s overall health. And the best part? It takes only 60 minutes per dayTrusted Source to see and feel the benefits.

Aerobic activities like bike riding, playing soccer, hiking, and swimming all get their heart pumping, while activities like climbing or doing pushups strengthen their muscles. But remember to make it fun.

“Kids need to have more fun in their lives — more than ever before,” says Ganjian.

When you increase their fun, you increase their happiness, which Ganjian says helps boost resilience to diseases.

 

Why the office still matters

After working from home and collaborating from afar, the importance of the workplace and all that it offers has become clear: an office is more than just a place to work and while some people have adapted to WFH, many people miss the office, perhaps even surprising themselves.

“The workplace drives innovation and growth and fosters culture and sense of community, while providing the tools and resources people need to be truly productive,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap.

There are countless benefits to having a physical place that brings an organisation’s people together. Here are just 5 reasons why the workplace matters – and will continue to matter.

Personal and corporate growth: The post-COVID economy has ushered in a season of survival mode for companies. “But the pivot back to growth mode for people and businesses will be here soon. Growth depends on innovation, and that’s driven by people coming together to collaborate and think,” Trim said. “And dare we say it: Make sure we are better prepared for another even that disrupts business continuity.”

Further digital transformation: If companies weren’t thinking about digital transformation before COVID-19, they certainly are now. Organisations have been forced to compete and manage a range of disruptions — internal and external, domestic and global.

Says Trim:”They’re launching new business models and equipping teams to be ready for anything; digital transpiration will evolve for years to come.”

  • Attract and retain talent – the workplace is a key tool to help organisations attract, retain and engage talent. Not only is space an expression of the company, it sends important cultural signals about what new talent can expect in your organisation. Is there choice and control? Are there social spaces to meet with teammates?
    “While technology can help with some elements, like onboarding, it’s hard to build community and nurture the kinds of relationships needed to engage talent and strengthen teams over Zoom,” Trim notes.
  • Innovation – research shows that successful innovation is typically ‘place-based’. Workplaces foster these connections and promote innovative activities like building models, sharing content, testing prototypes, iterating in real time, collecting annotations and ideas and building on the collective efforts of the team. Two-dimensional technology simply cannot move the needle like three-dimensional interactions can.
  • Collaboration and connection – collaboration is a key, place-based business behaviour with demonstrable links to growth and innovation. Sharing ideas, brainstorming and bringing others along through discussion creates new concepts. Body language and other unspoken behaviours provide social cues that can be easily missed when not in person. When every meeting starts and ends on time, there is no room for the magic of serendipity. At the same time, people who don’t interact with others or participate in the workplace risk becoming irrelevant, undervalued or overlooked. “These factors don’t just impact individuals’ career paths, they impact a company’s ability to fill the talent pipeline. Having a place to create meaningful connections is more important than ever,” Trim concludes.

Using emojis can be legally binding

Think that the use of a specific emoji colour is fine? Think that a black smiley used by a white person is acceptable? Think that sending an image of an eggplant is perfectly normal? The courts in countries like the USA and France say no, and it’s very likely that these rulings are soon going to make their way into South African courts and organisations. According to Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, emojis can be used as evidence against employees and companies in a court of law.

“The inappropriate use of an emoji is going to make an appearance in this country very soon,” he predicts. “People must become far more circumspect in their use of emojis and images when engaging in communication with fellow employees, otherwise they run the risk of being accused of discrimination or harassment, among other things.”

If a white person uses a black smiley in their communication with a fellow employee, that could be perceived very negatively, no matter what thought process may have been behind its use. For some, this could be seen as ‘blackface’ or as a form of discrimination, and it could cause immense distress among employees.

“Of course, any use of an emoji requires context,” says Myburgh. “Labour law looks at the balance of probabilities. Was the emoji used in a negative context or was it part of the flow of conversation? Did it have a racial intent or was it meant to be a way of connecting with someone? If a person, according to the balance of probability, has a reputation for making racial statements, then this use case could be used as proof to take them to a tribunal.”

The same applies to the use of apparently innocuous emojis such as the eggplant. Yes, that could just be a vegetable, but it could also be innuendo and sexual harassment and the same rules apply. Different people see things in different ways and this is influenced by age, gender, culture and situation. For Myburgh, the best way to avoid being caught in the emoji trap is to keep them out of the workplace entirely.

“If you want to avoid a court case or office in-fighting, just don’t use emojis,” he adds. “Of course, that isn’t going to happen; this is neither practical nor realistic so instead adopt the same strategy as you would with verbal conversations – be aware, be careful and be respectful.”

Another example of how emojis could potentially impact on a company or a career is in their interpretation as a tacit agreement. The thumbs up emoji, for example, could be used to make an argument that verbal or visual confirmation was given to something.

“You may be just saying ‘noted’ but the reader may see the thumbs up and think, ‘wow, I got the job’,” concludes Myburgh. “The rule of thumb in any office environment or communication is to stay away from emojis that could have harmful or offensive connotations, such as eggplants, tacos, hearts, kisses, thumbs up, rude gestures or certain types of animals. That way you can avoid unnecessary conflict and an extremely unpleasant court case.”

 

Remote working is the way of the future

By Mark van Dijk for JSE Magazine

Unless you’re a front-line health worker or provided an essential service, you will have joined millions of employees around the world in working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. You’ll know the feeling of ‘Zoom fatigue’. You may have met up with friends or colleagues (virtually, of course) for ‘locktails’ and ‘quarantinis’. And you’ll certainly have enjoyed the short ‘commute’ from your bed to your desk. Chances are, despite the disruptions of the working from home – WFH – revolution, you’re as productive as you’ve ever been, even though you’re not in the office.

Apart from a handful of people who continued to go into the building as an essential service, the vast majority of the JSE’s staff worked from home through the lockdown, as JSE Group CEO Leila Fourie told the Daily Maverick. ‘I find people are working much harder,’ she said. ‘[Physical workplace] presence does not translate into productivity. Leaders [used to] have a false sense of security in employees showing up at the office.’

Fourie adds that the crisis (and, make no mistake, this was an unprecedented crisis) has unlocked a level of solidarity and unity in the team. “We’ve built a new level of trust.”

When asked if he thinks SA businesses will go back to ‘normal’ after the lockdown, media analyst Arthur Goldstuck says yes, and no. ‘One of the things that we’ll find across the different aspects of the way we live our lives – working, shopping and so on – is that part of the shift that we’ve all experienced will become permanent. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to transition into this new way in totality.’

For Goldstuck, it’s a question of digital transformation – and here he draws parallels with the move towards e-commerce. ‘A large proportion of South Africans discovered online shopping during the lockdown, and many will continue shopping online, while many will go back to traditional shopping,’ he says. ‘Those who find online shopping comfortable, convenient and quick will carry on doing it; those who found it didn’t quite work for them will go back to the old way.

‘And even within that there are nuances. Some will become regular online shoppers, while some will now be willing to shop online on occasion. It’s going to be a varied approach, depending on the person’s experience and on their openness to the technology.’

This, he explains, can be extrapolated into the working environment as well. ‘Businesses that have found it difficult to have staff working remotely will go back to the old way,’ he says. ‘But again, you’ll find that even in the businesses that do go back to the old way of working, remote will be allowed far more regularly.’

Yet many employees don’t want to make a permanent move to WFH. A nationwide survey by workplace consultancy Giant Leap found that 86% of South Africans want to go back to working in an office. Giant Leap director Linda Trim says that while remote work was very popular at first, as time wore on people realised that it came with loneliness and a lack of work-life balance.

‘The survey showed 70% of people missed the general social interactions of the office, while 85% said they missed the “colleague interaction” while working at home,’ she says. To that point, about 81% of survey respondents said that working remotely made work communication harder, while more than half said they missed meeting, socialising and having ‘impromptu face time’ with their colleagues.

The erosion of company culture, then, is the biggest concern about – and the last great hurdle before – a complete move to remote working. Virtually every team that gathered together on Zoom meetings during the lockdown already knew each other and already had established relationships. Those bonds can erode over time and can be hugely difficult for new hires to build.

If – as many are predicting – the old model of Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 does indeed change to something more fluid and flexible, offices will have to change to meet those new requirements. Looking ahead, there’s the realisation that while the work may stay the same, and the workforce may adapt, some of the most interesting changes will happen in and to the workplace. Wherever that happens to be.

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