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Business as Usual? Has COVID-19 ushered in the end of the traditional workplace?

By Andy Broadley

As the age of the internet swept across the globe it seems like the age of spam swept along right after it. Not to be confused with the delicious and often misunderstood canned meat of the same name, I’m talking about the relentless pop ups and endless tabs that fill your browser whenever you try to do anything slightly questionable online. Whether you’re winning a faux Nigerian lottery or finding hot singles in your area, spam is everywhere you look.

hey everyone you've got to check this out I made $560 today so far [LINK] or Work at home mom makes $6,795/month working part-time from home [LINK]

Chances are you’ve seen at least some form of the above message. Now I am no expert in spam but from my understanding, in order for spam to work, it has to offer something we want or need. In this case, the want is to be able to make an income whilst working from home. And my guess is, due to the sheer volume of variations, people do want it.

COVID-19 has shown us many things, and you can argue quite rightfully that a lot of those things are more important than this, but it has shown us that when needed, we can successfully stray away from the traditional workplace. Countless people shifted to remote work and reduced hours during the level 4 lockdown, and as those countless people return to their workplaces many of them will be asking why are they returning at all?

The International Workplace Group, which surveyed 15,000 employers in 80 countries, found that 83% of workers would turn down a job that did not offer flexible working. Flexible work options allow employees to better balance their work, social lives, reduce stress levels, and research would suggest, has no real impact on productivity levels. Countless studies have shown that more hours worked doesn’t equal more hours, well, ‘worked.’ Yet the majority of workplaces still require their employees to trudge into harshly lit offices 9 hours a day, 5 days a week. I worked for a company whose policy was essentially, be at your desk at all times regardless of whether there is work to be done or not.

During lockdown I could finish my day’s work within 4-5 hours of focussed productive work, as could many of my friends. This meant that essentially we were giving the same level of output in 3 or so less hours than usual. Now due to lockdown it meant most of that extra time was used on Animal Crossing but under normal circumstances that would open up time to allow for a host of options. Errands that are usually crammed into Saturdays could be dispersed throughout the week and reduce congestion on essential services such as banks, dentists, mechanics and others. It could also allow for workers to get more rest, exercise, socialisation or other means of improving wellbeing and mental health.

Flexible work options are becoming essential to prospective employees. A company that remains rigid in their attitudes risks losing out on top quality applicants, as well as risks losing the employees they currently have. For smaller companies trying to compete with big name employers, research suggests one of the most effective ways they can level the playing field is by providing these alternative options. Less personnel in office can also provide small benefits such as reduced utility bills (Yay for saving on power!).

And I would argue the benefits don’t stop there. Auckland has a serious transport issue. There’s a lack of public transport, shitty bridges that were ill thought through and lacked enough capacity (here’s to you Harbour Bridge) and too many cars on the road. Politicians and parties have argued for years on the best way to solve Auckland congestion. Keeping people out of offices and out of the morning commute seems a good place to start.

Flexible work options are becoming essential to prospective employees. A company that remains rigid in their attitudes risks losing out on top quality applicants, as well as risks losing the employees they currently have.

Due to the rushed nature of the lockdown it meant that many of those working from home were doing so in less than ideal environments. And obviously these options aren’t viable for everyone; factories still need people on the floor and yes all you retail and hospo kiddos are still gonna have to be in store. But time to properly implement and adapt to these alternative arrangements will provide a better work life balance for the employee and also assurances for employers. Future disruptions to work would be less damaging to the company, and it could also allow employees with the ‘sniffles’ to stay home and work instead of coughing all through the office and infecting (or simply annoying) everyone else.

Kiwi company Perpetual Guardian paved the way in New Zealand when they trialled, and ultimately implemented a four-day working week. During the trial they found levels of commitment, stimulation, empowerments and work life balance all improved with no impact to productivity. They even claim that ‘social media surfing’ dropped by 35%. In the new contracts they made sure to outline that these new hours were a ‘gift’ of sorts, and that they would remain so long as productivity did. A policy that provides assurances on both sides of the contract.

Many of us at AUT are juggling our studies with part time work. The benefit of being able to work between lectures from the rock-hard Plaza seating would go a long way in relieving stress (maybe bring a cushion). And for those of us graduating and looking to the precarious future, assurances that your employer will be flexible in their working arrangements will help in the long term with your mental health and burnout.

Now more than ever, more people and businesses will be looking at alternative working arrangements. Many have been forced into making the adjustment already and will look at continuing to do so. With more time to properly implement and develop viable plans, thousands of companies within New Zealand could begin to shift the way in which they operate. The research is there to be read. The benefits are there to be had. It’s only a matter of time til more businesses switch on.

Why not start now?


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