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Changing how we work

16 April 2020

As we all settle into the routines of lockdown, practices and routines in the workplace are also changing.

Workplaces will either have shifted to remote working, or if they are essential, would have implemented social distancing and hygiene measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

As these changes have been implemented, many workplaces would have undoubtedly experienced disruption, frustration and most likely some technical difficulties.

However, as the lockdown continues on, it can be viewed as an opportunity to focus on the positive workplace habits that can be fostered during this lockdown, and into the future as things go back to normal.

New technology

Many workplaces relied primarily on phone calls and emails before the lockdown. Now that many organisations are operating remotely, it provides an opportunity to investigate, test and implement new forms of technology to assist communication and other processes.

For instance, many people would have had to get their head around programs like Zoom and Microsoft Teams as the main video conference providers available. Other businesses may have looked into instant messaging options like Slack in order to provide easier internal communication amongst employees.

Looking into what program best suits your business and your employees can benefit the organisation in the long run and may result in the discovery of more efficient channels of communication going forward.

Working from home arrangements

Some employers may have had staff who regularly worked from home prior to the lockdown. Others may have had policies in place for working from home and allow flexible working on a case-by-case basis. Other workplaces may have been completely unprepared for the lockdown and staff would have had to rapidly establish their 'home office'.

This situation presents an opportunity for employees to identify issues with their at-home set up and look at how these issues could be improved. By resolving issues now, this would allow for employees to have access to an established home workspace going forward, and allows for more seamless business continuity plans.

It also allows employers to identify issues with working from home and create or adapt their policies accordingly. For instance - addressing issues of poor communication, tracking productivity, identifying measures to ensure confidentiality and privacy, clarifying health and safety matters and establishing how and when employees should check in with managers.

Further, it may provide a mutual opportunity for employers and employees to identify specific roles for individuals who were previously working in the office, who are more suited to working remotely long term.

Increased understanding of workplace hygiene

From February there has been a big push for all New Zealanders to improve their practices towards contagious diseases - for instance sneezing into their elbow, washing their hands for the appropriate amount of time, regularly sanitizing surfaces and staying home while they are sick.

While in an ideal world, all individuals would follow these practices at all times, this is not the case. Every winter, colds and flus spread around workplaces. In fact, a Business NZ report on workplace wellness in 2019 reported that 35% of employees come to work when they are unwell.

Perhaps new practices and behaviours that were implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19 will also assist with preventing the spread of general winter ills and chills. This may include more stringent cleaning, hygiene practices and employees staying home if they are unwell.

Accordingly, as things return to normal, employers should not be too quick to take down signs about handwashing or stopping to provide hand sanitizer. Instead, these measures can be used to enhance the general health of the employees going forward.

Employers may even consider how they can amend their policies to continue the practices going forward. One example could be amending sick leave policy to allow for employees to work from home at the employer's discretion if they are minorly unwell, to prevent the employee bringing their illness into the workplace.

A time of uncertainty

This is undoubtedly a stressful time for everyone.

It can be difficult to think about the long term, and to think positively when things are so volatile and such matters seem trivial.

Throughout this time, employers should ensure that everyone is communicating the best they can, have a suitable workspace, and are staying healthy and safe. Taking these measures will ensure that employers are fulfilling their obligations, promoting staff morale and creating a strong foundation to continue from as things return to normal. In the meantime, it may be a good idea to consider how these changes are impacting productivity, efficiency and the morale of staff. While there are certainly difficulties of lockdown, there may be some benefits that can emerge from new practices.

Finally, Cullen - the Employment Law Firm wants to extend our best wishes to everyone during this time. We are working remotely currently and are still available to assist with advice relating to the COVID-19 lockdown, and general employment enquiries.

Cullen - The Employment Law Firm was one of the first eleven law firms in New Zealand approved to provide employment law services to Government and the public sector.

Employment insecurity?

In these difficult economic times, the team at Cullen knows that you may be feeling stressed and vulnerable. We would like to offer employees an affordable fixed rate for an initial consultation to discuss your situation.
To access this special rate of $150+GST please email enquiries@cullenlaw.co.nz

Cullen - The Employment Law Firm and Women's Refuge are partnering to bring your business an understanding of the effects of domestic violence and the new laws assisting victims of domestic violence at work. Contact us to discuss your needs.

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