The new normal: returning to the office

by AB22 Jun 2020

A recent study by workplace resilience experts Springfox found that an individual’s resilience, which impacts heavily on their performance, is influenced by 60 different factors related to mental and physical wellbeing.

The report, Reduce Risk, Lift Performance, analysed 7,473 users of The Resilience Institute’s GDPR-compliant platform (of which 1,705 were Australian) between January and December 2019. It evaluated how the global and local workforce measured across each of the 60 factors.

Of the Australian respondents, 83% reported feeling overloaded and agitated at work, with 82% citing difficulty in remaining mentally alert and engaged in tasks, and 79% feeling they lacked the endurance and flexibility needed to navigate changes.

This was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so those numbers could be nudging above 90% in the current climate.

In fact, Stuart Taylor, CEO of Springfox, says social isolation, changes to the way we work, and the pressure to provide value in challenging and fast-evolving environments are significant factors that could put people at much greater risk of experiencing mental health issues and burnout.

“Work-related mental health conditions are becoming more and more prevalent, to the point where physical health and safety is no longer the most critical risk in the workplace,” he says.

Stuart Taylor, CEO, SpringfoxStuart Taylor, CEO, Springfox

“It’s important for organisations’ leaders to understand what factors are putting their teams at risk so that they can address them, especially in these challenging times.”

With a direct link between a person’s mental health and their resilience, Stuart adds that it’s important for business owners and leaders to ensure they are doing everything they can to have a positive impact on employees’ wellbeing.

“Work-related mental health conditions are becoming more prevalent, to the point where physical health and safety is no longer the most critical risk in the workplace” Stuart Taylor, CEO, Springfox

“With four out of five of Australians already having felt they lack the endurance and flexibility required to navigate changes, the recent global events surrounding the pandemic will likely have a huge impact on the mental fitness of our workforce,” says Taylor.

“As we now collectively grapple with the repercussions of a changing and uncertain world, we predict that feelings of angst, fatigue and worry will worsen if employers do not intervene and take proactive measures to protect and strengthen their workers’ resilience.”

To that end, what types of strategies can brokers employ to ensure that their staff members are coping well and getting through this crisis as best they can, particularly when it comes to returning to the office after an extended period of working from home?

Josh Bartlett, managing director, MAB Melbourne Josh Bartlett, managing director, MAB Melbourne

It starts with understanding that the culture and atmosphere of your business, however big or small, begins and ends with you and your attitude, says Josh Bartlett, managing director of MAB Melbourne.

“Before I became a broker I owned a couple of gyms, and when I was deciding on my next step, I was considering getting into mortgage broking or real estate. I love property, but when I thought about working at a real estate office I realised it meant I would be largely controlled by the energy and attitudes of the person I worked for,” he explains.

“I realised that if I became a finance broker I could start from scratch and build my own team – and it would be my energy that helped to create their day and their experiences.”

Now more than ever, as you plan your transition back to the office, it’s essential that you are able to reassure your staff about the future, provide them with guidance and involve them in the decision-making process.

For instance, a flexible working arrangement that allows employees to log some hours from home and some hours at the office may be a compromise that works well for all involved, Bartlett says.

With the rapid advances in technology, we’re able to work remotely and achieve a number of typical in-office tasks from anywhere, at any time, which creates opportunities for employers and their staff to decide upon working hours that may step outside the traditional nine to five.

“My business has become much more efficient because of the technology we’ve been adopting since COVID-19. I don’t know if the banks are doing Zoom sessions with clients at 8pm to talk about their products, but we certainly are, and it’s saving everyone so much time.”

Peter White, managing director, FBAA Peter White, managing director, FBAA

With restrictions easing, a number of brokers are looking at how and when their ‘return to the office’ strategy is going to be put in place. For those who are currently planning how their business will look in ‘the new normal’, it’s a matter of working with your team to, first and foremost, understand the relevant state and federal government policies and directions for returning to the office, says FBAA managing director Peter White.

“Brokers need to ensure that their state’s policies are unquestionably met, together with the guidance from the federal government,” White says.

“It’s important to have conversations regarding the return to the workplace with all your staff well before it is implemented. Review and investigate all the possible options that are open to you and your specific business and its particular needs, and then make a decision based on the needs of the staff and the needs of the business in an open-environment conversation, so everyone can take ownership and feel comfortable with the decision made.”

By liaising openly with your team in terms of your return-to-office strategy and involving them in the decision-making, you can work towards a transition that suits everyone involved, White adds.

There is a chance that members of your team may not want to return to the office – they may say they want to continue working from home, despite your plan to reassemble everyone in one place.“

“My business has become much more efficient because of the technology we’ve been adopting since COVID-19” Josh Bartlett, managing director, MAB Melbourne

Staff can refuse to return to the office, as everyone has the right to express their views and desires in the workplace, but ultimately, there is a business that needs to be run efficiently and effectively by the business owner, management or the board that governs that operation,” White says.

“If people want to remain working from home, they should be investing in the right equipment so they can work as efficiently as possible. There are OH&S laws and WFH laws that employees must comply with when working from home, and these are complex to ensure that health and safety is up to standard for an at-home working environment.”

White adds that the FBAA itself will be “looking at a blended arrangement between working from home and in the office” in the immediate term, which is a strategy many brokers are also adopting.

“This will mean, as it would for any business, that the laws need to be adhered to and best practice must be achieved at all times, whilst also optimising the KPIs and needs of the business,” he says.

Tech considerations for working from home