As South Africa approaches the six-month mark under lockdown restrictions, I don’t believe there’s a single person who doesn’t want things to go back to normal.
But what most of us have probably realised is that things aren’t going to be normal for at least a few more months – if not years. Some things will never be the same again!
To stop, or at least to slow down, the impact of COVID-19, we have had to change almost everything we do: the way we work, exercise, socialise, shop, educate our children, and take care of our families. Every single country aimed to ‘flatten the curve’ by imposing social-distancing measures, but this brought about a shift in the working world, for companies and employees alike.
Now that the government has eased the nationwide lockdown to alert level 2, businesses and employers will again have to be innovative to keep their companies going and their people working. The COVID-19 pandemic is not a temporary disruption; it’s the start of a completely different way of life. We don’t know exactly what this new future looks like, of course, but we do know that working remotely isn’t just a cute new trend. It’s a new reality, and it’s here to stay.
No one can predict the number of people who will become unemployed, but it’s already evident that many thousands of businesses across all sectors will never operate fully again, and thousands of people will lose their jobs. Sadly, those with no capacity to work from home, and the people who don’t have the skills or experience to find work will be most affected in the post-pandemic economy.
Fast-forward a few months to when we move to alert level 1. What happens then? Does everyone simply return to work as usual? What sort of work environment will we be walking into? How many jobs will still be available? Will the experience of living through COVID-19 suggest that going back to old ways might not be such a good idea? And, of course, we need to remember that no one knows how long COVID-19 will be around.
As with everything, there are pros and cons of working from home. Imposing one-size- fits-all policies on it will come at a cost to everyone. Some people simply cannot work from home because they miss the office banter, time away from families, and the support. Others have found that they have so much more time on their hands, are getting much more work done, have read books which have been on their bedside table for too long, have reconnected with their families, and to some it’s felt like a bit of a holiday, with less stress and no company politics.
What employees do want, however, is to still feel that they’re connected to their colleagues, and part of a team. With the help of evolving applications, companies are succeeding at this, whether through virtual weekly meetings, or just by encouraging people to call each other, rather than emailing and texting. After all, we’re creatures of habit, and most of us get used to routines – many may even like them – and few want them to be disturbed. As time goes on, though, all of us will begin to adapt to a new routines, working spaces, and a different kind of relationships.
COVID-19 has not been without a silver lining. Carbon emissions have gone into free fall; air pollution has evaporated, leaving cities tolerable for children to play outside; traffic commutes have become more manageable; companies have saved on office expenses; and there has been a re-flourishing of the sense of community, supporting local businesses, and building together to get through this hardship.
The point is that the virus has given us a glimpse of how we might live and work very differently, and perhaps more in tune with the future.