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Covid Workplace Challenges - Past, Present and Future

What have we learned from 2020 that will help us in 2021?

The year 2020 will go down in history for its global pandemic and the consequences from it. Across the world, no one has escaped the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Communities and individuals have struggled with its effects in many ways and there is still hope that 2021 will be the year for recovery, or at least the start of it. But business and the economy have been hard-hit, and the fallout will affect us for years to come.

The vast majority of countries implemented strict lockdowns, and economies crumbled under social distancing and business closure disruption. Everyday working lives changed for many, and companies had to adapt quickly.

Alongside the coronavirus pandemic, several environmental, social and political crisis dominated the headlines and our lives. The Black Lives Matter movement stirred the world over, not only questioning deep-rooted racism within everyday culture but calling on governments, businesses and individuals to speak up and implement change. The bushfires in Australia caused environmental devastation and outcry, and the UK finally left the EU.

It’s been an tumultuous year, and ultimately we all faced more tests than we could have imagined. But what were the workplace challenges we faced in 2020 as a result? What challenges are expected in 2021, and most importantly, what have we learned and how will we overcome these?

What workplace challenges did we face in 2020?

The coronavirus pandemic put pressure on individuals and organisations alike. Home schooling, mental health battles, alternative working practices, job uncertainty and finding a new life-work balance were all part of the lockdown juggling act.

A top contributor to all of these factors was the sudden implementation of remote working. The UK lockdown, announced in March 2020, ordered offices and non-essential business premises to close. Companies immediately placed staff on furlough or remote working with very little notice. This was a logistical nightmare for many, and processes were put in place haphazardly. Technological issues, security measures and changing staff communication were difficulties every company will have faced. There were additional challenges for pure survival for the organisations who simply could not introduce remote working, such as physically changing workplace layouts to support social distancing, creating sanitising stations and handling staff absences or even workplace shutdowns.

For businesses who weren’t phased by the workplace changes with lockdown, there were other struggles. Supporting employees and their mental health became a more significant concern than ever before. Individuals who found themselves unexpectedly working from home were trying to balance childcare and lack of workspace while continuing their daily job. And those placed on furlough were left in the dark with job uncertainty, as employers tried to keep honest and supportive communication with staff. For many the struggles surrounding work were piled on top of existing mental health conditions, social isolation problems and even zoom fatigue. Altogether, this concoction of issues made mental health a more significant concern in 2020 than ever before.

No one was left unaffected. We were all challenged.

What workplace challenges will 2021 bring?

Many of these problems will pour over into 2021, and it is easy to feel history is repeating itself now the UK is in a similar lockdown to that of March 2020. But while the same challenges will need continually tackled, how we approach these will be different.

Remote working will still be a reality for most organisations, at least for the first half of the year. However, the emphasis in 2021 will be improving how we work remotely. Businesses will be concentrating on new annual objectives and goals. Yet, the coronavirus effect on the workplace will still need reviewing and tackling. Improved communication, stronger mental health support and flexible procedures will need to be prioritised to reach business goals and improve staff morale.

As part of employee support measures, diversity and inclusivity must be another key business priority . After last year’s Black Lives Matter movement, consumers and employees alike will expect businesses in 2021 to have a substantial emphasis on diversity and inclusivity. Gender disparities will be a crucial part of this. In 2019, the gender pay gap widened, while the UK government suspended companies reporting

requirements. This resulted in half of businesses choosing not to report on their gender pay gap last year. Whilst the Government sought to reduce the red tape burden on businesses, this could prove to be a catastrophic error signaling a regress in gender pay equality.

How can we overcome these challenges?

Businesses can overcome these workplace challenges in 2021 with three main points in mind: support, communication and flexibility.

Technology and structures surrounding remote working will need to be improved, and communication plays a large part. Ensuring official channels and guidance is in place for communication will help businesses reach their annual goals while supporting employees’ mental health needs, reducing social isolation, and assisting to achieve a better life-work balance.

Emphasis on open lines of communication also reassures employee. In recent years, trust has become a large part of consumer considerations and customer journey plans. In 2021, this will become an increasing priority for the workplace too. Both employees and employers need to feel they can trust each other while they navigate the uncertainty of 2021.

Improving inclusivity is another priority when it comes to improving workplace culture. Leaders should be ensuring diversity and inclusivity is a top priority for their workplace. Talk and action alone will not be enough. Visibility of decision makers intentions will be key. Pay gap reports and strategic, measurable changes are great starting points. But long-term plans must be created, reviewed and transparent for all to see the results, good or bad.

Moving forward

Ultimately everyone was trying their best throughout 2020 to balance life, work and mental health. Some of the problems faced in 2020 will still be prevalent this year. But importantly, it is how we tackle these challenges that will help businesses move forward and build resilience for the future. Support, communication and flexibility are critical factors for overcoming workplace challenges in 2021. Keeping flexibility within workplace structures will help companies reach their annual goals; build workplace trust, improve inclusivity and support better mental heath.

Diversity+ can assist with many of your business challenges, from Covid-19 transitions to inclusive workplace practises and more. Get in touch now for a consultation.

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