People are rubbing their hands together, but not in a gleeful, good-fortune kind of way. Actually, hand sanitising and other precautions are costing us, not only in money, but sanity, too. It’s time for a culture check.
The financial costs of staying safe in business during lockdown are increased by both the direct costs of safety equipment and consumables as well as the productivity costs. Whether your team is policing customers’ hand-sanitising at your shop entrance, putting in more safety steps in the production line, or adding to their personal hygiene rituals, getting the job done is taking longer and more effort than before COVID-19.
An even less visible cause of shrinking margins is the personal impact of lockdown, affecting productivity and the quality of work done.
We could rely on government statistics of a few hundred thousand job losses in SA (SA Government), or independent research of around 3 million jobs cut or furloughed (BusinessTech, 15 July 2020) – either way, employment is dropping significantly. Businesses are down-sizing or outright closing down. And there’s worse to come.
With abundant labour, it’s a buyers’ market. Everyone lucky enough to have a job knows it. As a business owner and employer, it’s easy to exploit and abuse this abundance.
For no extra pay, workers are taking on extra duties and working longer hours. What can be easily observed on the factory or shop floor is also happening for remote workers.
In analysing pre-lockdown and lockdown data for 3.1 million workers at 21,000 companies in 16 cities globally, The Washington Post (4 Aug 2020) states that the average workday has increased by 48.5 minutes.
Remote workers might enjoy less commuting and more freedom to walk the dog or a family lunch, but do these gains outweigh the stresses? For some, it’s more a case of living at work than working from home. Work-life boundaries are blurred and domestic relationships are impacted.
In a shared office, it’s easy to see how people are at a glance, who’s interacting with whom, and who are the leaders and influencers. But working remotely, getting along with colleagues needs a formal, deliberate approach. And there’s a limit to that too as “Zoom fatigue” takes its toll.
In looking after yourself and your team, remote work anomalies that normally wouldn’t happen with a regular office could signal that your culture is not supporting the new way of work. It’s hard to keep your boundaries and switch off the office when your job is at stake. I’ve even heard stories where workers will deliberately delay sending an email or two until the evening to somehow prove they’re “at work”.
Maybe a good thing to come from lockdown is that old management styles are being forced to die. Long and late hours at the office are never signs of loyal workers, only bad management that’s too remote – ironically – to distinguish between inputs and results.
Are you building a culture in your business that exploits people’s job security fears, or a culture that cares for your people and supports adapting to change? A good business isn't just a wealthy business.