As many countries around the world slowly lifts their restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are quickly learning that returning to the workplace does not equal returning to life as it was pre-pandemic. The situation is actually far more complicated than locking-down. Mercer’s ‘Return to a New Normal’ white paper reveals that employers will have to dedicate much time and effort towards balancing empathy and economics.

“Organisations faced with a global pandemic of such wide sweeping impact cannot predict what a ‘new normal’ will look like, but they can predict the challenges they might face,” said Martine Ferland, President and CEO, Mercer. “This uncharted territory has pushed employers to consider who should return to the worksite, when and under which conditions; how work gets done digitally; what it takes for employees to be mentally and physically prepared to return to work; and what measures are critical to ensure success in these turbulent times. To be as prepared as possible, it is critical to build a risk mindset, thinking through what protocols and policies as well as what range of reactions employees may have and how to implement necessary changes. Leading companies are taking a fresh look at how best to return, with one eye firmly on how to use this reset as an opportunity to reinvent.”

Renee McGowan, CEO, Mercer Asia said, “Asia was the first to be hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, impose lockdowns and then emerge from them. Early experience shows that in the return to the workplace, organisations need to be transparent, flexible and prepared to respond and react swiftly to repeat cycles of lockdown, depending on local coronavirus infection rates. Health and safety have been top of mind with safety measures, social distancing as well as flexible working arrangements including staggered hours and split teams emerging as new norms. How companies navigate these changes and challenges will no doubt shape the future of work and their organisations.”

The ability to adapt quickly will be vital; employers will need to deploy a variety of proven channels for effective communication, while also providing tools and support for managers to accomplish these goals. As the pandemic unfolded in stages, economic recovery will also likely happen in stages, but it is clear that as employers progress on return practices, they will need to continually revisit their relevance for changing times. While each organisation faces unique sets of challenges and variations by location, there are distinct issues that are top of mind.

The safe return to the office will likely be at the top of every employer’s to-do list. HR and business leaders are working around the clock together with internal stakeholders such as facilities, occupational health and safety, and risk management to reimagine workplaces, reshape physical customer interactions and understand the reality of the new employee experience. Workplace readiness plans that are flexible and adaptable, and that continually audit safety within or outside the worksite will prove invaluable.

A return to stability is another aspect that is being scrutinised heavily by employers and businesses. Gaining stability and planning a path back to more robust financial and operational performance is crucial, now more than ever. As employers slowly moving beyond the initial cost saving measures and attempts to preserve as many jobs as possible, they are likely to enter a different environment with a stronger focus on the bottom line and their employees’ productivity. Methods which involve rigorous prioritisation of programs and process will play a crucial role in determining what an organisation needs to sustain the workforce’s survival and growth. The pandemic has demonstrated how adaptable most people and businesses can be, and this has become a cue to embrace disruption.

As plans to return to work take shape, companies will have the opportunity to reaffirm their direction and values. Companies that are ahead of the curve are taking measures to reconfirm their value proposition and align benefits to values. This is especially important as employees’ expectations for their employers to take care of them are at an all-time high.

For the time being, the business ecosystem will be a rollercoaster as the world recovers from COVID-19 and employers digest the full emotional and economic consequences of the pandemic. Employees will require energy and confidence to thrive, whether back in the workplace, still at home or embarking on assignment.


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