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After the pandemic: Finding ways of working that work for us

Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology of South Africa
Date: 22 November 2020


Who will you be sharing your office with in the future? Will it still be Buddy, your faithful four-legged friend at home, or will it be Abe, your trustworthy colleague back at the office?

Well, whatever your choice, one thing is certain: the face of the world of work will never be the same – globally and also in South Africa.

This is the opinion of Dr Marissa Brouwers, a registered industrial psychologist and senior lecturer at the School of Industrial Psychology and Human Resource Management at the NWU.

The NWU & U spoke to Marissa, who was also the 2019/2020 president of the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology of South Africa, about the changes we might expect in the work environment of the future.

Finding solutions that work

Marissa points out that the Harvard Business Review has described the Covid-19 pandemic as the “most significant social experiment of the future of work in action, with work from home and social distancing policies radically changing the way we work and interact”.

“What I find especially striking here is the use of the word ‘experiment’,” Marissa says. “This conveys an image of playing and trying out possible solutions until we come up with the best ones that work – possibly different ones for different companies and industries.”

Going back or staying put?

Marissa believes that some people will indeed be going back to their offices. “It is unthinkable that they will not … however, there won’t be a hundred percent return to in-office work, even when it’s feasible and safe to do so.”

For the workers who are going to continue working from home, there are upsides as well as downsides.

Marissa says benefits of working from home, or flexi-work, include the following:

  • enjoying greater flexibility in balancing our personal and professional lives,
  • acquiring new technology skills and effectively using digital platforms;
  • not having to travel to work and therefore finding more productive ways to spend that time, and
  • having greater work autonomy – we can choose where (for instance at home or in a coffee shop) and when to work.

There is, however, also a flip side:

  • Some of us tend to work longer hours as the boundaries between our work and personal time becomes blurred.
  • We may experience feelings of loneliness as employees are isolated from each other or we may be distracted by our household and family situations.
  • Some of us may feel more exhausted and experience greater cognitive dissonance as it is harder to feel connected during virtual meetings.

Businesses must create safe spaces

For those employees who are returning to their office desks, however, organisations have a responsibility to create a safe office environment. This is especially true in the absence of a worldwide vaccine for Covid-19.

Marissa says employers should keep the following in mind when they think about back-to-office plans:

  • How can shared office space be made safe and more attractive?
  • What can be done from home, perhaps even more effectively?
  • Is there a best of both worlds?
  • Can we make our workers self-thinkers, confident and reliable in terms of thinking about safety as well as work-effectiveness?

Offices should be reimagined

“Offices may need to be entirely rethought and transformed,” Marissa says. “Organisations must reimagine their work and the role of offices in creating safe, productive and enjoyable jobs and lives for employees.”

Employers can and should look toward futuristic ideas for the “new” work environment. This might include always-on videoconferencing, remote collaboration spaces (such as virtual whiteboards) and autonomous but flexible working models.

“Ultimately it is up to us all to think and be creative, to play and find ways of working that work for us, with novel and forward-looking ideas about our connection with others and the safe use of shared space,” Marissa says.

Read the full article here: http://www.nwu.ac.za/sites/www.nwu.ac.za/files/files/i-media/nwu&uENG052020/pandemic.html

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