By Natalie-Mai Holmes,
Remember how we used to work in offices, factories, retail stores - all the normal places where we performed our duties in the interests of commerce and industry? Then came the New Normal: social isolation and, if we were lucky enough to keep our jobs, working from home. Now comes the New, New Normal, just when we had adjusted to that first, unsettling change.
Many of us have adjusted so well, that we aren't terribly keen on returning to the old normal. Working from home has brought unexpected benefits, and many people have discovered so many unexpected benefits of working remotely that they don't relish giving up. Far from being overjoyed, some are viewing the easing of restrictions with sadness, and possibly anxiety.
Over the weeks of restriction to home base, how many of us have reflected on the price we paid so unthinkingly for the routines we had taken for granted for years, if not decades of conventional work life? Did we really just accept the crush of public transport; never-ending traffic jams; the exposure to bad manners, bad drivers, outright aggression, road rage and smog; the tyrrany of car parking as non-negotiable? And given the daily pressure of getting to work on time; getting the kids to school on time; getting them back from school on time; getting home, spending time with family and friends while somehow shopping, preparing or buying meals, performing the daily grind of homework and housework and/or coping with the guilt of cutting corners, how could we justify the loss of all those hours queuing and commuting?
We might have been challenged initially by the technological demands of remote working, but how quickly have we adjusted to that? We're old hands at Zooming with friends and family, colleagues and bosses. And in the new balance sheet of give and take, how many of us have found that there is much less red ink - that we have somehow gained more than we have lost?
A new new normal may enable us to be a more present and sharing parent, partner or friend than we were pre-pandemic. We might reflect on any newly recognised strength, such as cultivating patience, courage and a sense of calm in the face of adversity or perhaps acknowledging our ability to respond when we seemed to have lost all choice.
Perhaps now we have an opportunity to choose a different, less stressful norm. A 2013 Australian Public Service report found that telework provides employees with a choice and some autonomy in decisions around how work is achieved. For employers, benefits were identified as increased productivity, higher levels of employee engagement, lower absenteeism, and increased innovation and creativity.
For those able to work from home, their new workplace might also be seen as more environmentally friendly. A 2019 Australian review of opportunities to reduce light vehicle emissions, suggests that a reduction in commuting time could be linked with as much as a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Telework has been noted as reducing stress in workers. It can enable organisations to improve and nurture employees’ health and wellbeing for the benefit of the individual, the organisation, and our broader community.
These changes constitute a challenge and an opportunity for management. Can the necessities we have been forced to accommodate in the time of the coronavirus help us invent a much more satisfying norm: a happy medium between remote work and the office?