The new normal will be based on greater worker/employer trust – at a distance. Thanks COVID-19.

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

As we begin to unwrap from the self-isolation, begin to get the extra kilos of fat off us, put the baking trays away and put out the empties….there are a few interesting facts I’d like to share and gain a sense of changing of the guard to what looks like the “New Normal” for our workplace…and they are subtle yet exciting ones.

Charles Handy, a leading authority and prolific author on organisational culture, defined four different kinds of culture: Power, Role, Task and Person. Where organisations over time have tended to evolve from the “power” (few people dictating how things were done) to a more Role, Task, Person, based model where personal responsibility and accountability pushed the culture to a more “mature model”. The strategy of the business was set, the tasks, actions and resources could be better understood and also set and “personal or team-based responsibility” delivered the KPI’s to confirm the basis for the business plan and overall organisational success.

This model best performs where there is a greater level of trust

This model best performs where there is a greater level of trust in the employee to perform the assigned tasks as the central KPI to their employment contract with the employer. Our current industrial relations behemoth system – where a fair days work is paid (on an hourly and penalty rate system) with rigid award based parameters does not give the level of trust necessary to achieve superior results in productivity.

Charles Handy 4 pillars system explained:

Notice this: The employee is trusted to perform tasks without direct supervision. The number of hours they spend on these tasks becomes secondary in the measurement making room for isolation, forced work from home rules - even leaving a little time for school tuition and re-discovering the kitchen, baking and family time.

Certainly in our business (where 5 teams made up about 55 employees) we all worked from our office in Loganholme and most days looked like the other, time sheets were kept, arguments over what was the best day to take our monthly Rostered Day Off (RDO), set times were in our employment contract with the company – and we built a great business. When someone said, “I’d like to work from home” there were jokes with “Working-from-home-hey?” and a traditional level of workplace sarcasm.

Enter CoronaVirus and Australia

On 18 March, a human biosecurity emergency was declared by the Governor-General, David Hurley, under Section 475 of the Biosecurity Act 2015.

In Australia, the largest financial stimulus package ($89B) was announced by the Prime Minister (with bi-partisan political support) on the 22nd March with shut down orders of non-essential industry following shortly.

The economy would be “put into hibernation”. The following week it became clear the Commonwealth Government was going to take decisive action putting an end to our world record of un-matched economic growth of 27 years. So like many other employers, the Board of Locatrix prepared to extend our runway, preserve cash and weather the impact of the forthcoming pandemic. We retrenched 10 of our 55 staff and then took the unprecedented move of sharing an idea to prevent further retrenchments. We suggested to our staff that we all work 4 days a week and therefore take a 20% pay decrease. We needed to amend our work contracts, and we did. One of the proudest moments in my career to date came when the employees uniformly accepted these changes and signed up. They trusted us to keep the jobs of their friends and colleagues.

The decision was easy: we shut the office and sent everyone home to work.

Preparing for the unknown

Over the last 7 years, we have been moving through the ISO Quality ISO9001, WH&S ISO18001, Environment ISO14001 standardisation process and with the work to satisfy banking clients security needs Information Systems and Cyber Control ISO 27001. These externally certified standards along with our fully audited accounts have prepared our business very well for external scrutiny and risk mitigation.

The cost to the business in achieving these incremental steps have been an expensive journey. However, on the 22nd March, the office was empty, our 50+ staff were all working from home and we did not miss a call or a single beat. I had no idea the business could be so resilient. But when I look back, this process did not only prepare us for the hibernation but has put us in an enviable position for the recovery.

Preparing for recovery

Obviously, the financial stimulus will come at an almighty price to the future Australian economy. Deficits will be the new normal financial position of the developed economies and this will have an enduring impact on our future and the futures of our children.

Is this our last pandemic? What if the next virus is more infectious and attacks children rather than the elderly? We are planning for this recovery, without a vaccine available.

But the fact remains that the need to rebuild our economic interest and “asset base” as an economy is critical. This means that our recovery as individual businesses is also critical. When the Prime Minister said “Every employer who is still employing people is an essential service business” he was right. For us to grow we need to be prepared during the hibernation and move into “top gear growth” once more when we are out of this time.

The Gartner Growth metrics from 2009 GFC exit.

During the 2009 financial crisis there was economic mayhem and business failures reached an unprecedented level. However, for the 3000 businesses measured via Gartner in the chart above, the effect of the GFC was largely beneficial.

Locatrix aims to be one of the leaders in our field on the exit from the pandemic. We will achieve this increased velocity by:

  1. Reducing the projects, we were working on to just to a single company wide focus on a single effort – Project Newton: Getting PlanStudio into the Apple App store by June 30th – with payment gateway and partner on-ramp infrastructure in place. Single focus on growth opportunity.

  2. Preserve cash – therefore our runway and safety net.

  3. Work with our clients to ensure we listen to their needs and respond. (This is where online training is a favoured alternative to face-to-face training) Assure future revenues.

  4. Be strategic in where we allocate our resources, focus on what is immediately going to grow our business.

What is a “return to work” and what does it look like for our clients?

Over the last 2 weeks we have been working on the Locatrix office to understand how social distancing rules will impact our return to work. We did this to learn the challenges our clients (in major commercial buildings) will be facing and what we can do to help? More importantly – can we use our expertise to help our clients?

Before I answer this question let’s look at the basics: -

Pre Covid-19 we had 55 people in an office of 460SQM.

Post Covid-19 we must have 4 SQM for each person – great if you are open plan – but in most offices there are corridors, hallways and meeting rooms all needing to reflect a social distancing plan of 1.5M between each person.

The kitchen can only support 3 people at a time, no-microwave usage, food in refrigerators needs to be sealed and hygienic. Even the coffee/tea/sugar has to be sealed. Benches wiped down after each use and there is a whole new cleaning regime to be performed nightly and more importantly, recorded.

This means that the “new normal” for our office is a maximum of 25 people working from the location. Luckily, our work can be performed from home or other locations and Covid-19 has certainly addressed the “trust” issues and by necessity we will have at least 50% of our people working from home 50% of the time.

If you are preparing for return to work in a major commercial building, the preparation for this is going to begin with workplace inspections, not dissimilar to our experience in Locatrix, but additional complexity for work areas where there are lifts to access floors – where pre-Covid-19 we could all bundle into a 9am lift or a lunch time one, careful consideration and capacity mapping will need to occur. Two people per lift will mean hours of wait time to get into a building.

How can Locatrix help?

Our PlanStudio product accurately maps the internal SQM for a building and gives the user the ability to map crowd flow, zone meeting rooms and also ensure the right capacity for work areas and meeting rooms. The link below will provide a short example of how we have used PlanStudio to mark up our office space in accordance with Covid-19 Government return to work restrictions.

Additionally, being certified for ISO 18001 WH&S and deploying our technology means that we are in an excellent position to assist our clients with these challenging times.

As the new way of work evolves, it is clear that Charles Handy was ahead of his time and that “Power, Role, Task and Person” based evolution of the workplace has now become a necessary step in our planning for working in facilities and more importantly how we Trust our people to perform their roles rather than simply showing up at 8:30 am and clocking off at 5 pm.

I am certain that the employers who embrace this new order and trust the Person will be among the winners in the post Covid-19 world.

Locatrix will be one of these businesses and the current team has not only shown their desire to be part of the success – but they are also happy, motivated, engaged, safe and dedicated to the path ahead.

One final note, when we asked out 50+ staff if they were looking forward to coming back to “the old normal” uniformly they said “no”. The “new normal” has already been voted for by our people – we now have to make it happen. Isn’t trust great!