In two new COVID Conversations, DCA CEO Lisa Annese speaks with Rachel Nicholls, Board member of engineering and design consultant Arup Australasia, and John Price, a Commissioner for corporate regulator Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), to discover how their organisations are going about the business of recovery and mapping the road ahead.
The experiences of both organisations confirmed what champions of flexible working have long been claiming – that rather than a compromise, flexible working is a valuable business tool that increases productivity. Now that both are deep in planning mode for a safe return of staff to the office, what will their workplaces looks like?
For Arup, recovery means erring on the cautious side, allowing for reversed restrictions. And with only 5% of their surveyed workforce preferring to return to the office full time, they acknowledge there is anxiety about retaining the positives of lockdown on family and wellbeing and are reluctance to revert to any previous negative work/life balances.
Says Rachel, “We are looking at a phased return to work and the priority is for those that have more of a need to be back in the office for lots of different reasons. Some of them may be project driven. Some of them will be personally driven.”
Arup’s expertise now extends to building work environments that are hygienic and adaptable, with improved people flow that allows for any required social distancing.
For example, as Rachel explains, “We're working with clients at how you manage a workforce population coming into the bottom of a high rise building and getting into lifts. So how can you model those spaces?”
In his role as a Commissioner of ASIC, John has seen firsthand the devastating results of COVID-19 on Australian businesses.
“There's no doubt that COVID-19 has created conditions that are absolutely extraordinary, and which radically depart from what we've seen in the past. And that's putting a great deal of pressure I think on boards and senior management in how to manage the risks and changes,” said John.
ASIC conducted several surveys to gather staff feedback on the impacts of the pandemic which revealed that staff look forward to a return to the office, but the work commute is causing them concern. Whether a successful vaccine is developed or not, the expectation is for flexibility and ASIC are focussed on rewriting flexibility policies in preparation for any increases in restrictions.
According to John, businesses need to be prepared to manage the risks of COVID-19 for the long haul.
“Obviously there will be reduced dependence on physical travel, given the various restrictions in place. Flexible working arrangements and inclusion in the workforce will continue to be important, and businesses need to understand their supply chains, and where necessary diversify those supply chains to try and manage risks,” said John.
Both organisations report that their D&I objectives have remained on track thanks to various online platforms. For Arup, holding virtual gatherings has increased access by bridging geographical location, and recordings have overcome timing conflicts and extended event lifespans.
ASIC and Arup’s COVID Conversations demonstrate that extensive planning and effective communication are key to a safe and inclusive return strategy, and future proofing with resilience for potential crises ahead.
View the full video interviews below.