For most employers, the last two years have been consumed by the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace: stand downs, staff shortages, work from home and the attendant work health and safety issues, COVID-Safe Plans and vaccine mandates.
But as the new (new) COVID-normal settles in, particularly for those workers returning to the office, this is the time for employers to consider their wider policies and procedures to ensure they are ready for the post-pandemic world.
However, with competing priorities and stretched, it can be difficult for HR teams to prioritise particular policies and procedures over others. The below provide initial guidance for organisations and HR managers to consider as they refresh their policies and procedures, and ensure they remain compliant in the ever-changing landscape.
Anti-Bullying, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Policy
While this type of policy is a must for every employer, it is not a “set and forget” type of policy. It’s critical that employers also provide their staff with regular training on the subject.
Employers with staff predominantly working from home for a significant period may have seen a decrease in these types of complaints, particularly in circumstances where employee interactions have been limited to emails and phone calls.
As workers return to the office, and interactions increase, that may well change. As such, employers should be reviewing their policies and conducting (preferably, face to face) training.
Remote Working Policy
There is a significant trend towards employers continuing to offer some form of remote work options for their staff. Particular hybrid arrangements with some work from home, and some office attendance.
Such a hybrid system, while no doubt attractive for many employees, requires employers to consider a range of matters including:
- Rosters: are a particular number of employees required to be in the office on certain days?
- Flexibility: is there any, and if so, how are ad hoc changes to the roster to be accommodated?
- Hours: are employees working remotely expected to work normal office hours?
- Work health and safety: have proper workplace assessments been performed to ensure work health and safety at the home office?
- Monitoring performance: how is performance and productivity to be measured while employees are working remotely? Is there any workplace surveillance legislation that needs to be complied with?
- Security: are there sufficient IT security systems in place (particularly where workers use laptops and other removable hardware to perform their work)?
- Connectivity and collaboration: how is the workplace culture going to be maintained in a hybrid system?
Approach to Performance Management
Changes to working arrangements are often accompanied by changes to performance expectations and duties. While it may seem obvious, it is not always the case that those expectations are made clear to the employees to whom they apply.
For this reason, it’s important that employers conduct regular performance reviews with their staff, even when things are going well. Then, when things aren’t going well, the employee is not blind-sided, and the goals and expectations are clear.
Throughout the pandemic, proper performance management processes have, to some degree, taken a backseat. Between other COVID-19 related challenges, some employers were simply grateful to have sufficient staff to operate the business and didn’t want to (or couldn’t afford to) rock the boat with disciplinary processes.
The problem is, the behavior that you walk past, is the behavior you accept. Moving to a post-pandemic world is a good opportunity to re-set those expectations and address them constructively and fairly when not met. That requires a process for doing so, taking into account how performance is measured, monitored and reviewed when an employee is working remotely.
Undoubtedly, the last two years have thrown considerable challenges to employers and employees alike. There will, no doubt, be a further period of adjustment and change as the true impact of this pandemic on the workplace landscape becomes clearer. This is, however, an opportunity for employers to reset, re-focus and re-engage with their staff as we all move towards the post-pandemic world.