Lockdown doesn’t have to lead to economic meltdown: Employment expert


New Zealand doesn’t have to have an economic meltdown over every coronavirus lockdown, an employment expert says.

While the country’s first lockdown dealt some swift blows and harsh lessons to Kiwi businesses, it also brought the business community’s number 8 wire mentality to the fore.

Katherine Swan, New Zealand director at HR and recruitment company Randstad, says the forward-thinking approach that saw start-ups, SMEs and large companies alike adapt en masse will need to continue as the country finds its “next normal”.

Auckland visual team

The community outbreak of coronavirus in south Auckland has created an “atmosphere of hopelessness but also resilience”, locals say.

“An innovative approach is a sensible one. It means we do not have to have an economic meltdown every time we go into lockdown because we are prepared to transition our workplaces without causing disruption to productivity.”

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Randstad’s latest research into the impact of Covid-19 on workers and organisations found 85 per cent of Kiwi employers are focused on boosting employee productivity and performance, and just over a third (36 per cent) of workers expect to see significant changes at work.

The figures show both employers and workers acknowledge the way people work has to change, Swan says.

Randstad New Zealand director Katherine Swan says businesses need to be able to transition in and out of lockdown without affecting productivity.

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Randstad New Zealand director Katherine Swan says businesses need to be able to transition in and out of lockdown without affecting productivity.

“In the short term, we need to live with this virus in our communities, we need to adopt appropriate health and safety measures and evolve the way we work, which is why we believe a hybrid workplace will be our next normal.”

For some, like telecommunications infrastructure provider Chorus, flexible working is nothing new.

But the pandemic has highlighted the importance of being prepared to work remotely at short notice.

Shaun Philp, general manager of people and culture at Chorus, says the old-fashioned idea that staff need to be visible in the office to be considered working is a thing of the past.

Although some tasks are best completed in the office and some people prefer to be office-based, teams are being asked to consider the work they do and the needs of their customers when assessing the best way to work, Philp said.

“At Chorus we have certainly proven that our workforce can be just as productive when working from home.

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“In New Zealand we’re particularly fortunate to have fibre broadband available to over 80 per cent of the population, with that number continuing to grow,” Philp says.

“What that means is we have the technology available to replicate a seamless workplace experience at home.”

The importance of up-to-date technology and a digital presence was a lockdown revelation for some small businesses. Many have since taken steps to soften the blow of any future store closures.

New Zealand-owned website agency Zeald has provided more than 600 free websites to small businesses since March and experienced a flurry of new interest as Auckland re-entered lockdown last month.

Chairman David Kelly says the reemergence of Covid-19 in the community proves businesses, just like individuals, can’t become complacent.

“We will be operating in an uncertain trading environment for some time to come, and small businesses need to prepare digitally.

Auckland butchery owner Dave Rossiter says having an online ordering system helped take the sting out of the city’s return to lockdown.

Ricky Wilson/Stuff

Auckland butchery owner Dave Rossiter says having an online ordering system helped take the sting out of the city’s return to lockdown.

“If you can’t offer contactless payment options or click and collect services for your customers during alert level 3, you are in trouble.”

Dave Rossiter, owner of Westmere Butchery in Auckland, says having an established online ordering system pre-Covid took the sting out of the city’s return to lockdown.

However, sales at the butchery slumped 40 per cent overall in the first week after the move to level 3.

“The online sales picked up but when you usually see 500 or 600 customers in a day, you’re going to feel it,” he said.

“There’d be less of a drop for the smaller guys, if they’ve got online and pick-up. If they haven’t, I don’t know how they’d manage.”

Swan says the overall uncertainty created by the pandemic has also shifted New Zealanders’ views on job security, now the most important factor for those considering their career options.

Companies that are innovative and agile to respond to changes will create a brand that will help keep existing employees and attract new talent.

“Workforce adaptability and organisational agility are critical in driving productivity, responding to emerging opportunities and hence safeguarding jobs.

“It is vitally important for employers to provide transparent communications and, if possible, assurances about job security to avoid losing their best people to the competition.”



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