• External Contributor

Workplaces not set up for WFH are failing

Here in Brisbane, we are in our third day of a three-day lockdown, with restrictions easing considerably at 6pm tonight. When the Queensland Government announced the strict three-day lockdown and mask mandate, the strictest rules the state has faced in all of COVID, it wasn't only the grocery hoarders who acted rashly. Some workplaces scrambled to provide socially distant configurations and work from home setups. Some workplaces are simply not able to abide by COVID restrictions, like hairdressers and massage therapists, who rely on physical contact, and jobs that require staff to be at the workplace. But there are plenty of offices that have no excuse.

If your workplace went into panic at the news delivered on Friday morning, it has failed. It has failed to learn from and adapt from the initial lockdowns in March and April. It has failed to understand that, for some, working from home is a very viable and in some cases ideal situation. Some businesses have adapted, improved, and shifted their culture. Some companies made redundancies that were followed by resignations. Some staff were afforded a renewed chance for work-life balance, pivoting to online meetings and home offices. Some were pressured, worked more, and saw the already blurred line between work and home disappear. Some people felt more appreciated than ever in their job, and others navigated the oversaturated job market to seek employment elsewhere.

I, along with many others, didn't see the start of 2021 as a 'fresh start'. Some of the craziest moments in history have happened in the last year, and the pandemic was one of them. Many workplaces talked about the end of COVID being 'in sight' when Australia's restrictions were mostly lifted. These were the workplaces that went 'back to normal' after staff filtered back into the office. Maybe there were less staff, maybe the strategy had changed a little, but work life was back to how it always had been. Alarm goes off at 7, breakfast, shower, get dressed, pack lunch, get on train, arrive at office. These companies didn't bring in meaningful change or redirection. They didn't future-proof their systems. Maybe they had more cleaning and less morning teas, but they squandered the opportunity for growth.

When talking to a friend back in June about how unusual the year had been, he said something that I remember clearly. "I think crazy stuff like this will keep happening." Because of how mobile we are (or were, before March 2020), the insidiousness of the internet, polarising politicians, climate change, and a hyper-capitalist society, I think he's probably right. This ~unprecented~ events will start to become precedented. And workplaces must adapt.