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New Ways of Working - HRNZ Research

HRNZ surveyed Members during the final days at Alert Level Two to find out if new ways of working were likely to survive as we move to Alert Level One.

Whilst the Prime Minister is urging workers to get back into the CBD, 82% of our respondents say their organisations have plans to continue with remote working at least to some extent.

However nearly one third of respondents suggest that leaders within their organisations could act as a constraint to continuing new ways of working.


New ways of working – will they survive?
There has been a huge amount of commentary across all media suggesting we might be on the cusp of a transformation in our workplaces.  Greater incidence of distributed teams, more flexible work practices and more widespread use of virtual communication channels are just some of the changes being promoted and debated.

Our survey results suggest we’re less likely to see a transformation and can instead expect a cautious and largely business driven agenda to changing workplace practices.


Our biggest learning
Overwhelmingly our survey respondents indicated that the biggest learning from the past months has been that working from home can be implemented successfully.  The necessity of the situation had the result of disproving many of the potential concerns that had been seen as inhibitors in the past.

Quotes from our respondents included:

  • “The company can conduct the majority of its business effectively with staff working remotely rather than in the office.”
  • “Leadership/management team have a more open approach to flexible working and working from home”
  • “Trusted employees to focus on outputs, not just time at the desk.”
  • “That productivity and engagement is not necessarily tied to where people are working from.”


What we will continue with
Despite the apparent success of the working from home experiment a continuation of this was not necessarily seen as the most likely learning that would be carried forward. The most likely changes that will be continued were as follows:

  • Use of virtual meetings 91%
  • Working remotely – flexibility of where people work 82%
  • New approaches to communications within teams and across the organisation 66%
  • Contact tracing people entering the workplace 45%

These results suggest that some of the most enduring changes we might see are the ways in which we communicate within and outside our organisations.  We’ve all had a crash course in the use of virtual meeting tools such as Zoom and MS Teams and it seems for many the benefits will be worth holding onto.

It’s interesting to note that many see contact tracing in the workplace as something that will be with us for a while.


Working from home in the future
In terms of organisational policies in relation to working from home our respondents indicated the following:

  • We’ll return to our policies and practices that were in place prior to the COVID-19 response 13%
  • We’ll support an increase in the number of employees working remotely based on business needs 39%
  • We’ll support an increase in the number of employees working remotely based on personal preferences 29%
  • Our organisation doesn’t support working remotely 4%

So we can expect to see an increase in the incidence of working from home but it appears likely that this will not generally be on a full-time basis. Comments from respondents indicate that in reality a mix of business requirements and personal preferences will be considered. Typical sentiments were expressed as follows:

  • “We will support an increase in the % of an employees work hours spent working from home based on personal preference. (i.e. No employees will work from home permanently but there will be more allowance for regular # of days per week).”
  • “We will support an increase in the number of employees working remotely based on business and personal needs.”
  • “We will return to pre-Covid practices; however we will consider remote working by exception.”


The Challenges
Our respondents identified with a number of challenges in respect of more extensive adoption of remote working. The major challenges were:

  • Nature of work we do 50%
  • Technology investment or connectivity for remote workers 28%
  • Leadership commitment 31%
  • Changes needed within employment agreements 4%
  • Health and safety obligations 35%

We may have found short term solutions to working from home challenges during the COVID-19 response but our results suggest practical issues remain if we are to make this a longer term proposition. It’s also interesting to note that nearly a third of our respondents identified the commitment of organisational leaders as the biggest challenge in extending work from home arrangements into the future.

Maintaining Culture
Maintaining organisational culture and team cohesion was a significant concern for organisational leaders and HR professionals through the lockdown period. The most common initiatives reported by our respondents were as follows:

  • More regular team meetings 67%
  • Regular one on one check ins with all staff 51%
  • Regular communications from leaders to update staff 76%
  • Polls or surveys to check staff sentiment 48%
  • New well-being tools and resources 43%
  • Social catch ups with teams via video 61%
  • A more holistic approach to considering employee needs 41%

Even if some of our new ways of working will be challenging to maintain, it’s to be hoped that these types of initiatives do become a part of our new normal.  The widespread adoption of working from home has given leaders a glimpse into a more complete picture of their employees lives.  These pictures will be useful to keep in mind as we deal with the economic impacts coming out of the COVID-19 crisis.


HR Professionals personal experiences
Our final survey question asked HR professionals to share their experiences of working remotely.  Their responses were as follows:

  • I’ve been more productive since working remotely 48%
  • I’ve found it difficult to switch off from work 33%
  • Distractions at home have sometimes interfered with work time 31%
  • I’ve enjoyed the flexibility of being able to structure my day differently 67%
  • I’ve missed social interactions whilst working remotely 50%
  • At times working remotely has impacted my personal wellbeing 17%

These experiences will be things that many can relate to.  As we approach the question of the extent to which we now adopt these new ways of working, we’re sure HR professionals will be highly cognisant of the need to keep in mind the pros and cons of flexible working practices and particularly remote working.


Our survey suggests that we’re unlikely to see a rapid move to wide-scale remote working practices.  Responses indicate that we’ve learned a lot about how to better use technology to support different work arrangements. Maybe we’ve also upped the ante in terms of our communications with employees. 

These learnings appear to offer significant value to organisations moving forward.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway should be that employees have lives and needs beyond work which aren’t always best served by rigid adherence to a location and schedule. In a crisis these things assume less importance than some might have expected.