What changes to our work-life balance can we expect after COVID-19

COVID-19 is having a drastic effect on people (especially the sick and vulnerable), healthcare systems and economies. It has forced changes to how we think and live now, and will change how we think and live in future. It has also caused businesses to assess their core values and assets. Hopefully, they conclude that the latter are their people.

Some changes will be temporary.

Some changes will linger and re-shape how we work, live and play in the future.

Some changes will be positive.

Some changes will be negative.

Some changes will introduce new fears and prejudices and re-shape generations’ view on life, as happened after the 1929 crash, the 1987 crash and the 2008/09 Global Financial Crisis.

Many changes will take years to materialise or become apparent.

One example of change is that many New Zealanders, because the country is in full lockdown, have been forced to work from home. This has resulted in some compromises to work productivity, family dynamics and work-life balances, in elevated stress levels and in new approaches to old problems.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, many New Zealand businesses did not allow staff to work from home, or discouraged staff from working from home because many business managers considered working from home to be unproductive or inefficient or just an excuse to skive off.

Under full lockdown, many New Zealand businesses not only have had to accommodate staff working from home but also have had to facilitate it, support it and adjust for it. In the process, weaknesses in WiFi and broadband coverage and speed have been exposed.

The majority of businesses’ previous objections to reservations about staff working from home have proven to be erroneous, or the product of businesses managers’ prejudices or the desire to wield control over subordinates or another example of many business managers’ incompetence, lack of imagination or inability to think laterally.

Solutions to weaknesses in WiFi and broadband coverage must be found (more cell towers and more fibre optic cables perhaps?). Two arguably important and influential politicians in New Zealand, Simon Bridges (Leader of the Opposition) and Phil Goff (Mayor of Auckland), have been without adequate internet service in their homes. Their circumstances may be the trigger for improving internet services.

The recent and unplanned change to New Zealand’s business environment and work-life balance need not be temporary. It is an opportunity to try a different approach to the work-life-home balance, to try to do something different (and better).

Sure, there are a number of businesses that will always require face to face interaction between the business and its customers, such as in the tourism and hospitality industries, and hairdressing. The retail sector has been undergoing an evolutionary change in recent years with the rise in on-line shopping. COVID-19 has forced tourism and hospitality sectors into a revolutionary change, but there is only so much that can be done.

It is imperative that economies dependent on international tourism, such as New Zealand, Pacific Islands, the Caribbean must find alternative sources of lost export earnings.

A positive from COVID-19 has been environmental benefits, specifically clean air (especially in smog-ridden cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Delhi and Mumbai) and clean waters (Venice). Air and water pollution are unwanted consequences of industrialisation and, to some extent, globalisation. The world has seen clean air and water in places where they have not been seen for decades but the newly clean air and water have been at the cost of economic activity and jobs.

It may take years for businesses, workers and governments to recover from the effects of, responses to and consequences of COVID-19. The environment though will take a very short time to return to its previous polluted state unless action is taken now. But I doubt there will be any actions to improve the environment will be as timely and extensive as those to restore economic growth and jobs in industrialised nations.

The tourism and hospitality sectors, among others, and their influences on and contribution to the New Zealand economy may never be anything like they were before COVID-19. Equally, this is an opportunity to examine not only how and why businesses operate but also the businesses’ and societies’ core values, assets and long term goals. This applies to all industries and in all countries.