For a long time, policy makers and thought leaders have been discussing the future of work and the impacts of our changing global environment on how we contribute to society and our economy in our working life.
While the focus of conversation has been on how companies can support the process of productivity while keeping the wheels of commerce moving, we need to ensure that we include flexibility and social aspects of engagement as we rebuild the way we work.
There is no doubt that Covid-19 is reshaping the way we work. The percentage of our workforce now contributing through working from home is at a level unimaginable at the start of the year. We have had an enforced disruption and now employers are moving at speed to accommodate these new ways of working.
It is well beyond the theory – we are making it up as we go, or "building the plane as it flies" to use a start-up term. While we have all adapted to our new style of work, there are still several challenges in ensuring we have the flexibility and culture built in to support ongoing growth and prosperity.
The Productivity Commission published a report in March 2020 that outlined several recommendations to support the future of work through the lens of technological evolutions. Some of the key factors shaping the report were the fact that macroeconomic shocks (such as pandemics) reduce labour-force mobility.
However, what we have seen is that, while we do not want to change jobs if we have the choice, the pandemic has charted quite a significant redeployment of people. It created an enforced change in what we do for a living and how we do it.
This new wave of labour mobility, both in the kinds of work we do and where we do it from, is a monumental shift to a new normal. As employers, we are moving forward quickly to introduce greater flexibility into how our staff continue to deliver services.
Part of this is approach is making sure that we have the right technology availability, but the key facet for us is keeping support levels high for our team. Greater communications and strengthening the soft engagement are vital for a happy and healthy workforce.
The other key component is the ability to bring our teams together. While video-conferencing tools are a great device for us to catch-up, virtual meetings are no substitute for kanohi ki te kanohi (face-to-face).
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The tacit knowledge shared around the water cooler, the informal two minutes of chat and the collective vibe of a workplace is the glue that keeps a culture and a community alive. While we strive to increase openness to innovation and new technologies, and be fleet of foot in implementing these, we also need to find new ways of building culture.
Through strengthening staff wellness and wellbeing, we can develop long-term resilience in our teams and ensure that we can all keep contributing to making our communities strong.
While some parts of our society focus on the dollars and GDP, what we've seen is that the health of our workforce is the key to ongoing growth in our economy. Without our people, we have nothing.
Through The Orchard – Northland Inc's collaborative business and event space for the region's growing community of entrepreneurs, start-ups and established businesses – we have seen how collaborative workspaces can play a key role in developing the new normal and supporting strong communities.
As we approach The Orchard's fourth birthday in November, we have experienced the value of a multipurpose space that can accommodate the bringing together of people. We are building new ways in which we can support our communities to engage and thrive, but what we know above all is that we need to keep bringing people together.
It is through this simple activity that we can thrive as a community, and we look forward to continuing to contribute strength to the fabric of our economy.
• Joseph Stuart is an accredited economic developer, learning facilitator for Economic Development New Zealand and general manager of business innovation and growth at Northland Inc, the regional economic development agency.