Crossing the bridge: HR considerations for emerging from COVID
The last few months have seen the APS transform in ways we would never have thought possible – and HR has been at the heart of that change. We’ve helped our agencies innovate and adapt so we can continue serving Australians, and that’s meant work looks pretty different right now – whether it’s holding virtual meetings, making space in a lift or even working from home.
Now, as restrictions slowly begin to ease, we can expect to see some aspects of our working lives returning to normal – while others will stay forever changed. Crossing the bridge to the other side of this pandemic won’t be easy, and many in the APS are looking to HR for assistance and guidance as we understand what the future will look like.
So what are some of the changes from the past few months that we expect to continue? And how can we support staff to adjust and make the most of them?
Working from home
One of the biggest changes that has resulted from COVID-19 is the shift of thousands of staff to working from home arrangements. There’s no doubt this has presented its challenges, both for staff who may feel isolated and disconnected, and for organisations overcoming the barriers of remote working.
But amidst the difficulty, some staff have thrived. A Swinburne University study of employees working from home during COVID-19 found that while 40% had never worked from home before the pandemic, only 10% reported that they wouldn’t work from home in the future. For many, those precious extra minutes saved by not having to commute has made a real difference to their work-life balance, with nine in ten survey respondents citing ‘not having to commute’ as the biggest benefit of working from home.
So if one of the outcomes of this crisis is an increased appetite for working from home arrangements, there will be many factors we will need to consider to accommodate staff while also meeting the needs of the Australians we serve. For example, occupational health and safety discussions will look very different, as will security and information management procedures. We will also need to make sure we give the thought needed to ensure the right governance and integrity processes can still take place remotely.
But if properly managed there could be real advantages for both staff and their agencies, and as HR professionals it will be our job to manage these factors in the new world of work.
Flexible ways of working
Of course, while as HR professionals our focus is always on supporting staff, it’s also our role to create the best outcomes for the business. A new, more flexible way of working presents many opportunities to do that.
In order to deliver important measures for government, agencies have been forced to innovate, and this has seen a more agile way of working take hold over recent months. We’ve seen staff responsively moving into new roles and sometimes new agencies, showing their commitment to service and sense of shared purpose as they help deliver priority projects for Australians. With everyone from grads to COMCAR drivers to senior executives jumping into new roles and forming cross-agency tiger teams, whole-of-government collaboration has taken a front seat.
What this means is that as HR professionals we have a fantastic opportunity to rethink our traditional understanding of how teams and operations need to be structured, and embrace a more agile way of doing business to create better outcomes for Australians. How can we make policy solutions that leverage new ways of working to maximise the staff experience and deliver on corporate objectives?
These are the questions you need to be able to answer. But don’t wait to be asked for advice – be proactive and contribute to strategy that makes the most of what we’ve learned these past few months.
Another vital consideration – at all times, but especially in the midst of this crisis – is the mental health of staff.
For some, the past few months have been particularly tough. National Health Commission CEO Christine Morgan indicated that there has been an increase in people engaging with mental health services, reflecting the strain Australians have been feeling both at work and at home. The APS is no different, with many public servants dealing with their own personal challenges while also overcoming barriers at work.
This will continue to be a key concern for us as HR professionals as we support staff to return to the office. Because while it may represent a return to normality, it’s also another change to navigate. With staff all facing unique personal circumstances, there will be a range of different responses spanning those eager to get back, through to those feeling reluctant or uneasy about the prospect of returning.
Already we’ve seen HR respond to this challenge and provide great support to staff dealing with the disruption and difficulty of the past few months. As a profession we’ve been able to draw on the knowledge of our profession as well as a range of resources and tools, and we now have another we can add to our toolkit: the APS COVID-19 hotline.
The hotline has been specifically established to help you support the mental health of staff during this period of uncertainty arising from the pandemic. It offers many types of support from experienced psychologists trained in workplace mental health matters, and is available to help you manage a wide range of people concerns by providing strategies, advice, coaching, best practice and practical tips.
It’s fast, free, and confidential, and is also available to senior APS leaders so you can encourage your executive to make the most of its benefits.
It’s easy to access the hotline – either:
- call 1800 966 035 for fast support from 8am – 6pm Monday to Friday (AEDT)
- email apshr.support [at] carfi.net.au and you’ll receive a response within two days.
You can find out more about the APS COVID-19 hotline on GovTEAMS or by contacting thrivingminds [at] ato.gov.au.