What's changed in Australian workplaces in 2020?

2020 has certainly been a challenging year—and one of significant change in the workplace. The COVID-19 disruption has led to mass redundancies and stand-downs, particularly in industries such as retail, hospitality, and travel. Those lucky enough to keep their jobs who were office-based, have had to transition to full-time remote working—with more than 4.3 million Australians working from home.

While initially a short-term solution to a global problem, these shifts in the way we work are likely to become part of the ‘new normal’. Here’s how the Australian workplace is changing.

Industries most affected by COVID-19

The retail and consumer goods sectors were hit hard by COVID-19. Not only have physical stores had to shut up shop—many times permanently—but staff have been let go and sales have been restricted to online only, which has seriously impacted many business owners’ bottom lines. For an industry that makes up $300 billion of consumer spending in Australia, any disruption will undoubtedly have flow-on effects for years to come, especially to the national economy.

The biggest interruption was likely felt in the travel and tourism sector, with an expected $55 billion decline for the 2020-21 financial year. As international borders remain closed, many airline workers have been grounded or made redundant over the past few months as carriers report large annual losses. Those affected include shuttle bus operators, baggage handlers, and even management staff.

Hospitality, too, has felt the pain of COVID-19. Restaurants, cafes, and bars have had to close their doors, and while most of the country is back on the road to reopening, the impact of even a few months of major changes is having a big impact on cash flow and profitability.

What are some of the new rules in workplaces?

The good news is that Australia is in a much better place than many other countries in terms of managing COVID-19 moving forward. But in order to maintain this high standard, new COVIDSafe requirements are needed across all industries—particularly customer-facing businesses.

According to our latest Evolving Workplace Report, employees are seeing their workplaces implement a number of special conditions, with the top five including:

  • more flexible working time;
  • barriers and social distancing;
  • hygiene kits;
  • extra paid leave and;
  • the option to continue working remotely.

Many of these new conditions will be similar for all businesses, although workplace changes for the typical office worker will be very different to the changes in a restaurant or bar, for example.

Here are some of the new rules and guidelines for Australian workplaces:

  • Social distancing at the workplace—there should be measures in place to keep people at least 1.5m apart.
  • Good hygiene is just as important to stave off infection—including regular handwashing, availability of hand sanitiser and paper towels, and masks depending on where the business operates from.
  • Regular cleaning and disinfecting of workstations is essential to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19—no matter what type of workplace.
  • Before bringing employees back into the workplace, some employers may decide to do a risk assessment to ensure any necessary control measures are put in place before return-to-work happens.
  • For shift workers and customer-facing businesses, it may be appropriate to create a new roster set-up, one that involves alternating teams.
  • Other businesses may decide that the benefits of remote working are too good to give up—ultimately leading to a permanent hybrid workplace model.

Are these changes affecting productivity?

Before 2020 turned the idea of remote working on its head, many business owners didn’t want to allow their employees to work from home because of a fear of reduced productivity. But the truth is that even before COVID-19 struck, more than two in three Australian employers allowed flexible working.

Today, office workers have lived out the ‘remote working experiment’ on a national scale—and by all accounts, it’s been a success. Employees are describing a more productive work environment when they’re in the comfort of their own home. There are fewer distractions from co-workers ‘stopping by’ their desk. Not to mention the cost savings from not having to pay for takeaway coffees, daily lunches, petrol, and public transport.

According to The Evolving Workplace Report, the reason for this productivity surge at home is down to a number of ‘home office hacks’, including taking regular breaks, proper planning and scheduling, avoiding any distractions, and simply focusing on work.

What does the workplace of the future look like?

When it’s all said and done, there have definitely been plenty of changes to the Australian workplace this year—and it’ll likely continue to change in the months and years to come. But that may be a positive thing. We’re seeing more engaged employees when given the freedom to work remotely, and over time, employers may enjoy lower overheads with a more hybrid workplace (e.g. lower utility bills, not having to rent as much office space, etc.).

While we won’t ever see a 100% remote working adoption across all industries and businesses for office workers, the disruption of COVID-19 has caused many business owners/managers to review their ‘norm’ and make tweaks to provide a better service—to both their customers and their employees.

It’s always best to prepare for the unexpected

Times are certainly changing in our workplaces, and now it’s more important than ever to prepare ourselves for the unexpected. Pandemic or not, it’s a good idea to make sure your business insurance is up to scratch, and Choosi can help you compare your options today.