As restrictions imposed to contain the corona­virus are gradually being lifted, most, if not all, employers whose employees were working remotely during this period, have put into place plans for the return of their employees to the workplace and seek to return to a semblance of normality. I have often claimed in the past weeks that there are many who believe the new post-coronavirus normal will not be like the old pre-coronavirus normal.

There are many reasons for this. Customers’ expectations, behaviours, attitudes and perceptions are likely to have changed. Similarly, employees’ attitudes are likely to have changed. I have met several employers who have told me that during the lockdown period, they learnt who the loyal employees really are, and they were not the ones who they thought were the most loyal before the pandemic struck.

There were those employees who seemed to have worked harder during the lockdown because they realised their job was on the line. Others showed initiative and kept coming up with new ideas. On the other hand there were employees who stuck to doing the minimum required, if at all, or refused to do alternative work. Others went as far as encouraging their colleagues to take it easy as if their job was guaranteed anyway, ignoring the fact that employers always had a choice anyway, which was to make staff redundant.

At this point, with employees returning to work, the masks are falling in more ways than one. The masks we wear to go to shops or public places, are being taken off at work, which does not involve face-to-face contact with the public. The virtual mask some staff put on with their colleagues at work, displaying a behaviour which is not really theirs, is now also down.

However, HR issues are not the only things to consider when going back to work. It is recognised that re-entry into work post-coronavirus, is presenting new challenges and opportunities. Businesses need to plan for business continuity, but also need to make a complete reassessment of all aspects of their operations, weeding out unnecessary costs and seeking out opportunities to maximise revenues.

Businesses need to make a complete reassessment of all aspects of their operations

The list of the issues to consider can be endless. Starting with the customer, businesses need to understand better the new needs of their current target markets. They need to explore whether there is an opportunity to extend their product offer to new market segments or develop new product lines.

The lockdown period has helped bring to the forefront digital communication with customers. As such, businesses need to develop this further in a post-coronavirus environment.

From an operations perspective, businesses need to assess their work processes and question objectively whether the remote working experience has rendered some of these processes irrelevant. They need to assess whether any re-engineering is required. Brutal as it may sound, they need to determine whether in a post-corona­virus scenario, they need to employ the amount of people they currently employ.

The need to do this is not because of a lower demand but because they could have realised that they have been hoarding labour – keeping people in employment in case they come to need them in future.

They also need to assess their finances, or whether they need to hold on to all the fixed assets and investments they currently have, or whether they are managing their cash flow effectively such as to minimise bank financing.

If we were to look at going back to work as an opportunity to start afresh, then we need to do a meaningful action-oriented soul-searching exercise that will make our businesses sturdier and more sustainable. Going back to work cannot be simply an exercise at going back to the pre-coronavirus normal.

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