Going into lockdown as a country has been a truly surreal experience. As the ‘team of 5 million’ pull together to eliminate the community transmission of COVID-19, we are learning a lot about our collective resolve and adaptability. For many, their day-to-day lives were considerably different during a lockdown. After the first nationwide outbreak starting in March 2020, the workforce looked to restore some normality whilst making business changes for a new world where health and safety practices and flexibility on working arrangements are required. This has already proven invaluable as Auckland returned to level 3 in August 2020 and many employees were working from home once again.
Accordant, New Zealand’s largest recruitment and resourcing company (under which Absolute IT operates), ran a survey of clients to build an understanding of how businesses were impacted during the first lockdown – and how they responded. Now, we will dig into these findings and share how IT businesses specifically can help their staff thrive in the COVID-19 era, where we may have future lockdowns to navigate.
The AWF Madison client survey saw almost 270 responses, with representation across a wide range of sectors and organisation sizes spanning Absolute IT and our sister companies – AWF, Madison and JacksonStone & Partners. It was delivered straight after our nation’s first full lockdown during level 3, where changes and business impact was fresh in the minds of employers.
We have dug into both the report and Absolute IT client responses to provide readers with some insight into how organisations responded to lockdown life.
How businesses operated during lockdown
When surveying employers, it was clear that the Lockdown affected all businesses in some capacity. 36% of businesses operated in a different way due to COVID-19 restrictions, changing their focus to better manage through the period. 30% saw a reduction in productivity – unsurprising given the economic slowdown New Zealand went through from March to May 2020.
The percentage of businesses experiencing reduced levels of demand for services was considerable at 45%. However, there was a segment of respondents who had experienced little to no impact (28%) and even some businesses for whom the lockdown presented an increase in activity (15%). It is important to note that the lockdown was almost immediate, with businesses unable to prepare for this period ahead of time.
The immediate, economy transforming forces of COVID-19 have driven innovation and change. Businesses at the very least have had a stark reminder of the need for business continuity and contingency plans.
The demand for services through Lockdown varied greatly – the loss of international tourism vs. the essential need for supermarkets perhaps the clearest example of this. While tech businesses enjoy the flexibility of working digitally when needed via remote access and mobile devices, restrictions around security and infrastructure still remain for larger organisations. As part of the enforced working from home period, many businesses have since started looking to transition over to secure cloud and remote access solutions in order to allow their staff to maintain productivity without being located on site.
Supporting staff wellbeing
Perhaps one of the most critical parts of the lockdown period was ensuring that staff were supported through a scary and uncertain period. 81% of Absolute IT clients surveyed said they had advised staff that they had access to EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) for mental health support. An EAP can help staff confidentially get support with struggles they are experiencing both personally and professionally. These providers have seen a spike in demand during lockdown and continue to actively encourage employees to use these services if available.
We were happy to hear how employers were looking after their teams. Wellbeing activities and challenges were a way to keep their team engaged and healthy while at home, with some teams even engaging in virtual Pilates or yoga classes. Other businesses supported staff with children by providing educational resources and flexibility around working hours.
Staying connected digitally
We are sure that you will have seen plenty of video chat group screenshots on the web during Lockdown. Video chat suddenly became our primary channel for interacting with our co-workers. While not quite a replacement for in-person interaction, businesses have used video chat platforms to keep teams connected with each other, to support productivity and keep staff up to date on important comms from the business. It is also a great way to get to know our co-workers better, be introduced to their partners, kids – and pets! The majority (91%) of Absolute IT clients surveyed reported back that they would have frequent online catch ups via VC to keep the team feeling connected.
In many cases, the enforced work from home and virtual meeting procedures have opened up possibilities for workers in the future to do more of their job away from the office. With many employees finding the work from home (WFH) arrangement excellent for productivity and avoiding distractions, organisations are quickly seeing the benefit and responding accordingly.
Providing staff tools for the job
In order to work from home, employers have had to provide staff with equipment that’s secure and reliable. For some businesses, staff were already equipped with mobile devices like laptops. For others in a more traditional desk-based workstation environment, remote working has meant supporting team members with equipment and internet connections to assist continued productivity.
Of the respondents within Absolute IT’s network, almost 94% provided their team with IT equipment to get the job done at home. 31% went further, providing compensation (in some form like a subsidy) for home internet or power usage.
Coming out of lockdown, we expect to see more tech employers moving to mobile computing for staff to enable remote working when it’s required, or even requested.
Additional digital-based learning & training
During decreased demand for commercial services, businesses looked to internal projects and other business improvement initiatives during lockdown. From our survey of Absolute IT clients, 42% offered online training and e-learning for staff to upskill. Internal training is typically part of all businesses’ staff development plans but can often be overshadowed by work itself. With lockdown, businesses have had the opportunity to come out of lockdown with new skills to apply to a recovering and competitive market.
New health and safety measures
COVID-19’s spread across the world comes with frequent reminders of just how easy transmission can be. As New Zealand starts moving around again, workplaces have adopted more stringent health and safety practices to reduce risk of spread. This ranges from contact tracing QR codes to hand sanitiser, all the way to enforced PPE such as face masks on public transport. 32% of our respondents have enforced PPE guidelines beyond what was standard guidelines in their organisation. Broadly, we expect the IT industry to continue playing a key role in developing health and safety solutions to keep Kiwis safe and achieving our goal of ensuring COVID-19 is eliminated from the community.
Ensuring productivity during trying times
We asked our clients how they had encouraged staff to stay productive throughout lockdown with all the stress and distraction to contend with. We learnt that many of the great ideas that employers came up with will remain in place well into the post-COVID era. These include:
- Setting clear, realistic expectations around productivity levels as the workforce adjusts to a new normal.
- Adjusting decision making flows and team distribution for new working environments.
- Flexible working policies – outside of standard 8.30-5.30 hours
- Split-shifts or rotational policy for staff working at home vs. the office to reduce business impact and support social distancing.
If these lockdown periods have taught us anything, it is that Kiwis are resilient. We find a way to persevere through challenges and find opportunities to persevere through the most difficult of circumstances. The IT industry is well positioned to thrive in a post-COVID-19 world where virtual interaction and non-traditional working habits will become the norm.
IT professionals looking for their ideal role may no longer be confined to the standard workday. Perhaps businesses who viewed certain roles as full time in-office, may now be open to offering flexibility of when and where this work is done. Lockdown in New Zealand proves that staff can still deliver great work and operate as a team, without being in the same physical space.
The support many Kiwi employers showed for their teams during this time is encouraging. With the clear benefits of additional wellness support, we would expect the workforce to take some large steps forward in the work-life balance space.
As a country, we have now faced two different lockdowns – first nationwide, and more recently, Auckland returned to Level 3. The experience of lockdown has prepared the country to act quickly and work remotely to contain and reduce the spread as needed.
Lockdown, and the wider impacts of COVID-19 has affected everyone in different ways. We are really interested to hear about your own unique experiences. How has working remotely affected you? How has your team stayed connected through lockdown periods? Have your say on our LinkedIn page – we would love to follow up this piece with some more accounts of how this impacted our IT community so we will be asking some relevant questions over the coming weeks – be sure to jump online and join the conversation.