INTHEBLACK July 2020 - Page 31



F E AT U R E
// P H YS I C A L W O R K P L A C E S
T H E M O S T I M P O R TA N T
FA C T T O A C C E P T U P F R O N T
I S T H AT T H E R E I S N O T E M P L AT E .
THIS IS ONE OF THE RARE PROBLEMS
I N B U S I N E S S T H AT W I L L N O T H AV E
A SHARED SOLUTION ACROSS ANY
T W O C O M PA N I E S .
“There have been many moments in time
throughout history where things have changed
and we’ve learnt great lessons,” Brighton-Hall says.
“Some of those lessons are about what doesn’t work.
At mwah, we’ve been talking about the ‘curated
workplace’. What do we want to keep doing? What
do we want to stop doing? What are the new things
we want to introduce from the lessons we just learned?
What are we still missing, and what have we still got
to learn?”
In fact, asking such questions to all staff individually,
and listening deeply to their responses, is one of the
most vital ingredients in the recipe for success, experts
say. Nobody yet knows the best solution for their
business in facing return-to-work challenges. Yet once
leaders ask their staff, they’ll have a lot better data to
use to move forward.
THERE IS NO TEMPLATE
David Smith FCPA, founder of Smithink, member of
several boards and consultant to professional services
firms, has been deeply involved in discussions about
how to manage the post-COVID return to work.
The most important fact to accept upfront, he
says, is that there is no template. This is one of the
rare problems in business that will not have a shared
solution across any two companies. The solution
instead depends on location, industry, the mix of
individuals, the personal situations of every one of
those individuals, office size and floor space, where in
a building the office is located, and much, much more.
“A lot of firms are now talking about what they’re
going to do,” Smith says. “They’re asking how they
are going to start bringing people back into the office.
As part of that discussion, they also need to figure
out how we deal with people who say they don’t want
to return, because they’re quite happy and feel safer
working from home.
“It does really depend heavily on the individual
circumstance of each staff member. If they have spent
the past month or two trying to work at home, and
they have young, school-aged kids, it might have
been a nightmare, and they might be desperate to
come back to the office. Others might miss the social
36 ITB July 2020
CASE STUDY:
ASPEN CORPORATE
The plan of action for returning to the office
must be built on adaptability and staff feedback
on how they would like the business to evolve.
THE VIRUS
THAT ATE
OFFICE
SPACE
One fascinating likely
outcome from the
COVID-19 crisis is the new
use of office space, as well
as the broad development
of home office space. This
is likely to have a longterm effect on values of
commercial property and
the design of residential
property, believes
Bernadette Smith CPA,
Aspen Corporate partner.
“When I came into the
industry, I set up a home
office. I got a fax machine,
a photocopier, a computer,
etc.,” she says. “During this
COVID-19 experience, I’ve
been amazed by how
many people didn’t have
offices set up at home. But
guess what? Now they do.
“Now, commercial space
is changing. Offices will
get smaller because
people will be working
from home a lot more
often. The design and
value of commercial
space is being challenged.
“Residential design is
changing, too. Houses and
apartments will require
designated offices, or
office spaces. I can see
that rolling out across
residential. The next
challenge will be data
security from home, which
is vital in our industry and
in many others.”
CPA
LIBRARY
interaction or the collaboration. You really do have to
establish the individual circumstance of each person
before developing a solution.”
Such intelligence-gathering requires surveys and
individual conversations, some of it by well-briefed
line managers. However, that’s not the only ingredient
required for success.
That information, Smith says, must be combined
with the organisation’s requirements. For example, a
business that manages vital infrastructure and that
therefore can’t afford for several of its staff to be
knocked down by a disease at the same time, might
bring a “red team” and a “blue team” back to work on
different days. That way, essential staff on each team
never cross paths. A thorough, daily disinfection of all
office surfaces further protects against contagion.
Does that solve all issues? Not even close, Smith
says. What about teams who are far more productive
To read How to Prepare Now for What’s Next:
A Guide to Thriving in an Age of Disruption by
Michael McQueen, visit: cpaaustralia.com.au/library
when they are working together in the same area of an
office, Smith asks. How do you ensure they all return?
What about individuals whose roles mean they should
be fine to work from home, but who have proven to be
unproductive outside the office environment? What if
hot-desking, now an absolute no-no, was previously part
of your work process, or you simply don’t have enough
office space to ensure social distancing, or some staff
are in high-risk groups? The potential complications
are enormous.
When EY surveyed more than 6000 of its staff, it
discovered that 43 per cent were comfortable to return to
the office, but happy to wait. Another 20 per cent wanted
to keep working from home, and 11 per cent wanted to
return to the office as quickly as possible. The company
has cancelled hot-desking and has asked those returning
to work to book a specific desk during a trial period,
which will see support staff and about 11 per cent of
professionals coming back to the office.
It is this type of workforce research and testing that
Smith recommends. With so many variables, research
is the only way to develop a strategy that suits the very
specific environment within a business’s workplace.
Aspen Corporate, an
accountancy practice based
in Perth, Western Australia,
has had most staff working
from home over the past few
months, and skeleton staff in
the office, but safely separated
into individual offices. Prior to
the COVID-19 crisis, the firm’s
directors saw what was
happening elsewhere and
were able to plan their workfrom-home strategy, including
allowing staff to take
computers and office chairs
home, and sorting partners and
staff into two teams, to ensure
continuity should one group
become infected.
The business’s partners,
including Bernadette Smith CPA,
who is also chairperson of CPA
Australia’s WA Public Practice
Committee, are now planning
the return.
“We’re asking staff for
feedback on what’s working
well and what’s not working
well, because as a business,
we know we’ll have to evolve
a little bit differently in the
future,” she says.
“We’re already planning for
that, because some of our
staff actually worked very
successfully from home.
“However, we’ve not only
been asking staff about how
we should be evolving into
the future. We’re also speaking
with our clients to find out
what they found successful
and what they’ve not. We’ve
been having Zoom meetings
and we have portals set up, but
we have to work out what they
liked and what they didn’t.”
When staff return to the office,
Bernadette is keenly aware that
they will have to hit the ground
running. Rarely has there been a
period in history when the
knowledge of accountants and
finance experts has been so
heavily in demand, and she is
preparing for this, too.
“Everybody who comes back
will understandably want to
catch up and share their
experiences, but we need to
maximise our time in the office
for productivity, so we’ll also
organise some sort of social
event, within the parameters we
can, to allow for this socialising
to occur safely.”
She’s not sure yet how things
will change, but she says the
secret will be in the regularity
and quality of the communication
with all stakeholders.
Rhonda Brighton-Hall of mwah
agrees, saying that the changes
will likely be overwhelmingly
positive, dragging our working
lives out of the Dark Ages.
“Some businesses in the
recent past, for example,
have felt they can’t have a
person with a disability in their
workforce, because they need
special adjustments and that’s
going to be expensive, etc.,
but we’ve just proven we can
all work remotely,” BrightonHall says.
“Flexibility has nothing to do
with policy, and everything to do
with leadership. I have no doubt
that going out of this, really
forward-thinking and interesting
companies that understand
humanity will create a space
for people to do well.”
intheblack.com July 2020 37

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