Friday, October 23, 2020

Kate Hakwesby: Kiwis still feel unsafe returning to workplace environments


I’m wondering exactly how many people are still working from home.

I see a recruitment agency saying that some bosses are struggling to get their staff back into the workplace.

Which immediately made me think – well not surprising, home is easy, it takes the commute and sitting in traffic out of the picture, it requires less interaction and distraction with colleagues so maybe you get more work done, you can work in your track pants and not have to spend an hour suiting up if you don’t want to.

But actually, it’s for another reason entirely.

37 percent of Kiwis who’re working from home apparently don’t feel safe to return to work yet. They don’t feel safe. Which is wacky I would’ve thought given we don’t have – and haven’t had – the kind of outbreaks of Covid-19 that other countries have. I mean if you’re in New York, London, Melbourne or Spain, I could understand you feeling better off at home. But in New Zealand I would’ve thought… far less to worry about.

If we look at the contact tracing stats, they tell a different story. That number has plummeted in terms of how often people are scanning QR codes. We’re getting more and more complacent about contact tracing, which would suggest we’re feeling more and safer. We are less worried. Well, all of those who aren’t near the latest two Auckland community cases… which has epidemiologists asking people to dust off their masks again.

But at level 1, most of us would rightly feel that all that Covid-19 alarm and urgency is on the back burner. It’s perhaps not as front of mind, which in and of itself is surely a good thing... so why are more of us not back to work? We know it’s tough on the CBD’s – which feel like ghost towns some days, they’re doing it tough, but I imagine tough on some businesses too. Cohesion and workplace connections are a bit hard if you’ve got more than a quarter of your workforce at home. But I’m not sure how you lure people back, if they’ve become entrenched in a routine at home that suits them... and... if they’re fearful of returning.

We are doing better than Australia in that regard however. Apparently half of all Australians surveyed didn’t feel safe returning to work. But they’ve had a different pandemic experience to us, particularly those in Victoria, so that’s perhaps more understandable. But this may just be the way it is now. More flexible workplaces, more remote work.

Technology appears to be keeping pace – I’ve had two Zoom meetings this week.. and there is something very refreshing about being able to show up for a meeting from your kitchen table, without having to battle traffic and find a car park to get there.

But for employers right now who want their remote employees back at work, the question is... how to make them feel safe enough to do so.

Kate Hawkesby is a political broadcaster on Newstalk ZB - her articles can be seen HERE.

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