According to a new report from the National Safety Council (NSC), Itasca, Ill., “State of the Response: The Future World of Work,” continued remote work, increased focus on flexible work arrangements and a renewed commitment to workplace safety and employee mental/emotional health will be among the most significant workplace changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, including employers in construction and manufacturing.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred many changes in how people work across organizations and industries,” stated the report. “Some of these changes (e.g., limited social gatherings, mandatory face coverings) are likely to be temporary.” Others, though, are likely to remain in some capacity for the foreseeable future.
An earlier NSC report highlighted specific best practices that employers were putting into place to mitigate COVID-19 risks, including physical distancing, wearing face coverings and maintaining good personal hygiene. While many employers put such solutions into place with an eye toward returning to normal, prepandemic operating environments, they are now realizing that the future work world is going to look fundamentally different when the pandemic is no longer a top priority.
NSC interviewed executives from 13 industries, including manufacturing and construction, for the report. Topics included organizational culture; stress, mental health and wellbeing; operations; human resources; communications; technology; and sustainability.
In terms of organizational culture, the report noted that organizations with a more mature safety culture were able to more seamlessly integrate COVID-19 into their risk assessments and mitigation processes.
“Mature safety organizations know how to deal with risk and can add necessary controls and change their operations to deal with new risk,” the report notes.
In response to COVID-19, organizations have created both a top-down and bottom-up increase in safety and health, as well as increased leadership buy-in.
“Many of the interviewees reported that the pandemic helped spotlight workplace health and safety and provided motivation for employees to care about health and safety in a larger sense,” the report explains.
All interviewees also reported that stress and mental health challenges were a significant factor influencing some aspects of their operations. To address these issues, many organizations promoted or increased the use of employee assistance programs, introduced training on mental health awareness and encouraged employees to engage in mindfulness and relaxation practices.
These and other new and expanded initiatives will last far beyond the direct end of the pandemic.