Human management in a post-pandemic world

I’ve had a couple of interesting discussions in the last week which have started a thought process on what the future of our working lives will look like and, while this is written from a property perspective, there are many other client-facing industries and roles which will need to have a similar discussion.

We are all very focused at the moment on grappling with the recurrent outbreaks and differing variants of covid and rightly so. We also need to be looking at what the future of work will be once we reach the fabled  “peak-vax” (my term) so that we can move around more freely.

The property industry has been severely curtailed over the last 18 months or so, with restrictions on inspections and various other government edicts such as working from home. While this has led to a number of innovations and rapid uptake of technology to assist agency staff, we are yet to have a discussion on how we all work and interact once these restrictions are lifted and we can all return to our duties more fully.

I’m on the fence about whether vaccination can be mandated within a workplace however the real estate industry is an interesting space to have as a focus, as by the nature of the 2 main roles (sales and property management) our “workplaces” aren’t static; they include the offices where we work “from” but they also include every property which we enter – and on a daily basis, this can easily be in double figures.

So how do we operate effectively and still meet the expectations of safety of our staff, colleagues, clients and others who we meet with daily?

As employers, we are regularly faced with making decisions for the common good of our staff, but this virus is taking to a level we’re not used to dealing with.

Our teams have an expectation of a safe working environment, one in which they are not placed at any jeopardy; this includes both sides of the vaccination debate, those who are in favour and those who feel that it’s not a path for them. From a director and business management point of view, we owe our staff a duty to provide a safe workplace (it’s actually law that we do), but can we safely guarantee to our vaccinated staff that it is safe for them to come to the office and work freely if we have others within the office who have chosen not to get the vaccine.

What about our clients, vendors and tenants whose properties we enter – can they insist that our teams show proof that they have been vaccinated and therefore presumably don’t present a risk to the property’s occupants and their families before they allow access to their homes? Then there’s the clients who attend inspections at these properties as potential buyers or tenants, whether it’s an “open house” or a one on one, and our contractors… have they all been vaccinated, and can they be asked to prove it before being allowed entry?

Where does the business owner’s liability for a potential transmission start and end – can we as owners and managers of businesses insist that our staff all have the vaccine – where is the line within the OHS environment where the duty to provide a safe working environment get drawn…?

Some years ago, the business I owned offered my staff the opportunity to have medical staff come to the office and anyone who wanted to could then have the ‘flu shot – no one was really that interested; some took it up on different grounds where I paid for the vaccine itself, and they went to their own GP to have it there, others chose to decline the offer saying that they didn’t think it a necessary but had the vaccine of their own volition, and others again didn’t want the vaccine at all – I didn’t and would never have forced someone to get the shot, but times have changed – we can’t guarantee that level of safety in offices where people work in close proximity to each other.

Staff who choose not to have the vaccine – and it could be that they have sound medical reasons which prevent them being vaccinated – have rights to freedom of choice. Will they have more limited career opportunities because of that choice?  

We may find ourselves in a situation where we have to restrict the activities of workers due to the risk of them being in contact with people who have compromised immune systems — they still have the right to insist that they be treated on equal terms with the vaccinated colleagues, or do we make special considerations within the working environment for them – this in itself presents further complications of feelings of isolation, or preferential treatment being given to one side or the other and in extreme situations, the possibility of staff being bullied by co-workers because of their decisions to get have or not have the vaccine.

There is also the matter of the mental health of staff who have been vaccinated but develop some form of anxiety about working with a colleague who chooses not to vaccinate.

We are also starting to see an environment emerge where a marketing point of difference is created around having a workforce which is fully vaccinated, I know of a couple of real estate franchise groups who are currently trying to mandate the vaccine for their teams so that they can use this – does this sort marketing now have a place in our world; can an employer force an existing staff member to vaccinate under threat of their employment purely for the sake of using it in some form of twist on their Corporate Social Responsibility?

I wonder if there’d be a backlash from the community were it to be used, as this form of promotion in the midst of a global health crisis could be seen as opportunistic rather than for the public good or reassuring the potential clients of  any particular firm – and where would that leave staff who didn’t or couldn’t get vaccinated?

This virus has and will continue to open a Pandora’s Box of employment rights and responsibilities, and we need to seriously consider the implications to all; I’ve asked a lot of questions in this, and I don’t have all the answers although I’m confident that they will appear over time… There is a lot we are yet to discuss.

One thing is for certain, we will need to rethink our teams and relationships with the spaces in which they work.