From ‘new normal’ to ‘now normal’

With the advent of COVID-19, workplaces are dramatically different. In Australia we’ve been living this new way for almost 2 years with different states at different stages of re-opening. The phrase ‘what the new normal will look like’ seems to me to be redundant. This is our now normal way of working.

Here at The Centre for Inclusive Design we have been working with organisations and speaking with industry leaders on the practical ways inclusion and access have addressed some of the issues and provided solutions to some of the now normal challenges that we are all facing at present.

In particular, we have been exploring wellbeing and positive work practice in what is now normal – a constantly changing work environment, dictated by COVID-19 cases and hotspots.

Most people think about Inclusive Design as designing for people who are missing out. In the new environment we’ve all experienced different ways we can be included and excluded. The trick is to look at what we can learn from those who are traditionally excluded and how that helps us to find solutions for everyone.

Looking at difficulty rather than disability is a good guide. 

When I think about our office, we have always had offices and standard work hours. However, we have also had flexible work, remote workers, people who were blind and people who were Deaf. This meant we had to design systems that were robust and meet individual needs.

When we moved to working from home in March last year, not one of our systems had to be changed or amended. It was already robust enough for the change. I’m not saying this to showcase our organisation but to focus on the value of designing for difference. If nothing else, COVID-19 has taught us that we can’t be complacent about the  people who are often left behind.

Have a think about the following statements, as they all have an edge user insight: 

  1. What does collaboration mean – and how do we effectively engage introverts and extroverts? We know people are working 15% harder – how do we support people and what is the cost and benefit of this.
  2. Women are more likely to want to work from home than men, so are some people with disabilities. What does this tell us? How might we take into consideration the different flexibility requirements of our diverse staff. In addition, what is it that these offerings provide that was missing in the old way of working? Is there something else that needs to change?
  1. How do we create safe and mentally healthy blended workplaces?The next mental health crisis facing us is PTSD. Is this part of your organisation’s wellbeing policy? For the 1 in 4 people who have experienced domestic violence or the 1 in 4 who commit violence – what happens when the workplace isn’t a safe space? 
  2. Given the unemployment rate, will we prefer people who have traditionally found it easy to get work or recruit for difference?

Humans are incredibly nimble, we are seeing that now. But there is a cost and benefit to this. With blended and rapidly changing environments now standard practice, what can we do to make sure our work-practices stand up for the long haul.  Questions like these can be the difference between success and failure in this new world.