Two years after its onset, I can think of a couple of widely acknowledged facts regarding the COVID crisis.
The first is that businesses are rarely as prepared as they should be for disruptive events. And the second is that those whose operations were already heavily or fully digitised did a lot better after lockdowns were instigated than enterprises that relied heavily on legacy platforms and processes.
Thankfully, it seems those days and weeks of everyone being isolated at home are gone, and they’re not coming back. While Covid continues to cut a swathe through the Australian community, we’re now learning to live with it. Individuals are going about their daily round, albeit somewhat more cautiously, and businesses stay open rather than shuttering their operations for weeks.
Out for the count
Many, though, face a new struggle or, rather, a variation on the original Covid challenge – maintaining continuity while a sizeable percentage of their workforce is off on sick leave.
Seasonally adjusted hours worked fell by 8.8 per cent between December 2021 and January 2022, with a surge in the number of people taking sick leave believed to be a contributor, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
“Nationally, and in NSW and Victoria, the number of people who worked reduced hours because they were sick was around three times the pre-pandemic average for January. In other states and territories, it was twice as many people,” the ABS’ head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis, noted.
By late April, the federal Health Department was recording an average of more than 38,000 new Covid cases each day, with a median age of 30 years.
With winter on its way, absentee levels could remain high over the next few months, as employees eschew the old ‘soldiering on’ mentality and – sensibly – opt to stay home when they’re stricken with a Covid variant or the latest lurgy.
Keeping calm and carrying on
Keeping operations ticking over when a significant number of your staff are out of action is considerably easier if robust processes are in place across your enterprise. They make it possible for someone else to pick up the threads quickly and easily when an employee is on leave.
By contrast, if you’re still operating in manual mode, the vital information that a substitute worker needs in order to take over may well be stored in the absentee’s head, rather than captured and accessible by all.
Deploying process improvement and automation technology is the smartest and simplest way to secure that critical knowledge capital and achieve process excellence to boot.
We use this term to refer to a status quo that sees departments across an enterprise taking a standardised approach to process documentation and improvement and adopting process automation solutions.
In the past, doing so was only possible with extensive support from ICT professionals but today’s user-friendly digital tools are easy for the ‘lay user’ to implement. Non-technical staff members can use them to document and streamline processes and make the workings of their department more transparent to stand-in staff and new starters alike.
Keeping good people on the side
Having optimised processes and practices in place will help your enterprise negotiate the travails of a tricky winter. It may also make it easier for you to attract and retain good people.
Why? Because good processes and practices matter to employees, as well as employers. Younger Australians, in particular, tend to regard organisations which are heavily reliant on manual processes as less desirable places to work. Digital natives like to see investment in tools and technologies that allow them to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
Fail to provide them, and you may find it challenging to build and keep the high calibre team you need to deliver superlative service to your customers.
Investing in a stronger future
Doing things consistently and efficiently is the key to productivity, profitability and business continuity. An investment in process improvement and automation is an investment in all three of these objectives. As you prepare to contend with whatever staffing issues the upcoming months have in store, time and resources spent optimising your operations are likely to prove extremely well spent.