The future workplace and its impact on people | Covid-19 | Webinar review

This round table style webinar, organised by our Financial Services Group, brought together industry leaders from financial services and IOSH to discuss the impact of the pandemic on people, workplaces and how it might affect how we work in the future.

The online session was Chaired by IOSH President Dr Andrew Sharman, who welcomed panellists Lisa Bartlett, UK President of Crawford & Company; Steve Collinson, Head of People at Zurich; Nigel Sullivan, Chief People Officer for BUPA; Tim Eldridge, Global Head of Health and Safety, HSBC; and IOSH Chief Executive Bev Messenger. It was watched by a global live audience of nearly 600 delegates.

The pandemic has put the OSH profession in the spotlight – how can we keep health and safety centre stage?

All the panellists pointed to a stronger focus on people’s health brought by the pandemic, with people generally, as well as employers, taking their own health and wellbeing much more seriously. Steve Collinson talked about employers becoming “far more human” about people’s health and safety and urged the OSH profession to keep what it does relevant. While Bev Messenger paused to reflect on the huge loss of life, she praised the profession for the way it has stepped up to play a key role in the recovery work needed to get business back on its feet. Tim Eldridge agreed but added a note of caution, saying OSH professionals need to be careful not to overstep the mark, to know their limits and go to expert help on areas of healthcare, for example, where needed.

Homeworking is here to stay – but might it bring longer-term risks?

There was general agreement that the pandemic had accelerated the move towards home-working, with panellists reporting how their respective colleagues had welcomed the change to their working environment, pointing to benefits in terms of their own productivity but also how it had brought them a better personal work/life balance. However, there were concerns over the effects of isolation, as well as people’s ability to switch off when their work was done for the day and reclaim their personal lives. For many, said Steve Collinson, the missing daily commute had kept their workday finite and one colleague had shared how lockdown had actually allowed her to sit down to dinner with her children on weekdays – “you can’t put a price on that.”  Nigel Sullivan observed how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can “take six months to show up”, saying he would be “keeping an eye on” everyone’s mental health in the longer term.

Virtual meeting technology has seen local organisations become multi-national during lockdown. Does this bring any risks to safety and health?

Though new technology can now prove the effectiveness of working from home, there is still the need for managers to lead and manage outcomes. Bev Messenger talked of the need to harness the flexibility that technology brings, saying how IOSH has a strong culture of trust based on “what we expect from each other and treating each other as adults.” But prompted by one delegate’s feedback comment that “too much distance is sterile”, Nigel Sullivan said how much we was looking forward to seeing his colleagues in a physical space again, suggesting that offices will become more of a “collaborative space” post-pandemic, thriving once again on that crucial physical/human interaction. Steve Collinson suggested that future workspaces would become more social, more interactive and more fun.

Finally, what do you think has been the biggest positive to come out of Covic-19?

Lisa Bartlett: Innovation, stronger client partnerships and a huge new focus on wellbeing.

Steve Collinson: “We’ve learned so much from each other through all of this.”

Nigel Sullivan: Technology – digitalisation has brought a sea change.

Tim Eldridge: How much the OSH profession has stepped up to lead.

Bev Messenger: The benefits of investing in technology and “the degree to which our ‘One IOSH’ approach has been good for colleagues, the profession and society.”

Before going off to get some answers organised for the 60-plus questions submitted by delegates, Dr Andrew Sharman urged us all to “go well, stay safe and look after each other.”

This webinar, along with the complete series of free, weekly Covid-19 webinars run by IOSH since early April, has been recorded and can be viewed on our Covid-19 webinars page.

Jeremy Waterfield
Content officer
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