Over the last two to three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the popular refrain was that COVID has taught us there are many ways to get things done, if only we are prepared to adapt.
It seems many of those lessons are fading fast from our reality, as the COVID-19 pandemic fears fades.
The food delivery service took off during the lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions. Though we all welcome the opportunity to return to dining out, the delivery service of restaurants has evolved as an important segment of the core activities.
An examination of the successes with home delivery by local fast-food chain Chefette and its main competitor KFC, would be instructive.
Supermarkets and stores have added the convenience of online shopping and delivery options to customers. The level of commerce taking place online in Barbados forces us to finally acknowledge that Barbadians have decidedly turned the corner on most of their fears about Internet or electronic-based transactions.
The average man on the street has now accepted that the world in which we operate has changed significantly over the past 36 months. The reticence that we demonstrated towards accessing goods and services outside of the brick and mortar facilities have dissipated significantly.
This transition has been so pervasive that enterprises operating store fronts are complaining that online businesses operating from homes were presenting an unfair competition because they do not bear many of overhead costs.
Against this backdrop, one must ask why the country’s largest single employer, the Government of Barbados, and some private entities, rushed to full in-person operations.
It is our assessment there has been an undue haste to dismantle the successes of working from home or hybrid work arrangements.
We accept that not every operation of Government or the private sector can be delivered from home. However, the ones that can be and have been successfully provided through this option, should continue.
Many private sector companies, having understood the benefits of allowing workers to continue, at least a hybrid work arrangement, have seen the benefits.
The Insurance Corporation of Barbados Limited (ICBL) and a number of international business companies and agencies, for example, continue to engage workers with the work-from-home option.
Recently, ICBL sought to survey its clients on the quality of service delivery. Sagicor Life has recently offered the option of securing life insurance coverage completely online.
From utilities, to insurance, groceries and dinner can be accessed without spending $3.50 in bus fare or add another vehicle to our busy streets.
Work-from-home and hybrid arrangements have been made even more attractive at least to workers because of the rising cost of petrol.
Government’s announcement over the weekend that gas and diesel prices were inching even closer to $5 per litre has made working from home a serious consideration.
As the administration maintains its position that wage increases should not be pursued at this time, something has to give. Employees who work in central locations but live in rural districts are going to be particularly disadvantaged if they drive or depend on someone to take them to work.
Effectively, every increase in gas price, is a hit to workers’ pay cheques. There is also a serious knock-on effect on prices. Supermarkets and wholesalers who have promised to keep down the cost of many basic food and consumer items will also be facing increased energy and related costs.
Can they honour that promise on prices until 2023 or will they have to shift those increased costs to other items? These are important questions that need to be answered.
Jim Clifton, chairman of the American corporation Gallup Inc. and a former board chairman of DuPont and Bank of America recently wrote there were 125 million full-time employees in the United States. And of those, some 56 per cent or about 70 million said they can do their office jobs remotely.
He added that of these workers, 30 per cent said they did not want to come into the office anymore and preferred to be fully remote employees. Some 60 per cent said they wanted a hybrid arrangement, and only ten per cent preferred to work fully on-site.
Clifton said the answer rests with training managers to be effective in the work from home environment and ensure that productivity is maintained while keeping workers engaged and satisfied in this new arrangement. This is advice worth considering.