Maxine Attong

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The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that T&T’s businesses and the society in general can make the necessary changes to survive.

Maxine Attong, President, Human Resource Management Association of T&T who believes this, also told Guardian Media that the Caribbean is now part of a globalised economy and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is an example of this.

This world she added has become more complex, ambiguous and uncertain.

She gave examples of how local businesses and other citizens are meeting the challenges.

“We always had skills but now people are turning those skills to making masks. We have new businesses being set up as people are now getting into delivery. Businesses like Massy are offering the new ways they offer the old services. Regardless of what caused it, we are seeing a lot of innovation.”

She used the example of Angostura which is now getting into manufacturing of sanitising products.

In terms of people’s personal lives, she said citizens are now being forced to spend more time with their families.

She said traditionally, society has placed recognition on people’s material achievements like being a wealthy business person, a doctor or a lawyer but she said the present pandemic is forcing people to think and look at society differently.

“So now nurses are important, cleaning services are important. People who society didn’t think as important before are now being recognised. It brings up the point of service and human connection. When you look at artificial intelligence and the jobs that will be lost, it is the service jobs and human connection jobs that will be kept. This is a test run.”

Based on this rapidly changing world, she said businesses, Government institutions and other sectors of society must now adapt or else be left behind.

“However we did it three months ago is no longer relevant. In this time, we are free to make new decisions and in this time, we are free to project a new future.”

She gave the examples of schools being closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and said that while smart phones were viewed as purely entertainment tools in the past, now they are being used as tools of education.

Working from home

A large percentage of the nation’s workforce is now working from home, and while she said this is a good thing, employees must build the trust of their employers and show them that they can produce from their homes.

“There was always this debate about who gets the laptop to take home to work. In any organisation, in any company, it is usually the managers and CEO’s who go home with laptops where as the regular employees will have to use the PC’s in the office. The question is who gets to access to the company’s database? It was traditionally the senior management who had access. Also, there is the point of cost. The VPN and dial-up add to the cost. Finally, there is the question of trust, who do we trust to have access to the company’s database?”

The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic has now brought up the issue of ordinary workers working from home.

She has been talking to persons working from home since the non-essential workers were sent home and she said they are being “micro-managed” as they are being called throughout the day and required to take part in video conferencing meetings. She said this is being done by employers to make sure that their employees are working.

“All that has changed is that they are working remotely but the same trust factor that did not allow corporations to give access to databases to work from home, that behaviour still remains.”

She said the workplace culture in T&T is that employers need to see an employee at their desk to think that they are working but it will take time to change that culture.

“For employers to get the full benefits of working from home, they need to trust workers. Employers need to know that the employees will meet the objectives and meet the deadlines. However, we have not reached that stage as yet in T&T. So we have simply moved people from the office to their homes but they are being managed in the old fashion way.”

She added that the issue of productivity is also important during these challenging times but qualified that by saying that factors like age, gender and socio-economic backgrounds also influence how much work people put out.

Attong also said that there needs to be more data so that employers can study the causes of the lack of productivity in the country.

“It is not clearly not cultural because when ever there is something to happen in this society like festivity or an event, people get very productive and very creative and gets things done.”

She concluded by saying this is the time for leadership in T&T, at the political level, at the business level and at the family level.

“We need to be optimistic about our future. The playing field is now level as no one knows more about COVID-19 than anyone else,” Attong said.