In these challenging times, it is reasonable and understandable for all of us to focus on simply getting through the COVID 19 crisis. However, organizations should develop a balanced approach and plan now for coming out of this crisis.
The balance should be one that has a priority on health, getting people back to work under new guidelines and rules, and a “new normal” work culture. There will be no bigger change than adapting to a post COVID-19 world. Below are some items that organizations should start thinking about in order to get ready for the post COVID-19 workplace.
Managing a Remote Workforce In Ontario, our government has taken the safe approach that we must continue to live in self-isolation mode until it is clear we are over the spike of growing numbers of cases – with a high degree of confidence that the infection is subsiding. We have been successful so far – but we must be prepared not only to stay home and flatten the curve for a while longer, but for the possibility that we will likely need to move back to this isolation mode when a resurgence happens. Organizations must learn how to manage a workforce working remotely, or on reduced days, other new and varied circumstances. How do we keep our productivity up with an entirely remote workforce? How can managers support their staff under these extreme circumstances?
As the COVID-19 situation evolves, many companies are working to support employees in working from home.
Government’s Focus on Essential Workers
Our government is rightly prioritizing and increasing efforts in conducting a joint government/private industry blitz in providing health care workers PPE and anything else health care and front line works need to safely take care of themselves and COVID 19 patients and the public. If your organization is not considered an essential service, how and what do you communicate to staff when government and society seem to be focused on front line staff?
Also simultaneously, and of equal priority, our government is conducting a joint government/private industry blitz in producing as many tests as possible – not just focusing on people with symptoms and contact with those who have traveled, but more looking at the South Korea model in preparing for the hundreds of thousands of tests we will need to better protect us , and safely get people back to work in the near future. Although presently the priority is the testing of health workers and those most vulnerable, can organizations begin investigating the procurement of tests now, such as what Jeff Bezos is doing at Amazon for his staff? What other models are organizations using to protect staff as they re-enter the workplace?
Developing a Plan Forward
Once we have a high degree of confidence that cases are dramatically reduced and in control, and there is enough available and reliable testing, we need to develop a plan to get people back to work with a careful, safe and effective approach. Considerations should include:
- Our government will likely phase businesses that can open over weeks or months – prioritizing by relative essential consumer/people needs and tempered by how dire their financial situation is. Where will your organization likely be categorized? Will your organization be high or low priority? How will you communicate to staff if they see some organizations opening, but they are on a delayed schedule?
- According to our Public Health statistics and advice, government guidelines may allow younger people, or those with proven immunity to come back first,. If that occurs, how will organizations manage that? What work processes and functions will be challenged by these guidelines?
- It is possible that it will be mandated that everyone who is in the group that can come back to work must be tested for the virus before they can do so. The rationale would be that without this mandate, we risk a second and more serious wave via another community spread. Organizations may need to decide whether to require tests that determine whether individuals have contracted COVID 19, and/or anti-body tests if proven effective. Will or should these tests be mandatory? What proof must employees show? How will testing protocols affect staff in the workplace?
- Every workplace will need to have a new set of protocols for how people enter, sign into, wash/disinfect, and socially distance in the workplace. These guidelines should be communicated broadly and often, and also enforced. These measures would be kept in place until a vaccine has been developed, tested, and made broadly available. There will likely be different new “norms”, as restrictions are slowly lifted over the next several months or few years. Some of these protocols may stay in place indefinitely. Organizations should be thinking about how to instill these new habits and a new work culture. Some of the current office trends will have to be totally re-thought. For example, many public and private organizations have programs in place to reduce their real estate footprint, which include both the flexibility to work more at home and designing smaller workspaces. While working at home may now be encouraged more, smaller workspaces will not likely pass the test of social distancing. How will your organization re-tool these programs? Organizations should also take a fresh look at their employee assistance programs and offerings.
- Our society is going through a traumatic experience, which will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects on some or many employees. Perhaps an increased offer of psychological support and counseling would be wise when staff do finally come back to work. Whatever the plan is that makes sense for your organization, it should be worked on now, to be ready for staff when they return to the workplace.
- Increased and improved testing my uncover a new “spike” of cases, which could result in us having to turn back to more restrictive isolation if that occurs. Most experts are saying that there will likely be a resurgence of COVID 19 at some point. How will organizations handle staff who finally can slowly return to work, then may abruptly need to go back to home isolation?
For now, organizations should support their employees during this stressful period of the outbreak. Management should find creative ways to stay connected with staff from week to week. Perhaps they can share ideas between staff of how they are keeping spirits up of their elderly and vulnerable family members, or other creative ways they are connecting to family, friends, and community.
These are a few of the staff considerations organizations need to consider now, which should become part of a detailed transformation plan. This detailed plan should include changes in business strategy, technology, and business process required to hit the ground running when restrictions are eased. Organizations that start planning now, will surely be “ahead of the curve” in our economic recovery.
By Steve Pinkus.
Steve Pinkus is Litcom’s Change Management Lead. He provides consulting services to public and private organizations going through large strategic and technology changes. He is author of BIG CHANGE – A 10 Step Plan to Lead Large Organizational.