As offices start to reopen—or to develop plans for reopening—they have two basic questions:

  • How will COVID-19 affect us now, and what should we be doing to reopen safely?
  • What will the “new normal” be in 2021 and beyond?

Many organizations may find that the pandemic has profoundly changed their finances, culture, operations, and clients.

While many questions remain unanswered and future government regulations and guidelines could lead to additional changes, a recent survey highlights what human resources executives are thinking now.

Adding New Precautions

A majority of the 150 companies recently surveyed by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement company, plan to implement several safety protocols, including the following:

  • Limit number of on-site workers
  • Provide and/or require masks
  • Limit or prohibit gatherings in shared spaces
  • Maintain social distancing protocols
  • Provide sanitizing products
  • Regularly deep clean workstations and worksites
  • Limit or exclude visitors
  • Require visitors to wear masks

Slightly more than half of all employers plan to check employees’ temperatures when they arrive for work and to survey workers regarding potential exposure to COVID-19.

Almost all employers will require employees diagnosed with COVID-19, as well as anyone who may have been exposed to them, to quarantine for two weeks.

Reimagining the Office and the Workday

Many employers have curtailed business travel, substituting Zoom and other online meetings for in-person contact. For safety and cost-saving reasons, chances are that many will reduce travel even after a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and widely available.

It seems likely that open, barrier-free workplaces will be redesigned to limit exposure to co-workers. Many facilities have already begun upgrading HVAC systems to add additional air purification, and it seems likely that trend will continue. Some may stagger work schedules to limit potential employee contact.

A recent McKinsey & Company report shows that many organizations are rethinking the necessity of an office. Close to two-thirds of all employed Americans began working from home earlier this year. Approximately 80% said they enjoy working from home, and about the same percentage said they were as—or more—productive working from home.

Organizations are also finding that instant messaging tools, such as Slack, along with Zoom and other meeting software, can take the place of in-person collaboration. Virtual social events, regular all-hands meetings, and other virtual gatherings can help employees collaborate and feel connected.

Organizations have also started reconstructing remote work practices, adding tracking and collaboration tools, such as virtual whiteboards, to promote teamwork.

Rethinking Policies and Procedures

As offices and other workplaces look to the future, policies and procedures will have to be rethought and updated.

What will companies do if a remote employee is reluctant to return to the office? What if an employee has medical issues, or lives with someone with medical issues, and doesn’t feel safe returning to the workplace?

If organizations require employees to quarantine if they have—or have been exposed to—COVID-19, will the company pay them, require them to use existing PTO, or require that they take the time off unpaid? There is no single right answer, but organizations should think about employee morale, as well as finances, before making that decision.

Managers may benefit from training to help them understand how to manage remote employees. One strategy is to agree on metrics that measure each employee’s value to the organization as the basis for employee evaluations, raises, and promotions.

Another consideration is understanding the potential effects on work-life balance when employees work from home. Will organizations expect employees to respond to emails and Slack messages after hours and on the weekends?

Will organizations provide more equipment so employees can work from home? Sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop may work temporarily, but longer term, many employees may need or want a more professional and efficient set-up at home.

No matter what decisions each organization makes, two-way communications are critical. Organizations should keep employees aware of policies and decisions and solicit employees’ opinions as much as possible. Organizations should also monitor government regulations and recommendations, which are changing rapidly.

Keeping Up on Best Practices

As businesses of all types begin to reopen or plan their reopening, many human resources departments are grappling with new issues and considerations. With deep knowledge of best practices across multiple industries, the Lindenberger Group can help organizations make the decisions that will work best for their operations and employees, as well as their bottom lines. For more information, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.