COVID-19 has changed everything about the workplace. Here’s how businesses can plan for the future with information they learn from this crisis.
As Americans and businesses are slowly returning to work, we are adjusting to the new normal. While some organizations have never stopped, and some have increased — essential businesses, manufacturing, and supply chains — others will slowly creep back to the status quo. It will be important to take note of the lessons learned through this pandemic and plan for any future contingencies.
What can we take away from the pandemic? Here are some key challenges to keep in mind for the future.
1. Sick employees must stay home
Never has the need for sick workers to stay home and avoid infecting their colleagues and the public been more keenly illustrated than during the COVID-19 outbreak. Historically, American workers are more likely to come to work when sick than stay home. In a recent survey, 57% of workers admit they sometimes go to work sick, while 33% say they always go to work sick.
The coronavirus emphasizes how dangerous this practice has been, but many workers reveal they simply can’t afford to stay home when ill. New laws have begun to spring up across the country providing workers with access to paid sick leave. Businesses can anticipate, post-COVID-19, more of these mandates will follow suit. That’s good news for businesses trying to keep contagions out of the workplace.
2. Open concept floor plans may not be optimal
Open floor plans may soon be a thing of the past as businesses work to reinstate staffers with spacing in mind.Social distancing in our private lives is moving to business distancing in the office. Open floor plans may soon be a thing of the past as businesses work to reinstate staffers with spacing in mind. While many touted the open concept workplace, it had its detractors. Research suggested the lack of privacy even reduced productivity, morale, and face-to-face communication. While everyone won’t likely score a corner office in the future, moving away from such close proximity moving forward will likely trend.
3. Remote work is doable
While employees were begging for the opportunity to work from home, many organizations were hesitant: could they maintain productivity and manage staff remotely? The pandemic has thrust many companies into the remote work model and they’re finding it works. Not only are employees able to complete their workload sans pants, avoid frustrating commutes, and reduce dry cleaning bills, they’re keeping pace with production and morale is high.
Some businesses are running with the trend. Twitter and Square have notified employees they can work from home permanently if they choose. Google and Facebook have extended work-from-home options through the end of the year. Other major tech companies are following suit. We may have been thrust into telework, but it seems to be working.
4. The clean freaks were right
There’s that one person in every company who rants about the gross remnants in the refrigerator and scolds the messes in the kitchens, break area, and restrooms. Though the price was high, they rightfully can bask in the glory of vindication. They were right — we need to be more conscientious about keeping common areas clean to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and all other diseases. Perhaps a clean-freak appreciation day is in order?
5. Prepare for the worst
As your organization retools, consider setting aside portions of proceeds to weather any upcoming storms.
While the return to profitability may be slow, it will be important to remember its lessons. Rainy day funds are critical for all businesses. As your organization retools, consider setting aside portions of proceeds to weather any upcoming storms. These might be a small percentage of gross income, but may be a huge factor in riding out any economic hardship that comes your way. While another pandemic (hopefully) might not be on its way, other contingencies may occur. If possible, a nest egg is always a good idea.
You might consider recommending the same to your employees. For those not enrolled in your 401(k) plan, this is the time to encourage participation. Begin one of these retirement plans in your organization if you don’t have one — there are tax benefits for you and your employees.
6. Communication is key
During the outbreak, many organizations realized their communications were lackluster and crisis management was non-existent. As you return to productivity, plan to make improvements in how you will deal with the next trouble spot. Are you able to contact all employees promptly to notify them of any current problems? Emails may not be the most efficient way to communicate. It may be time to set up accounts that can text employees in the event of a company-wide situation, with all cell numbers at the ready. Test out the communication plan in advance of a problem.
Didn’t have a crisis plan before? Now may be the time to create one.
- How the pandemic affected your business
- What steps you needed to take to notify and protect workers
- What was needed to secure premises and assets
As you review what worked and what didn’t during the outbreak, create a crisis plan and team to address any future issues that come your way.
7. Invest in tech
Having technology in place with employees trained to use it may have been the difference between seamlessly shifting to remote work and lagging behind. Whether it’s teaching employees how to use online meetings or making sure your website and order functions can meet demand, an investment in technology is always sound.
Having technology in place with employees trained to use it may have been the difference between seamlessly shifting to remote work and lagging behind.
Many smaller, local retailers and restaurants were caught off-guard by the pandemic. Where they should have been at the ready to serve online customers, and provide delivery and curbside pickup services to keep afloat, they instead had to play catch up. Prepping for the future includes making sure your organization is ready to meet demand — whatever its source.
8. Have a Plan B
Restaurants and retailers have been forced to shift how they do business during the pandemic, and having that Plan B ready to roll may have been critical to their ability to stay open. It’s not just about being ready to deliver meals previously enjoyed with table service; look for other ways your company can weather a problem.
Brainstorm with staffers about the opportunities you capitalized on and how you can expand them.
We’ve seen major manufacturers and smaller businesses adapt to the pandemic — retooling to make everything from high-end ventilators, to personal protective equipment like scrubs and masks. Can your organization retool on a dime? Developing contingency plans to do just that may be an investment in your future. Brainstorm with staffers about the opportunities you capitalized on and how you can expand them, as well as those you missed and how you can be ready for them in the future.
9. Ingenuity wins
Organizations able to rethink their business model or retool to quickly adapt to market conditions have a better chance to survive and even succeed. It’s always important to encourage innovation within your organization, but the pandemic may have illustrated just how beneficial it may be. Being able to shift quickly relies on emboldening ideas and a willingness to take risks. Reward outside-the-box thinking: support those who are risk takers. They may ready you for a crisis or turn your company into the “next big thing.”
10. Community service has never been more important
Across the country, in the midst of the worst economic pressure, we’re seeing community service bloom. Restaurants are feeding the hungry, and community organizations are sewing PPE for healthcare workers — with local and national retailers providing supplies and more. On the opposite side, local groups rallied with GoFundMe pages to support businesses and laid-off employees. Funds are being collected and distributed to those in need.
For small and medium-sized businesses, community is everything. The support you were able to provide to your neighbors and the support you received from them has never been more important. You are a part of your community; they rely on you. That goodwill may be the best advertising your company has ever had.
As we (soon, hopefully) put COVID-19 in the history books, it’s important to remember the lessons learned from this pandemic. Planning for the future with the information we gleaned from this crisis may be the key to survival for tomorrow.