Over the past few weeks, West Coast Careers has worked to gather the most up to date information on how employers feel and what they are doing to prepare a return to work. If you missed out on their considerations, feel free to watch the webinar below or read it instead!
Alright, welcome everybody to our repeat webinar series on returning to work and what to consider. This presentation is being recorded and will be posted on our company website for reference.
So having the most recent validated data is critical to make decisions today. Because of that, the oldest information presented in this webinar dates back to just April of this year.
So this is the agenda of what we’ll be covering in this webinar today. We’ll be starting with overviews of how employees are feeling, leading into the many considerations of returning to work, and wrapping up with a discussion on considerations for the future of work. We have a lot of topics to discuss so let’s go ahead and dive in.
What’s Happening Now
So we’ve heard everything across the board from organizations embracing virtual work forever, while others are anxiously waiting to return to their offices. Even more importantly, how prepared leaders are to return is also just as broad.
At face value, we’ve seen that overall Americans are NOT confident about returning to work. 2 out of 3 people say that they would feel uncomfortable returning if they had to right now with all generations feeling equally uncomfortable.
About half of Americans don’t even expect to return to their offices until at least August but currently, about 67% of employees know that their organization is planning to bring their people back.
Based on this information alone, it becomes clear that what people are going to need to return to work is the assurance of their health and safety, but also that the organizational culture is still intact.
In support of preparing to return to work, we’ve noticed that organizations are preparing timelines on when to return. However, there is no timeline that can be suggested to follow. Each organization has its own intricate details that only your leaders have knowledge that could support the decisions you will make. We are here to provide considerations and to reflect what others are saying and doing. What we can say about your timeline is that it needs to be based on how your business is structured and how your people feel about coming back.
For example, if your organization is structured to work from home successfully and your people are nervous about returning, then you should consider waiting. However, there is a lot of information out there to help finalize your decision on what your timeline will look like.
Before Returning to Work, I Want My Company to Have…
For example, the information you’re seeing in this slide and the next specifically came from a survey conducted by Qualtrics in April on over 2,000 employees in the states. They found that the majority of people want an environment that has been and will be rigorously cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis.
This is going to require an effort to reach out to whoever you need to ensure your office, building, or whatever physical space you reside in is clean. If you don’t own the building you work in, you’re most likely going to need to contact your property manager to ensure there is a system in place.
People want assurance that you’ve consulted with local and state authorities and are following their guidelines to return. This will also be different from one location to the next. We’ll be talking about what the CDC and OSHA have been recommending soon to provide more insight on this topic.
Employees want strict policies in place for people who can and cannot come into the workspace. This might include barring people who have traveled recently for work or pleasure, or keeping people out of the office for extended periods if they’ve been sick or have been around anyone with COVID-19.
People also want masks to be available, at all times, and to anyone who needs one. This falls in line with anyone following OSHA guidelines.
Before Returning to Work, I Want the Option To…
In a time like this, flexibility and adaptability are going to be your soft-skill critical success factors to managing the change of bringing your workforce back to the office. And your employees are expecting that. They want options, to have autonomy – any manager should know this and it is most applicable now.
Despite it being highly recommended, people want the option to wear a mask. However, the CDC recommends enforcing the use of masks.
People want to be able to socially distance from each other. Ensuring this is possible might include staggering shifts, rearranging the layout of the office, and closing off communal spaces.
Mitigating risk through more flexibility with sick leave helps keep people out of the office and will show that you’re serious about the health and wellbeing of all of your staff. The old days of risking coming into work sick, even with the most minor ailment, should be off the table.
Tying into social distancing and re-introducing people back to the office is going to require limitations on meetings if you’re even willing to try meetings anytime soon. Some solutions to this could be keeping meetings virtual until everyone is comfortable being in the same room. Having limits on the number of people in a room is also going to be a factor.
These protocols are going to change how people interact and by extension your culture. Things we used to take for granted like mingling in the break room, having hallways conversations, stopping by someone’s desk to chat, are all going to be curtailed for now. By extension, all of this is going to change how people work and how people are managed.
Two influential resources that are going to help make your decisions are the CDC and OSHA. Some of their recommendations have already been touched on while others will be expanded upon. The CDC is recommending to embrace working from home, however, there’s pros and cons to this that we’ll discuss later. Return to offices in phases – having your people come back in a strategic manner such as leaving high-risk employees at home longer than others will help create those phases.
Having people just come back in at once is not realistic. You need to be strategic about this. How organizations treat the return to work is going to affect not only your business and employees, but it’s going to affect the community surrounding you as you start to bring in more traffic and interaction to your physical location. Using a lower density model to reintegration will help make those be more gradual and less challenging to physically distant from each other and can facilitate stress-testing of inevitable physical and workflow changes.
Also, consider letting parents stay at home longer or until they have adequate childcare in place. Since COVID-19, most people have lost the accessibility to childcare while they were normally at work.
Closing down common areas so people won’t congregate. Something like this is going to change your organization’s culture as this used to be something taken for granted. Maintaining 6-feet apart from each other, wearing face coverings, reduce travel, being flexible for people who are vulnerable, or feel sick.
These are all things that we’ve stated people want assurances for so there’s a clear alignment between their regulations and what your people most likely need. I would also suggest using their website to your advantage as there are multiple flyers you could distribute, a FAQ page you use as a resource, and they’re constantly updating their site so you have the most up to date news.
In combining CDC guidelines, following OSHA regulations is going to mean promoting personal health. Put signs up in bathrooms asking employees to rigorously wash their hands for 2 minutes as if they just touched hot sauce and they need to put their contacts in now. Establishing more intensive cleaning protocols is probably going to look like continuous cleaning, changing how you greet others, and if you don’t own the property you work in, collaborating with your building managers to ensure rigorous cleaning practices are in place for bathrooms, public spaces, and your office space. This will also be the case for installing air filters as well.
Contacting your property manager or HVAC contact will most likely be necessary to ensure your office or building has the cleanest air available. And installing physical barriers is suggested. We’ve already seen service industry organizations do this if you haven’t already experienced a transaction with a shield.
From State and Local Government
Adhering to nation-wide guidelines should be supported by your local guidelines in order to be strategic, compliant, and satisfy the needs of your employees. Local guidelines and plans can change on a weekly, if not daily basis, so be sure someone on your team is staying on top of each update so that your organization can change, adapt, and start growing. We’ve seen a lot of states make face masks mandatory for employees, so giving people an option might be out of the picture depending on where you are.
Another good rule to follow and to bring into the future is requiring doctor’s notes and other forms of physical verification stating that you can come back to work without the risk of spreading the disease. Finally, using daily health screenings is most likely going to be a new norm. It will be effective but this adaptation, in particular, is going to cause a lot of changes.
You’re going to lose time or have to take extra time to ensure everyone’s temperature is checked before they walk into the building. It’s going to also change the organizational culture as this will become a new behavioral norm. Temperature checks with thermal meters are also better than COVID-19 testing because they’ve been known to yield significantly high rates of false positives, they’re very costly, and they only indicate if a person is asymptomatic.
Things to Rethink
So to give you an idea of where organizations stand based on the survey responses of business leaders, the following numbers you’re seeing were released last week from Robert Half Staffing.
71% are rethinking how to shake hands with others. Elbow bumping was a common behavior early on in the pandemic, but soon people started to realize that that doesn’t adhere to social distancing. We’ve heard of people shaking hands with their feet by sticking their foot out and touching shoes with the other person. Bowing, however, is most likely the safest yet normative greeting at your disposal for now.
69% of people are rethinking how they’re going to communicate with each other. Platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Facebook Messenger are tools we should start to utilize more frequently in the workplace. Your organization should consider in-person meetings as a last resort.
Conferences or any event is off the table right now, but moving forward, the majority of leaders are still rethinking the need for attending events.
Virtual communication platforms are also replacing the need to travel these days. If the job can be done virtually, then that’s most likely going to be your solution for the foreseeable future.
Finally, most leaders are realizing that their job can be done entirely at home, further supporting WFH as a new way of working. However, there are pros and cons to working from home. Since this new way of working isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, if anything it’s going to be bigger than ever – so you should be aware of the challenges and benefits your team is experiencing.
Supporting WFH Staff
So looking at the benefits first, WFH has been shown to increase job satisfaction significantly. So much that 36% of people would choose it over a pay raise. A poll of 1,500 technology professionals revealed that 37% would even take a pay cut of 10% if they could work from home.
It reduces attrition. Losing a valued employee can cost an employer anywhere between 10 to $30,000. And recruiting and training a new hire costs thousands. 14% of Americans change jobs just to shorten their commute. About half of the companies surveyed recently that allow telework says it has reduced their attrition. And over 90% of employers say telework has had a significantly positive impact on employee retention. While over 90% of employees are concerned with the high cost of fuel, with 73% of them feeling their employers should take the lead in helping them reduce their commuting costs.
It helps reduce unscheduled absences. Just over 75% of employees who call in sick, really aren’t. They do so because of family issues, personal needs, and stress. The American Management Association reports that organizations that implemented a telework program, realized a 63% reduction in unscheduled absences.
Despite previous claims, we’ve seen that telework can increase productivity. Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical, and many others show that teleworkers are about 25-40% more productive than office employees.
One of the most popular known benefits of working from home is the money organizations save. Nearly six out of ten employers identify cost savings as a significant benefit to telecommuting. Nortel estimates that they save $100,000 per employee they don’t have to relocate. IBM was able to reduce its real estate costs by $50 million, Sun Microsystems, it was $68 million.
Telework helps cut down meeting times as well. Asynchronous communications allow people to communicate more efficiently if they’re not in the same location. And web-based meetings have been reported to be better-planned and more apt to stay on message.
Having the option to WFH gives people more autonomy, a known factor in increasing employee motivation. Not giving people an option is the weakest choice for increasing employee motivation.
Finally, COVID-19 has been a blessing in disguise for the planet. According to NASA, the saved energy from commuting, operational costs, Office energy consumption has reduced carbon emissions by 30% in some areas while 70% of employees report they would like to see their companies in a more favorable light by reducing their carbon footprint. Given this information supporting telework from an environmental perspective can be used to your advantage to increase your corporate social responsibility, public relations, internal relations, all while saving you money.
But what is also just as important to consider are the challenges teleworkers face. Firstly, they are susceptible to FOMO. People working from home are missing out on the organization’s culture and all of the social interactions people experience working in an office. Depending on the person, feelings can range from not caring less to feeling isolated and lonely. This is why it’s important to let people have the option to telework because it’s not for everyone. Teleworkers need to be tech-savvy, independent, self-directed, and have space at home to work – which is a luxury some people don’t have right now. There’s also Career FOMO: because they’re not in the office, teleworkers feel like they might be missing out on career advancement opportunities. However, if you have a performance-based measurement system in place and value productivity versus presenteeism attitudes – then this shouldn’t be an issue.
Management mistrust is something teleworkers experience that needs to be removed from the organization. About 75% of managers say they trust their employees, but a third say they’d like to be able to see them, just to be sure. However, what makes a good manager is not someone who can see the work their employee is doing, but rather someone who sets specific, measurable, time-bound goals and give feedback. We’ve known this is the case since the 1950’s so if it’s still occurring in the workplace, then that’s a whole other topic for discussion.
Supporting a WFH policy might also create IT challenges. However, it’s a barrier that once crossed, shouldn’t have to be crossed again. Challenges might include training your staff on how to operate systems remotely, ensuring they have contact if any issues arise, and ensuring communication platforms are in place so office and remote staff productivity isn’t hindered. This point leads to the issue of collaboration concerns. Some managers feel that they need “the energy in the room” when working and if your staff is remote, you’re not getting that – which is going to be another factor in the changes your organization’s culture will face.
OSHA also claims challenges for teleworkers. If some type of accident occurs in the home, it can make employer liability significantly more tricky. Monitoring over time also becomes significantly more difficult to track.
Finally, some employees might have zoning regulations in their neighborhood based on communal agreements or homeowner associations that prohibit home offices. If some employees fall into this category, it could also insight jealously or feelings of distributive injustice. So it’s best to promote fairness, communication, and inclusiveness when explaining to your workforce how you want to handle telework.
So based on what we’ve gone over so far, some considerations for the protection of your staff starts with being confident in your answer to whether you have specific policies to exclude workers or clients who might be high-risk individuals. Over 90% of businesses are excluding workers who: have current upper respiratory symptoms or report a fever, travel to international destinations with known community transmission and have been exposed to family members or others with COVID-19.
Right now about half of the businesses surveyed recently are using thermal scanners, which have been EEOC approved to use on your employees. And to reiterate, testing your staff is going to be expensive, tests are in short supply as is, they have a high level of reports of false negatives, and can only provide evidence of being asymptomatic.
The second question you need a good answer to is what actions are you going to take to encourage access to medical care?
Right now, we’re seeing that 86% of organizations have started to promote telemedicine instead of in-person visits. About 82% are waiving out-of-pocket costs for COVID testing. Is this something you’re willing to do?
Are you going to make wearing a mask a requirement or optional?
How are you going to re-arrange the workspace to follow the social distancing protocol? For that last one, we would also like to encourage employers to let their staff eat at their own desk or use sign-up sheets for shared kitchens to reduce the chances of congregations.
So as we gear toward the future of working, nearing the end of our webinar, it’s important to take a look at what scenarios you might plan and assess how much you’re willing to adapt to organizational change.
The most popular trend that we’re already seeing organizations embrace is making virtual work a new norm. At least having the new norm being the option of working virtually or in-person. Nearly three times as many employers report that over 75% of their employees can work remotely.
Another question for you, what is going to be your policy and strategy if a virus breaks out in your workspace? Are you going to revert to quarantining everyone for 14 days? How are you going to manage the thoughts and feelings your employees will have about the situation?
To give some more insight into the importance of scenario planning and what others are doing, less than 40% of companies plan to close if there was exposure and only a quarter of organizations plan to close if there is an outbreak in the community. You get similar results as well when you look at how organizations are training leaders to respond to another outbreak.
Everyone within your organization should know what to do in an occurrence of an outbreak, this should be rudimentary and known as a fire drill would be.
Another dimension for scenario planning is to model potential financial losses you could face if your business is adversely impacted from another outbreak or any other pandemic related occurrence. The scope of this endeavor is going to be vastly different for organizations. Factors ranging from your supply chain, foot traffic, to how the economy manages could all be factors to account for in terms of how your business could be impacted in the future.
Also, be sure to review your property and casualty insurance as well as the specifics of your benefits coverage. The last thing you would want is to be caught in another bad situation with no strategy or known resources on how to respond. Hopefully, if you learned anything about your business from this event, it’s that planning and being adaptable is a defining characteristic of successful organizations.
Finally, one of the most critical considerations about returning to work is that many of your employees will have suffered losses by the time they return. And providing or supporting mental health servicing from employers has been monumentally poor before the pandemic and yet they’re going to be needed more than ever.
There are going to be more cases of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Morale is going to need a big boost and leaders need to express empathy more than ever. In times like these, employees need a leader who can be approachable, supportive, and resilient. Now is the time to consider investing more in the mental health of your people.
A highly successful approach with significant ROIs is implementing employee assistance programs that focus on the wellbeing of the person. Thankfully, we’ve seen that over 80% of organizations are increasing their communication about Employee Assistance Programs. Others have addressed employee wellness by increasing access to virtual or in-person mental health services.
According to Limeade, focusing on employee wellness can double the number of enjoyment employees receive from their work, it significantly reduces turnover, it can increase loyalty to the teams people are in, and double the odds of advocating for the organization as a good place to work.
Regardless of how much you will focus on your staff’s mental health, safety, and plans of action moving forward, how you communicate that information will significantly determine the success of the application. Which leads us to our next section: communication.
The most effective way to communicate about coronavirus is to overcommunicate, as much as two to three times as much as you would in person. It’s much better to communicate a surplus of information than to leave your people wondering what you’re doing.
More specifically, employees are wanting to know how you’re going to mitigate the spreading of the disease. Now that we’re moving over and down the bell curve of cases and deaths, one of the greatest fears on everyone’s mind is having another outbreak by taking too many steps forward that caused us to take some steps back. Plus, not having a known protocol could turn into legal issues or threats to your organization’s reputation.
False and unfounded rumors can spread as fast as a virus, and companies need to earn the trust of their employees through frequent and accurate communications. An easy way to curve rumors is to create a COVID-19 tailored frequently asked questions page as you can see on the slide. Over 75% of organizations have created one for their employees. The more questions you can answer on that page, the more knowledge your people will have about the situation. Focus communicating answers to the actions being taken to protect employees, including workplace cleaning, screening policies, and changes being made to allow social distancing.
Remind employees of their benefits. Encourage people to take time off if they need it, remind them of their telemedicine and employee assistance program outlets. Even if you didn’t have to furlough employees, some organizations are offering financial counseling as a benefit.
If you can survey your organization, do so to get a sense of how uncomfortable your employees are about returning to the office. If there are more informal approaches that would make more sense for your model, then consider having one-on-one meetings or a town hall on the topic.
Fighting biases is also important during these times. Just as it is important to make a statement on the racial inequality presented by the Black Lives Matter movement, organizations should communicate their disposition towards biases and stigmas towards Asian people and communities. Almost 1/3rd of the organizations surveyed don’t have any plans on making a statement.
How you visually communicate to others is also important. Companies should retire stock photos of employees who are clustered tightly together. Post on social media what you’re doing to ensure your organization is responsibly responding to the safety of your staff and community. You should also avoid pictures of staff wearing medical-grade gear in non-clinical spaces since these supplies still remain in short supply.
One of the main purposes of over-communicating in these times is to foster trust from your employees. Without it, they’re going to remain uncomfortable returning to work. As this pie chart shows, 69% of employees agree that they trust their company’s leadership to communicate when to return.
So rather than seeing organizational communication as a challenge, try to view it as an opportunity to rally your workforce, strengthen, and unify the company for the right reasons. This can be a chance to enhance how your internal and external stakeholders view your organization.
So there’s one more piece of business worth mentioning before wrapping up and that’s what to consider when traveling. International travel right now is basically a no-go. If the country you’re going to allows international arrivals right now, you’ll most likely be required to quarantine for 14 days. And when you return, that will be another 14 days. So right now one international trip merits a month of quarantine. So consider not traveling internationally until there is either a vaccine or treatment.
As the outbreak fluctuates in certain areas of the country, your domestic travel will be affected accordingly. For now, limit domestic travel significantly to an as-needed basis. Obviously traveling by car will return first for most but expect all other forms to take a lot longer. Those other forms like the train, bus, flying, etc. are all going to have longer waiting times as well while they execute their COVID-19 safety protocol.
Even in traveling, the organization can be a supportive figure to the employee. Encourage various abilities to travel personally to avoid public transit. Give them easier access to drive themselves, bike, or even walk to work while rolling back on rules to be punctual to escape the unnecessary stress to change.
So to wrap up our many considerations, there’s a huge debate among society and by extension work itself. That is, are things going to return to normal or will things never be the same?
The answer will be different from one organization to the next and how you choose to respond to our considerations will help determine what your answer will be. Right now, it’s basically split 50-50 among the workforce as to whether things will change or not.
What organizational change experts are advocating for, however, is to drop the idea of things returning to normal. To do so would discount everything we have learned these past two quarters. It’s not going to be sensible or practical in any way to return to a pre-pandemic work environment. Working from home, however, has drastically changed the established dynamics of your organization’s culture. So returning to office work is going to create even more change.
To navigate the ambiguity of change, you first need to embrace that change is constant and unending. Believing change happens in periods creates a docile organization, unable to react quickly when larger changes occur.
Understand how your product and services are now being offered in a different way and refocus on the areas of the business that are most profitable in our new environment. Doing so will make you agile, capable of small changes at any moment, and willing to make large ones when needed.
More specifically, re-evaluate your KPIs, reprioritize tasks, re-align resources. Again, it’s going to look different from one organization to the next, which is why leaders should know where these continuous readjustments should occur.
Re-establishment is going to happen in many ways as organizations start returning to working in an office, however, there are two important ones to consider: re-establishing the culture and skills to succeed.
Having soft skills such as being flexible, resilient, motivational, taking on multiple roles, and an eagerness to learn are going to be new drivers for organizational success. Re-establishing culture is going to include things such as sharing any wins with your team, reminding the company of its core mission and values, and explaining how your organization’s core beliefs provide the foundation for the changes and hard decisions you’re needing to make and will make moving forward. Most importantly, make the health and safety of your team a focal point.
Finally, closing those work gaps is going to be an important and trivial aspect. This means reinstating your furloughed employees and leaning into the trend of contract or temp work to get your business back on track.
As a final closeout, it’s important to note that you will be needing more top talent than ever before. With so many people unemployed, the quality of the labor pool is very high for now. Also, hiring managers who are now more open to hiring remote workers have more recruiting choices because they have lifted the geographical barriers set. You can engage people from across the world just as easily as those living in your area. This provides an opportunity for organizations to hire people with valuable skills for immediate needs.
Although a strong talent pool is a good thing, that means finding the talent you need is going to be even harder with so many more people to sift through. The rest of the hiring process won’t be easy either. Once you’ve vetted your resumes, you still have your phone interviews, skills testing, reference checks, and any other follow up interviews you need to schedule. All of this coming at a time when you’re slammed with juggling all of these organizational changes and just trying to keep the business running.
A specialized firm like West Coast Careers however can help you navigate this process and do most of it for you. We have a pool of highly skilled candidates whose skills and experience have been evaluated, and we are able to handle the time-consuming details of the hiring process for you. We can also advise you on the fair market rate for salaries and provide outplacement services for anyone you’re needing to let go of.
But for now, the main concern is getting your business fully functioning and your people back to work. Again, the timeline and scope to return will vary dramatically from company to company. Every business and individual will return at a time they deem appropriate and safe.
Perhaps the best gift you can give your employees in the coming weeks and months is to make it transparent you don’t expect them to return until they are ready. That alone will boost their morale as well as their loyalty.