Now that we have gained control of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are entering the prolonged phase of restarting the economy. We are moving from only essential businesses operating to reopening all businesses. This move to the new normal will be gradual. No one wants to lose control and move back to full lockdown!
As managers, it is time to prepare yourself for this new normal. You have read articles, listened to podcasts, and watched videos on managing remote or work-from-home employees. I wrote one and recorded a podcast. There are lots of others as well.
As the country, state by state, and city by city begin to loosen the shelter-in-place requirements, I want to share the five biggest changes that are likely to be a part of the plan for going back to work. These will stay in place until a vaccine is available and has been broadly administered.
Screening and Testing
Companies will need to protect their workers. There are two ways to do this. One is to do testing. The other is to check or screen employees as they come to work.
The best solution, of course, is to test. But tests are expensive and in short supply. Screening, on the other hand, is easy and cheap. It is typically a temperature check, but given that many people who get sick do not show symptoms, it is possible that infected individuals will be missed. And possibly worse, there may be a false sense of comfort if screening is done, causing workers to take more risks.
What Should You Do?
You need to make your team aware of three things.
- There continues to be a high risk of transmission of COVID-19.
- If they do not feel well, they need to stay home, quarantine, and only come back after they no longer feel sick and have completed their quarantine.
- They must understand and follow the company’s guidelines.
The first big change that will take place is social distancing. What that means is everyone will be given more space (everyone will be spread out more). If you are in a large room with lots of desks, they will have to be spread further apart.
When you go into a break room, you will be asked to maintain your distance. This could mean that only one person is allowed in a small break room at a time.
There may be directional arrows to control the flow of people in areas where it is busy. This may be implemented in hallways. It will certainly be put into place in the cafeteria.
What Should You Do?
As with all of the company guidelines, you need to support them.
In addition to that, you should make a point of connecting regularly with the part of your team that is in the office. After having everyone work from home, you likely have developed a good way to stay connected with your remote team. This is great.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but with the space between your staff, due to social distancing, your team that is in the office may begin to feel disconnected. Remember to stay connected with your team in the office!
Use of Masks
Even with testing, screening, and making sure that employees stay further apart, it is highly likely that companies will require masks when employees are in places where their space is limited.
This could be while walking around in the halls, when entering break rooms, when getting lunch, and anytime that a meeting is required.
It has been my experience that people are harder to understand when wearing a mask, however, there is a willingness to try extra hard to speak clearly and listen carefully to make communication work.
Masks are also uncomfortable, make it hard to breathe, and are hot. All of these reasons will cause some people not to wear their masks. At the same time, others will wear it in places where it is not required, purely because of the fear that they have of catching the Coronavirus.
What Should You Do?
You need to do three things.
- Make sure that your team follows the company guidelines.
- As a manager, you need to be extra sensitive to the frustrations that your team may have related to wearing masks. Be open and honest. Listen to their issues, and look for ways to help them. But DO NOT allow your team to deviate from the company guidelines.
- If you believe the company guidelines are problematic, you need to raise the issue with the appropriate people. If you are unsure of who that is, work with your manager.
- Be supportive of the difficulty in hearing and understanding each other while wearing masks.
No Conference Rooms
Conference rooms are likely to be shut down or repurposed in the near future. If they remain open, they will be limited in the number of employees that are allowed. There will be fewer chairs. And there may be markers to show where these chairs, and therefore people, need to sit.
What Should You Do?
This one may be the easiest to deal with as it is exactly like what we have today. Meetings will be held virtually. Meeting etiquette that has been developed and learned, will continue to be important.
As I mentioned in the work-at-home post and podcast, the most important thing to do to ensure successful virtual meetings is to make sure everyone in attendance has their cameras on. If they do this, the meeting will be far more effective.
Continued Work at Home
Many of us were forced into working at home. We struggled. We figured it out.
Now many employees can’t imagine going back to the office. They have saved a tremendous amount of time. They are being productive, and they have learned how to stay connected with others.
Managers have realized that more roles can be done remotely. They have learned to operate in this environment and have become more comfortable. And many of their employees have demonstrated that they can be successful while working remotely.
I believe that over time, most employees will return to the old model of working at an office. But over the next year or so, there will continue to be a large number of employees working from home. Some of this will be by choice. Others will be required in order to maintain social distancing.
I would not be surprised if companies implement something like shifts, where employees work some days at home and other days in the office. These days will be organized to control the total number of people in the office at any one time.
What Should You Do?
You, as managers, are the people who make sure that things get done in a company. You did this by managing a team that sat in the same building as you. You have now learned how to do this while managing a team that is working at home.
You will need to apply what you have learned to manage in a hybrid model, where some of your team is at home and others are at work. You will need to grow comfortable with a rotation of people in the office and at home. You will have to deal with the fact that the model will evolve as time goes on and we learn more.
I am confident that you will apply the experience that you have, continue to learn along the way, and quickly become proficient in this hybrid environment.
Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.Bill Gates
Now is the time to prepare for the new normal. I shared the five biggest changes that are likely to be a part of the plan to go back to work. These are:
- Screening and Testing
- More Spacing
- Use of Masks
- No Conference Rooms
- Continued Work at Home
You have learned to manage work-at-home employees. Because of this, you will be able to handle the new hybrid model where some of your team is at home and others are in the office.
There are a number of things that you need to do as a manager. Here are the top three.
- Make sure that everyone on your team understands and follows company policies.
- If anyone on your team feels sick, make sure they stay home until they are healthy and have quarantined.
- Be sensitive and supportive. Listen. Each person on your team is working through the challenges in their own way.
I am confident that managers will learn how to be successful in this new normal.