Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

What do you expect to find when you return to work after being isolated for the past few months by COVID-19?

 

Chances are it will not be the same workplace you left behind, says Human Resources consultant Frank Newman.

 

“If you just assume it will be like walking back into the office it’s not going to be that way because everyone’s expectations have changed,” says Frank, who has more than 40 years of experience in human resources to draw from and has spent the last six running his own firm called Newman Human Resources Consulting.

 

He compares the COVID-19 crisis and what we have dealt with as being similar to what astronauts face returning from space while learning to readjust to the Earth’s atmosphere.

 

“We’ve all been in the safe ‘cocoon’ of our ‘spaceships’ and suddenly we’re exposed to another environment,” says Frank. “Companies will have to take this very seriously.”

In terms of working under new guidelines and policies to ensure physical distancing, he expects many workplaces will now operate within a ‘blended’ work culture with more people working from home than ever before.

 

“You’re going to be in the office one day and half the people will be there, and half the people won’t be there,” says Frank. “It’s going to be very challenging for companies on how to manage their culture because we’re so used to having everyone in the office.”

 

Building trust, he says, between not only the company and its employees but between the employees themselves, will be key in effort to make this shift work.

“We’re going to not only have to have the right physical safeguards, but better processes in place as to how we communicate with each other. What will be the expectations if I’m working from home and my colleague is in the office? Do they have to respond to my emails in 15 or 20 minutes?” says Frank, noting there will likely be physical changes in offices also when it comes to sharing resources. “Are people even going to be comfortable putting their chicken pot pie in the microwave to warm up knowing others use it?”

 

He says it is inevitable there will be employees who may be petrified at the thought of being back in the workplace and others who will be completely callous, perhaps not respecting physical distancing guidelines or refusing to wear a mask.

To prevent these situations from escalating, Frank says there are a few steps companies can take ahead of time.

 

“They should provide as much advanced communication as possible to let everyone know what the rules of the road are,” he says. “Then they really have to figure out what’s the rhythm of work they want as people come back and how it applies for those working at home and the people working at the office.”

 

Frank says managers should aim to meet with their team, whether in person or virtually, at least once a week once people start to return and even ahead of time.

“It’s important for managers and other people to check in with their colleagues,” he says, noting some employees will be dealing with mental health issues. “We’ve all been through so much turmoil with this and some may have suffered severe losses during this time.”

 

Franks says enhanced benefit plans will be a big help to not only current employees but as a great incentive to recruit new employees. Also, he said ensuring new recruits have a space at home to work could become part of the norm during the hiring process should another lockdown occur.

 

“We need to be prepared for this at any point in time,” he says, adding companies may also be expected to reimburse employees for equipment to work from home, such as laptops and enhanced internet.

 

Frank also recommends the creation of ‘time free zones’ for those working at home, allowing them a period to complete tougher tasks uninterrupted by emails or virtual meetings.

 

“We’ve been absolutely deluged with communication at this time,” he says, referring to the numerous emails and regular Zoom calls many people working at home have been dealing with. “It’s actually draining our productivity.”

 

For more information, contact Frank Newman at 519.362.8352, or visit www.newmanhumanresources.com

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