By late May 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had led to millions of jobless claims and a very gloomy jobs forecast for the upcoming summer months. The staggering situation was unprecedented and with good reason. The artificial expulsion of workers from their workplaces was always meant to be a temporary solution, designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus throughout the world.
While the effects of government policies will be judged by history, in the here and now employers and HR representatives are faced with the difficult task of resuming operations while maintaining the “new normal.” If you’re facing this unpleasant prospect, below are several suggestions to help you stay focused and on track as you help to shepherd your workforce back into an office space that is as safe and secure as possible.
Human Resource managers play an essential role in the functionality of an office. They serve as a crossroads of executive objectives, employee safety, and legal expectations. As such, it falls to HR reps to step up and guide an office through its re-entry to normal work. As a leading figure in this process, it’s important that HR managers to provide a blueprint for how office activity should look as it resumes.
For instance, legally you should be very familiar with the reopening plans — and possible adjustments over time — associated with your particular region. You should also consider safety precautions such as bathroom sterilization, social distancing rules, and maximum occupancy as operations resume.
In addition, bring up the tough questions like who should come back first, who should follow later, and who might be able to stay in a remote work situation indefinitely. Ensure that your office has clear rules regarding what employees are to do if they’re sick, how long they should avoid the physical office if that is the case, and how they should report their condition.
The point is, as the HR rep, it’s important that you place yourself at the centre of the action where management, employees, and the law meet. This should be done with an eye towards overseeing the process of resuming business both safely and effectively.
As you consider the safety and wellbeing of your staff, it’s important to remember to approach this in a holistic manner. For instance, just because an employee is physically okay doesn’t mean they’re mentally healthy or emotionally sound.
With so much stress, fear, and general paranoia circulating, it’s important to ensure that your employees — whether on-site or remote — have ample access to information and resources. Do they have a clear understanding of new social distancing rules? Do they understand how their health care policies work in the event that they fall ill?
If they’re struggling internally, do they have mental and emotional health resources to help them in times of stress? Hundreds of thousands of workers regularly suffer from depression whether there’s an ongoing pandemic or not. With so much trepidation in the air, it’s vital that you provide a lifeline for those employees that are in genuine need.
As you flesh these things out, it’s wise to also encourage employees themselves to buy-in to new practices and policies for their own well-being. This will help to combat an atmosphere of fear and replace it with one of solidarity.
As you reopen, safety and functionality will doubtlessly be at the front of your mind. However, you should also give a little attention to things like the emotional impact of your office environment.
Workplaces affect mental health through things such as lighting, temperature, noise, and even your desk and chair. These seemingly minor environmental factors can significantly impact your overall stress and distraction levels — and, consequentially, your productivity as well.
Finally, make sure to approach employees with an understanding mindset as they unlearn any unhealthy remote work habits they may have picked up in the last few months.
Employees may have gotten used to unsafe remote desktop protocol measures. They may be utilizing unsecured network connections or working with unapproved company software. This is an understandable problem to occur as staff members shift to working on the fly from a home office. However, these concerns must be addressed and corrected once everyone is back in the office for the long-term.
Coworkers also may have struggled with maintaining work-life balance — either in a lazy sense or in a workaholic sense. In either case, HR should be there to help them readjust to typical expectations while working in the office.
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime event. However, the responsibility that it lays on HR reps is nothing new.
Human Resources is always meant to be a source of information. They are a diplomatic voice of reason and a guiding light through tough times. As an HR rep, it’s important that you embrace this responsibility with boldness and fervour. Support your coworkers and help to guide their actions. Ensure that everyone is on the same page as you all navigate this strange new world together.