The roaring 2020s started with a bang: an economic recession, a global health crisis, and a worldwide shutdown of businesses. Clearly, this was not what any of us had strategized in our business plans! Since the beginning of March, we’ve all been forced to focus predominantly on crisis management. For weeks, businesses were fully or partially shut down and had to adapt to ever-changing laws and consumer behaviors. As companies are being allowed to reopen, we must take action in ensuring that we move in a positive and proactive direction.

Returning to work as usual is not only impossible, it would be a mistake. To move forward meaningfully, we must find our next normal and make changes that include continuing remote work where possible, adapting our language and communication style, changing company policies, and responding with strong leadership that leads by example. Companies and their leaders can take action in making sure staff can continue to work safely, and that culture and morale don’t suffer. This is an opportunity for ongoing improvement so that businesses can rebound from COVID-19 more resilient and resourceful than before.

Remote Work Really Works!

It’s important for companies to be thoughtful and flexible when planning to bring staff back into the office. Increased safety measures within the workspace must be meticulously planned and implemented. We’re all nervous about stepping back out into the world after so much time being quarantined. Some employees may be at high risk for COVID-19 or have people in their family who are high-risk and are concerned about being in close proximity to other people. There are also the mental health concerns of trying to thrive and be productive in an environment where someone doesn’t feel safe. Providing a safe location in the office for those who come in, and allowing employees to continue working from home both help decrease anxiety and gives a real sense of safety.

We’ve seen during this experience that remote work is a viable and vital option. Many of us have enjoyed the benefits of being home and staying active with our jobs. Employees can thrive and be productive in this environment, a reality that many companies have already acknowledged and have been benefiting from. Many companies may choose to schedule certain days every week as work-from-home for all their staff. Collectively, we can become more intentional about how we spend our time and resources. The overhead cost savings from not having people in the office for one or two days per week can really add up. Working remotely allows employees to save on fuel and auto expenses, and spend their commute time in a more productive way — and we know our dogs love the company!

To promote a unified, empowered company culture that fuels employee trust and loyalty, leadership should take the opportunity to not only make healthy accommodations in the workplace, but to also continue to allow staff to work from home if they so choose. Flexibility will keep everyone satisfied.

Switch Out that Speech: Phrasing Changes

If there’s one word we’ve all heard more than ever before, it’s the word “essential”. We’d even be willing to wager that it might become one of the 2020 words of the year. While the original usage of the word was meant to prevent much of the population from exposure risks, the meaning has shifted. Now that businesses are opening, all workers want to be considered important and needed. Our employment and incomes are essential to our lives. Though being deemed “unessential” in March was meant to be a safety precaution, now is the time to drop the term. In other words, everyone on your staff is essential.

Additionally, the phrase “back to work” should be retired. Millions of employees may not have been in a physical office, but they were working just as hard, if not harder, from home locations. While both are commonly used phrases today, they certainly carry a heavier connotation that can quickly be construed as negative. Meaningful language choices are important to ensure that your employees feel valued, wanted, and yes, essential. Instead of inviting employees back to work, invite them back to the office.

Adapt to New Policy Changes

COVID-19 has created some clear policy changes for businesses, as the government steps in and issues mandates. Be sure to leave politics and opinions aside while supporting your team in following the regulations.

“A company’s mission should be reflected in any new or enhanced policies — they must be aligned with company values to be understood, accepted, and appreciated,” mConnexions Operations Consultant Stephanie Barnhill cautions. Without core-aligned benefits, the workplace is unable to put values into practice.

An example of one new requirement is wearing a mask in the workplace. Instead of enforcing this rule as a mandate, adopt a policy that states that wearing a mask means “I respect you”, and is a way for employees to help keep each other safe. As uncomfortable as they may be, the proper usage is worth the annoyance. Things have changed, for the time being, so we must all adhere to the new normal. This includes maintaining social distancing as much as possible, and staying home as a precaution if you are unwell in any way. The more teams support each other in adhering to temporary rules, the more positive the experience will be for everyone.

Equally likely to be updated are PTO and HR policies regarding employee needs and challenges. Many will need to be reevaluated and revamped in order to adequately protect and preserve the staff and their comfort. Accommodation is key, when employees may have health issues or live with those that do, and the traditional level of understanding must be expanded greatly.

How can a business align its core values?

  • Define your values. Be specific!
  • Model your values. This is where leadership’s role in modeling values greatly encourages staff involvement and engagement.
  • Share and communicate your values. Communication is key!
  • Promote your values and reward those who follow them. After all, we’re in this together.

Following these steps help with employee satisfaction and retention. It shares the benefits and positivity for your team to be happy at work and feel like everyone makes a true impact on the organization. In a post-COVID world, values that will be critical in the workplace include respect, compassion, and empathy. It’s also an opportunity for innovation, creativity, and transformation.

Improved Leadership Responses

Employees without a strong leader will lack direction and drive, especially now when life has been increasingly uncertain. How are leaders responding, and what are the messages their employees are hearing? Communication should include language that brings everyone together, creating a culture of compassion and grace. How can a leader ensure their messaging comes across this way?

“Communication from leadership right now should be honest, transparent, and reassuring,” said Barnhill. “It is paramount that staff feel valued and unified in a time of crisis, especially as we all continue to process the pandemic, and try to cautiously predict and prepare for what life will look like in the coming weeks.”

Frequent communication. Whoever said “less is more” hasn’t communicated during coronavirus. A leader must communicate frequently, doing it clearly and purposefully. They demonstrate a feeling of togetherness and approachability by being open to discussion and by sending out information that addresses concerns and promotes their employee’s wellbeing.

Trustworthy narratives. Transparency during confusing times builds trust that is imperative within a company. Employees don’t expect their leader to know all of the answers and speak with false bravado. While the difficulties ahead can be acknowledged, saying that as a team you will all get through this, is a morale booster and much-needed reassurance.

Stay the course. Times may be changing, but this too shall pass. Keep your company’s vision and mission as guideposts for your future.

Look to the future. Savvy leaders are able to stay focused on the future and can use their enthusiasm for what’s to come to inspire their employees. Tough times lead to increased innovation.

Remember, we are in this together.

In a post-pandemic world, companies and their leaders can take meaningful steps that create opportunities and improvement, allowing every single employee to recover, thrive, and move forward with purpose. The ability for advancement and greater company culture is available for everyone through compassion and care. This may not be the roaring 20’s that we had imagined when the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, but that doesn’t mean we have lost the power to make this a year of growth and unity. Let’s all take the next steps toward a much brighter rest of 2020.