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COVID-19 and Forever Changes

The pandemic has created many work challenges, but has also created opportunities to make work better.
Work from home employee

Although many states are experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases, I’m compelled by my natural optimism to continually have a positive perspective. As science and medicine intersect, the world will find a way to live with novel coronavirus 2019 and eventually everyone will be back to work. Why am I so confident? Because according to an April 15, 2020 article in National Geographic by Katherine Wu, Ph.D. (Harvard University, Microbiology and Immunobiology) we’ve already been living on Earth with “an estimated 10 nonillion individual viruses…enough to assign one to every star in the universe 100 million times over.” To be fair, Dr. Wu explains that there are 200 known viruses that cause diseases in humans…but we’ve been living with them also, even coronaviruses.

I don’t want my optimism to be confused with a casual attitude toward this pandemic, because the losses experienced on so many levels are catastrophic. My hopefulness is rooted in faith and history…those who came before us and experienced wars, diseases, and famines left us with a legacy of strength and innovation birthed in tragedy. So, I’m convinced, that like them, we will not only survive this moment in history, but we also will be stronger, kinder, and smarter than we were before we heard of COVID-19.

Our world is human resources. Throughout 2020, we’ve had the opportunity to help businesses tap into these resources in creative and efficient ways. And because of this resourcefulness, I believe work will be forever changed. Here are some of my observations:

  1. Work at home is here to stay. Ever since Al Gore invented the internet, Millennials and Generation X-ers have been trying to convince Baby Boomers that some jobs are naturally suited for full or part time remote work. As a boomer myself, I’m a little annoyed with the fact that, for the most part, they’ve been proven right. But, there’s still a lot to do to make the virtual office permanent. We’ve helped businesses since March as their work at home arrangements shined the spotlight on insufficient policies, job descriptions that don’t clearly articulate performance and behavior expectations, performance reviews that don’t measure these things, and supervisors lost in a sea of uncertainty because they’ve been trained to manage work, and leading people proved to be a challenge.
  2. Remote work is not for everyone. Let’s face it – if you repair, build, or are in the service or retail industry, regardless of the technology, you just can’t work from home every day. But just because a job is suited for remote work, doesn’t mean the person in that job is, even if he or she wants to work remotely. Employers are faced with the question of how to be equitable when making decisions about who gets to work at home and who doesn’t because often these scenarios can appear to be discriminating. Identifying appropriate positions for remote work and not people has to be the first step in this process; creating policies and employee agreements that clearly articulate the arrangement is the next step.
  3. Employee health, wellness and privacy must be priorities. To the horror of so many HR professionals, the pandemic seems to cross the line of employee health privacy, as information regarding symptoms, hospitalizations, testing, etc. is inadvertently shared across the business. It’s hard not to know the guy in front of you in the temperature-check line has a fever when you’re standing six feet away and you watch someone whisk him into an isolation room. Not only do we have to get back to confidential health info, but businesses need to refocus from symptom-checking to bona-fide health and wellness programs. This investment has amazing returns – healthy employees actually come to work. And the right program can reduce sick days and save real money. We have firsthand experience with helping businesses design health and wellness programs that lowered or kept the cost of healthcare premiums flat.

Although the pandemic has created so many work challenges, I can’t help but be enthusiastic about the opportunities we have to move forward and make work better. This is the perfect time to look down and imagine a yellow line on the pavement with big black letters that say, “Start Here”.

Wu, Katherine J. “There Are More Viruses than Stars in the Universe. Why Do Only Some Infect Us?” National Geographic, National Geographic Partners, LLC, 15 Apr. 2020, www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/factors-allow-viruses-infect-humans-coronavirus/

Ann Beecham is a Senior HR Consultant at Newland Associates

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