In the last few months, the COVID-19 crisis has caused unprecedented disruptions in the workplace. This has led organizations to make difficult decisions as they balance between the needs of the business and that of the employees. Along with it, the lockdown restrictions are gradually phasing out and most are preparing to reopen the workplaces. However, to limit the exposure and transmission of the disease, adherence to regulations is critical. It has become imperative for companies to review their existing policies and think of new policies which limit exposure and transmission of the disease.

A center of command

As organizations reflect over new workforce strategies, this will not be a typical recovery. Given the lack of available therapy and the uncertainty over the vaccine, organizations will have to plan for multiple time horizons and scenarios. They may even have to plan for multiple waves of the pandemic considering the resurgence of the virus in countries which had declared themselves virus-free. When we think of alternative ways of working, the critical question which comes up is do we need a command center? Do critical leaders need to be a part of this core group which will help in restarting operations? Will they be able to help in managing external stakeholders? Will the command center be connected to necessary sources for updated news and information which directly affect the business?

Turning to analytics

The next important decision is whether to use analytics and dashboards for informed decision making. What data do organizations need to make accurate quantitative decisions and how do they ensure that they continue to get updated information even from sources beyond the command center? These are questions which companies need to delve into. Data and technology can be used to visualize scenarios and predict what may come next. This scenario planning through analytics will provide business leaders an accurate view of how their decisions will affect customers, staff, and the operational capacity. It may make a significant difference in a strong continuity plan.

A return to work plan has two important components—workplace management and leadership intervention, which we discuss further.  

Office and site management

For a successful transition to work, the first step is to decide on the number of employees returning to the office. Higher the number of employees returning to the workplace, the greater is the risk. This requires a staggered reintroduction and smart workforce scheduling. Determining functions, work, and roles that need to return to workplace and those that can continue to work remotely can help in creating effective rosters and prevent the spread of the disease. For teams working remotely, organizations need to provide adequate support and training.

While reopening workplaces, businesses will need to observe the regulations around social distancing and hygiene practices. Reconfiguring office spaces may prove critical as the requirement for six feet impacts seating arrangements. Organizations may have to set up barriers between workstations and also provide personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, and eye wear. Additionally, they cannot overlook the basic prevention measures such as routine environmental cleaning and disinfection.

Effective leadership for workforce management

As organizations embark on their process of recovery, they have to commit to the physical, psychological, and financial well-being of their employees. Physical well-being will include a stronger emphasis on safety, easy access to testing, and social distancing. Psychological well-being can be ensured through practices such as flexible schedules and adequate support from managers. It is critical to recognize the diversity of the workforce and help them transition to recovery. The commitment to well-being may have to be extended to the employees’ well-being at home, where they continue to take care of their children or the elderly.

While people priorities remain on top of mind for leaders they need to factor in employee morale. While a percentage of the workforce continues with remote work it brings its own set of challenges. Often they have to juggle priorities and the boundaries increasingly become unclear between work and personal time. The responsibility lies with the team leader to strengthen the team now and help them build mental resilience. During these times of uncertainty, it is up to them to provide support and demonstrate compassion.

Hence it’s a holistic approach which can help organizations tide over these difficult times. It would not be wrong to assume that COVID-19 has reinforced our conviction that human concerns cannot be overlooked, especially for organizations looking to resume operations and adapt to new ways of working. In fact, this crisis provides organizations with a valuable opportunity to build a strong connection with employees and pave the way for a resilient response to the pandemic. Do you agree?


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