HR experts expect employers and employees to experience a new work world initially, and perhaps long term, rather than business as usual once the Coronavirus pandemic ends.
Not only will organizations need to consider measures to ensure the health and safety of their returning workforces—phased-in returns to the workplace and physical distancing, for instance—they also may encounter greater employee demand for flexible hours, remote-work arrangements and generous paid sick leave as part of the new normal.
I think we’re walking into a completely different world with a different set of rules.
Reopening May Start and Then Stop
Business leaders told President Donald Trump, who recently announced phased-in, less-restrictive social distancing guidelines, that they want to see extensive testing and more available personal protective equipment before allowing people to go back to work.
Large swaths of the U.S. economy remain fully or partially shut down or are operating remotely as the country struggles to contain the virus, which has claimed more than 30,000 lives domestically. At the same time, employers are starting to think about moves they might take to re-establish a regular work life, including rotating schedules, virus screening, cleaning and providing protective equipment.
I could see that return drag on for six months plus, at least. The return will come in phases, and I think there will be a real examination about what needs to return and when.
Forecasters expect the outbreak and restrictions to mitigate them to persist for months or longer, with potential subsequent waves of waning and resurgence, until a vaccine or effective treatment becomes widely available.
Workers’ Priorities Have Changed
When employees return to the workplace, HR consultants predict that many will have shifted priorities after a long stretch of remote work and sheltering in place with their families.
I think that people are going to not only demand more flexibility, but they’re going to have a proven business case for it.
Employers hurting financially after the shutdown might find that keeping employees working from home can help cut costs. As this goes on it’s going to be a blueprint … of how businesses might operate in the future.
Schedules and Work Areas Shift
Some of the issues HR may face once employees start coming back to the office, include the possibility that some workers won’t be comfortable taking public transportation or being in the office.
New policies will have to be created related to remote work, commuting and workspace etc.
Mercer, which has been talking to clients and surveying employers around the world, has started to hear about rotating schedules, splitting teams and staggering the workforce so companies don’t concentrate workers in one place.
Longer term, there’s going to be a lot more questioning around where to work and the hours of working.
Pay Practices Change, Too
Meanwhile, retailers, fast-food companies, manufacturers and other employers unaccustomed to having workers exposed to serious illness may need to provide hazard or premium pay during the high-risk period, and some are already are doing so.
The return phase can be complex, with schools and day cares closed and children at home, employees may need more paid-sick and family leave.
“I think more time with family at home is going to change the dynamic about the role that work plays in [an employee’s] life,” she said.
Time to Create Policies and Guidelines
Automotive-seating manufacturer Lear Corp. recently published the “Safe Work Playbook,” a guide for safe practices at work during the pandemic, including steps for cleaning and disinfecting equipment, staggering shifts and lunch breaks, setting up a pandemic response team, establishing onsite health screening, and creating protocols for isolating employees who come to work sick.
The 51-page guidebook, which includes information based on recommendations from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aims to help organizations navigate the new normal, said Lear President and CEO Ray Scott. “This has been a difficult time for everyone, and re-establishing a workplace where employees feel comfortable performing their jobs safely is a multifaceted challenge.”