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The “New Normal”: Reentering the Workplace after covid 19

Posted on 05/12/2020 in Culture/Team Alignment, Executive Coaching, Featured Articles, Leadership by Jack Speer
What will it be like to Return to Work?
The Return Could Be More Challenging than Working Remotely

Morgan Stewart,
CEO and co-founder
of Trendline

Vennesa Van Ameyde,
Chief Operating Office of
Kasasa

What will it be like when we go back to the office to work face to face?

What do executives guiding the process tell us?

What will it be like when we go back to the office to work face to face?

What do executives guiding the process tell us?

The main concern for most people–well above economic impact–will be concern for the safety of employees and customers.

With job losses reaching 20.5 million in April—levels only seen during the 1930’s US Great Depression–employees in the US, Western Europe, and Australia are still more concerned about health than finances, more about staying healthy in many cases even than staying employed.

In the US, where politics, religion, and a host of other subjects almost always divide Americans sharply, 72% of adults in a Reuters national poll in April agree with shelter in place and say that people should stay in their homes “until the doctors and public health officials say it is safe.”

Reentry to Work–Like Brain Surgery on a Park Bench

Reentry to the workplace will in many ways be as complicated or more so than working remotely–like brain surgery on a park bench.  You have to do something complicated that will save peoples’ livelihoods and the economy, and at the same time save the lives of employees.

We interviewed two executives who will be working in guiding this process:

Morgan Stewart, CEO and co-founder of Trendline, a full service email marketing company that specializes in knowing their clients’ businesses and guiding them into a marketing program that increases revenues and market share.

Vennesa Van Ameyde, Chief Operating Office of Kasasa, headquartered in Austin, Texas.  Kasasa is an award-winning financial technology and marketing services company that delivers financial services to community financial institutions.

What Will the Office Look Like When We Get Back?

In the view of Vennesa Van  Ameyde, there will be at least three phases at Kasasa, beginning gradually and continuing into the late summer and fall.  The two major concerns will be the health and safety of our employees, as well as the community, including the clients we serve.   As few as 1% of the total office force will be returning in Phase One, critical functions such as IT.  Vennesa and her colleagues have planned virtually every policy and tactic for Kasasa.

According to many HR sources, summarizing the primary goals of safety, this is what you might see when you return to the offices.  The first thing people will experience when they walk into the office is that they won’t see many people.  It will feel more like coming in during the holidays in earlier years, with only a few diehards or people really under the gun working there.

What Space Will be Open for Use?

The use of office space will be limited.

Some common areas like break rooms may be taped off, devoid of people conversing about work and life, gobbling goodies and eating lunch.  What you eat you’ll need to bring from home–the common spaces and the refrigerator will probably not be available.

How Will Meetings Work?

Even if the meetings are in adjoining offices, they might be conducted by Zoom.  Meeting rooms may be locked, no white board–you’ll be sharing your proposals and ideas with screen share.

Who Will Be There–Who Wants to Come Back?

Some employees desperately want to come back while others want to wait.  Morgan Stewart, CEO at Trendline, sees some employees with the Extroverted Preference (MBTI) suffering from the isolation of not having direct contact with colleagues.

Trendline, a company that values their relationships with employees–they have a 4.7 rating on Glass Door–is reaching out to employees who have been most impacted by the isolation.  Morgan and his team are doing the difficult work of staying connected to all employees–and Morgan reports it’s a lot of work.

How Will We Know if We’re Safe and Well–Should People Continue Working From Home if They Don’t Want to Come Back?

Large numbers of employees, a sizable majority, believe that coming back to the offices now makes them uncomfortable, way too risky–a far greater number than I expected.  Almost every leadership team agrees that employees who can work remotely, should not be required to come back to the office.  “Requiring employees who can work from home to come back into the office won’t be necessary.  We need to consider employees’ preferences on the matter so they can work in the environment that is likely most effective to them,” says Morgan Stewart.

Who will be the early employees and how will that affect the dynamics of the office as well as the whole company?  This is an important question that Tuesday Report will continue to monitor.

Monitoring the Employees that Come Back–the Beginning of Constant Surveillance

Those who do come in will be carefully  monitored like at no other time.   Badges will be only the beginning.  The system will check for abnormal temperatures of those who come in.  Apps are being developed to trace contacts between people in order to  trace potential infections.

How Do We Keep the Office Space Clean?

Morgan Stewart raises one of the least mentioned, but largest issue facing reopening business–the lack of cleaning supplies.  They are often simply not available either for home or office.  It is a work of espionage to find out where they’re available.

A standard of cleanliness we’ve never used before will now become standard operating procedures.   Operations  executives like Vennesa Van Ameyde have created spreadsheets, anticipating virtually every issue of reopening that will emerge, and at the top of the list is a clean, safe environment.

Why aren’t these products available?  The top US suppliers of disinfectants have a limited system that has been overwhelmed with few answers as to when common cleaning supplies will again become available.

Can Companies Sell and Do Deals?

Both Morgan and Venessa see the virtual suspension of business travel likely with strict approval being required for travel for some period into the future.  This is a health and safety measure for their employees and clients.

Some executives also comment on the costs savings from limited travel, although that is balanced in others’ views against the difficulty of selling in an entirely remote environment.

The lifeblood of companies is new clients and contracts that generate the revenue to keep people employed.  The most healthy companies have contracts in place, but will need to sell new deals as soon as possible to stay healthy.

Selling strictly over teleconferencing apps like Google and Zoom will require a new level of sales strategies and techniques.  Without the tools of meetings, luncheons and dinners, trade shows and conferences, the challenges of selling new business is the most daunting dynamic we face.  In the world where some people need services and other people have services, we will prevail.  But how to bring the two together in an uncertain new sales environment will continue to create huge stress.

How Will We Interact with Each Other?

When we return to the office, what will be the rules of interaction?  Do we do social distancing in facilities that use halls and water fountains?  Can we shake hands?  Is the hug no longer acceptable?  How do we celebrate our corporate successes together?  How do we comfort one another in defeat? How long can we survive without norms and standards not used before in human society?

Right? Wrong? Or Gone?  The Question for the Next Few Months

A lot of melodrama, political theater, and posturing takes place in every crisis, and decisions made for us into which we have little or no input will determine the future of the nations.  We can’t control those decisions.  But within our control are the painful choices with huge consequences regarding how we handle re-entry.

Along with those painful choices will also be enormous opportunities to rethink how we do business, how we work and how we live.  Visionary leaders like Morgan Stewart and Vennesa Van Ameyde are mapping thoughtful re-entry courses for their companies.   The path for each business will probably look different and creating each organization’s path will, without a doubt, involve controversy and conflict in getting to the right answer.  But leaning into that uncertain space is what we are all called to do right now…and our very survival may well depend on whether we get it right.

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