Coronavirus (COVID-19), HR Management & Compliance

5 Ways to Stagger Schedules, Work with Distributed Teams, and Optimize Employee Health in the Long-Term Normal

The challenges facing today’s companies are expansive and all-encompassing. Some, like the profound economic disruptions that accompany a closed economy, mostly fall outside of an organization’s control. However, others, like adjusting to new workplace norms, are contingent on a company’s careful planning and thoughtful implementation.

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As the immediate and most drastic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic begin to subside, organizations are grappling with more prolonged questions about workplace structure and employee dynamics. How they answer these questions and the solutions they produce will play a significant role in their ability to thrive.

Here are five steps that can help any company begin navigating this new environment successfully.

#1 Double Down on Your Values

In response to rapidly shifting work environments, many companies are clamoring for ways to assess employee engagement and productivity. This produced a steep rise in employee monitoring software, pejoratively described as “tattleware,” that uses a variety of techniques, including video recordings and keystroke and web page loggers, to monitor employee engagement. This practice prompted harsh media criticism, and many employees feel like these initiatives violate their privacy and autonomy.

Consequently, hastily applied monitoring software threatens to undermine all of the collective goodwill accumulated from years of intentional culture building.

Instead of relying on software, trust your people, and double down on your values. Use video cameras for direct communication, not for ensuring productivity. In addition, avoid using e-mail as a substitute for group work sessions, and actively promote collaboration through things like:

  • Virtual brown bag lunches during which team members present success stories,
  • Routinely polling employees about their opinions and concerns, and
  • Consistent transparency about how the business is doing.

In other words, harness technology to foster creativity, collaboration, and communication. Don’t allow it to be a hindrance to or a substitute for your people.

#2 Clarify Expectations

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to adjust their scheduling practices overnight, making these hastily arranged procedures a long-term policy is a losing strategy.

Most notably, employees are struggling. A survey by the job search platform Monster found that more than half of employees feel burned out as they work in this new environment. At the same time, employees are working more hours than ever before. It’s estimated that U.S. employees increased their average hours by almost 40%, adding 3 hours to their workday.

Because offices are unlikely to return to full capacity anytime soon, a hybrid workforce that includes on-site, remote, and distributed teams could become more normative, which means companies should begin clarifying expectations.

Great companies know that they don’t just want their employees logging long hours. They want them to achieve tangible goals that move the entire team forward. Therefore, companies should ask and answer the question “What do you really need from each person?” More specifically, consider:

  • “Projectizing” workers’ responsibilities,
  • Expanding time collection systems to move beyond tracking hours for payroll and managing leave, and
  • Encouraging employees to allocate time to projects for a more self-regulated approach to productivity.

#3 Budget for Remote Workers

Several of the world’s biggest companies, including many tech companies that once espoused the ineffable benefits of on-site workers, are embracing a hybrid workforce for the foreseeable future.

Undoubtedly, this arrangement has many benefits, like reducing the number of people in crowded office spaces, but it also involves planning and financial resources. However, successfully accommodating a hybrid workforce requires investment.

Workers still need digital tools, services, and physical work spaces to be effective, and companies must grapple with the implications. In general, companies should:

  • Decline to compensate for at-home environmental improvements.
  • Establish a fixed Internet access or general subsidy.
  • Avoid indirect cost sharing for things like electrical or water bills and mortgage payments.

#4 Accommodate New Space and Schedules

Recent predictions by the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases underscore the reality that a “return to normal” will remain elusive for a long time.

Companies will need to implement comprehensive cleaning strategies and ensure social distancing and other health-centered practices that keep people safe. In this environment, it’s clear that many companies don’t have sufficient office space to accommodate these restrictions.

While some will embrace additional shifts, a practice with unproven efficacy and a long list of detractions, alternating days in the office is a much better solution than instituting shifts. For some, investing in or leasing additional office space might be required. However, many employees have expressed a desire to continue working remotely after the pandemic subsides.

By embracing this trend in some capacity, organizations could avoid costly investments in additional space.

#5 Remember the Responsibility to Lead

In the weeks, months, and even years ahead, companies will be navigating uncharted territory as they manage unprecedented economic uncertainty, unparalleled workplace disruption, and continual health risks. All of this will undoubtedly take a toll on employees. Consequently, companies that want to succeed in this environment must remember their responsibility to lead by example and expectation.

Happy employees are unquestionably more productive employees, but employers will need to do more than just conjure happiness. They should inspire confidence, model appropriate behaviors, and prioritize people to propel their organizations forward.

Employees are a company’s greatest asset, and managing this seismic shift in workplace norms, expectations, and limitations can help ensure everyone is positioned to thrive.

Alan Tyson serves as the CEO of DATABASICS, an enterprise-grade time and expense management solutions provider recognized by leading global organizations for its deep expertise, next-gen technology, and customer-focused platform. Connect with Tyson on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @DATABASICSinc.