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In countless business headlines and posts in the last several months, we’ve all heard it . . . this new, disrupted, work environment is the “new normal.” A different workplace for a world that was different almost overnight. And while there’s no denying that this pandemic changed things dramatically, maybe it didn’t introduce a “new normal,” so much as reveal to all of us an “old normal” in urgent need of change.

Questions that should have always been at the forefront are suddenly vital to everyone’s sense of security . . . Are we supporting our employees enough in the new technology we expect them to use? What about helping them juggle family life and productivity in a work-from-home environment? Do our policies offer solid support, or are they just lip service?

Human resources can help organizations answer these questions and manage the challenge they represent, by encouraging leaders to show their team members how valued they are. Now is the time for organizations to look at their teams, and the way they’ve been doing things, in a new light.

In fact, paying close attention to employee needs is the hallmark of organizations that will succeed in this new environment. Translation: how you treat people during this very trying time is really going to set the tone for your organization for years to come.

If, like many organizations, you haven’t been as mindful of employees as you could be, now is your chance to change that. Jumpstart your paradigm shift by developing some concrete initial policies to demonstrate your renewed commitment to everyone’s sense of safety and security.

Doing these five things now will send five clear messages that pay dividends in the near future:

1) Implement concrete safety measures.

Message: “We’re here for you.”

Nothing goes further in times of crisis than a solid sense of group safety. And perhaps more than any other actions you could take, it’s the simple things you can do now that make the biggest difference in demonstrating that you’re invested in your team’s health. Whether your work environment is a typical office layout or a production line:

  • Research and provide appropriate personal protective equipment like face masks.
  • Implement social distancing policies between workstations and other common environments.
  • Provide hand sanitizer and/or wash stations.
  • Develop and communicate sick leave policies that encourage and make it easy for employees to confidently stay home if they fear they’re sick or have a high level of potential exposure to someone who is.

2) Allow telecommuting to continue for jobs that can be supported with remote work and institute flexible policies for the jobs that can’t.

Message: “We’re here to support your ability to work and change with the times.”

The possibility of remote work was once a “perk” reserved for certain jobs and employees that could demonstrate high levels of autonomous productivity. Now, it’s a necessity for everyone. Use this chance to build remote work policies and support systems that help every employee deliver from a home office, or in a restricted work environment. Building that structure now demonstrates that you’re invested in supporting your employee’s ability to work, and will be prepared for the next crisis:

  • Evaluate the platforms your company uses to support remote work and fix or replace them if they are cumbersome and difficult to use.
  • Provide training on the technologies you’ve chosen.
  • Establish clear metrics to measure productivity in a remote environment.
  • For jobs that require in-person work, consider limiting the number of people in a given space or office at one time, for example by establishing shifts for certain tasks.

3) Maintain competitive pay and benefits.

Message: “We recognize your value.”

Times of stress are the most likely times for employees to reevaluate their perceived value and look elsewhere if they don’t feel appreciated. There’s nothing like a crisis to propel employees (and other employers) into a “grass is greener” mindset. Competition for the best people is about to get fierce. Make sure you keep yours by:

  • Continuing to give raises if you can. If you can’t, find another way to boost compensation for those who’ve earned it, such as adding vacation time.
  • Implement more flexible time-off policies.

If you’re coping with a hiring freeze, continue to interview for in-house promotions or new talent and clearly communicate to all involved when the new positions will be open again or when promotions will take effect.

4) Provide Employee Assistance Programs to help people deal with their personal stress and challenges.

Message: “You’re not alone.”

Work and private life are no longer separate affairs. Communicate to your employees that you know that, and you’re here to help them cope:

  • Line up anonymous remote counseling options and encourage your team to use them to stay on top of their mental health.
  • Refresh and re-communicate any resources you have or can put into place to make healthcare, childcare, or other parts of “private” life easier to manage, such as options for health and childcare savings accounts or reimbursements.

5) Create a forum for feedback.

Message: “We hear you.”

When your employees know that their opinion and feedback matters to you and has influence, they are much more likely to become active partners in helping you solve problems and spot inefficiencies. Establish two-way communication by:

  • Providing an anonymous feedback loop if possible, for example with the use of satisfaction surveying.
  • Create a public or semi-public forum for giving input about changes to the workplace as they happen. For example, by allowing your people to submit ideas on how to work safely or name things that would make working in virtual teams easier.

As in many eras of rapid change, the opportunity to fix what may have always held your organization back is here. Now is the best time to dig deep and evaluate what values will define your company’s “new normal.”

It’s hard to remember what ordinary business felt like just a few months ago. At some point, the world will start turning again, but it won’t be the same as it was. Using this time to get proactive about your own internal policies and support systems is the best thing you can do now to crisis- and future-proof your organization. Doing this now will set you up to take advantage of the big opportunities that are just around the corner!

What Are You Doing?

What is your organization doing right now that you believe will crisis- and future-proof it?

Please leave your answer in a comment below.

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