By Desiree Carpenter
If employers have learned one thing during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s just how resourceful their workforce can be. Organizations that couldn’t have imagined a fully-remote workforce have been able to flip the switch without a break in productivity. At the same time, on-site employees have worked tirelessly to keep their facilities and industries afloat.
Still, no matter how impressive this shift has been, employees still require support and thoughtful leadership, now more than ever. Before COVID-19, personnel needs were known and understood, but as circumstances have changed, so have these requirements. Here are a few ways to provide much-needed support as employees and companies go through this crisis together.
1. Support Essential On-site Staff
As states implement shelter-in-place mandates, many companies are forced to shut their doors indefinitely. However, vital industries are able to remain open, and this often includes the production of consumable and protective goods, along with the warehouses and transportation services that need to ship them.
Whether it’s within an office environment, in the warehouse, or in a manufacturing plant, employee health and safety is exceptionally important for those who can’t self-quarantine. Proactive measures, such as providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitization products, should be taken. At the same time, encourage any employee who is exhibiting any symptoms of illness (COVID-19 or otherwise) to stay home immediately.
Social distancing is important in every environment, especially at work. Discourage employees from using lunchrooms and breakrooms if at all possible and if that isn’t feasible, impose the six-feet-apart guidelines set by the CDC. Space out warehouse and plant workers as much as possible, relocating staff to other duties if necessary. In close-quarter open offices, relocate workstations so that employees aren’t using cubicles or workstations that are too close together.
2. Lighten The Financial Load
When you make the move to working from home, you quickly realize how luxurious some office amenities can be (and we’re not just talking about the coffee maker). Not everybody has a ready-to-go home office setup and, while it’s alright for a day or two, working at the kitchen table isn’t ideal in the long-term. A reimbursement program can encourage employees to convert a spare bedroom or turn a corner of their living space into a viable remote office.
Encourage employees to purchase items that directly benefit their physical health. Kitchen chairs, living room recliners, and fashionable desks chairs can be designed for temporary comfort, but an ergonomically-minded office chair will provide the best lumbar, spinal, and neck support. Similarly, standing desks can alleviate the pain of sitting all day long and while more offices become equipped with these desks, they’re still relatively uncommon for home offices.
To implement these programs, talk with human resources and develop a plan that fits your company’s needs.
3. Educate And Communicate
Senior leadership, middle management, and human resources all have a trusted, strong voice within any company structure. During the most difficult times, as the crisis escalates, and once operations begin to return to normal, providing a concise source of communication is key.
Naturally, bulletins, memos, and announcements should communicate what your company is doing to prepare and protect the workforce. Further, providing a source of objective, well-researched knowledge about the COVID-19 pandemic can ensure that everybody is well-informed and on the same page.
Along with written communications, consider presenting some news through visual mediums. Have the company president or CEO record a brief video message that can be watched by all. The importance of vocal inflection and body language becomes more relevant than ever when in-person contact is limited.
4. Check In With Employees
Outside of matters of business and meetings, offices are communal spaces where people make meaningful connections with their colleagues. A quick “how’s it going?” in passing is commonplace in the office, but once face-to-face contact is completely eliminated, these brief exchanges become a hot commodity.
For managers and supervisors, candid contact becomes more important in trying times. Even amid the chaos that COVID-19 has brought to the workforce, this isn’t the time to put off your one-on-one meetings or quick check-ins. Schedule online meetings or phone calls with your direct reports and be sure to take the conversation beyond work while staying in an appropriate (and legally compliant) place:
- See if they feel well-supported by their peers, management, and senior leadership. This includes whether or not they feel like the company is being transparent and responsive as situations change.
- Make sure that your employee has their working needs met, including supplies, hardware, and any physical files they may need.
- Ask how employees are doing on a personal level and be receptive to wherever that answer may lead.
- Remind them of any behavioral healthcare services available, including Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or over-the-phone counseling. This is a sensitive subject and can be positioned alongside other vital healthcare services to make employees feel more at ease.
- Do not ask for any private health information, including whether or not they are experiencing symptoms or if they have been in contact with an infected person. This can create legal complications and liabilities if this information is not given voluntarily and without further questioning.
For employees, keep up the water cooler chat. After taking care of tasks over chat or while you’re wrapping up a call, a simple “how are you?” and a minute of casual conversation can instill a sense of normalcy that gets lost while working remote. More extroverted or isolated colleagues might be having a hard time with quarantine, making these passing moments emotionally helpful.
5. Anticipate Secondary Effects
When businesses, schools, and programs come to a halt, there are often unique problems that arise in their place. Important aspects of employees’ personal lives may take on a new significance in their day-to-day and understanding these hurdles can ease the tougher moments.
Parents who depend on daycare centers and schools have found themselves scrambling to find childcare and, in many cases, there aren’t family members or services that can step in. Allow for modified schedules, alternative shifts, or time off for parents that may suddenly become sole caregivers or homeschool teachers.
Sensitive secondary effects require the most compassion and grace from employers to employees. Some households may be going from double-income to single-income as companies have to shut their doors and implement temporary layoffs. For employees going through a financial downturn, any amount of relief or aid can be a godsend, whether it’s just in workplace flexibility, financial aid, or help with seeking outside assistance.
For your peers, your employees, your loved ones, and yourself — remember, this will get better. Just as we’ve seen the wonders of corporate agility, we’ve also seen the remarkable power of compassion and kindness. In turbulent times, support from one’s employer can dramatically affect an employee’s livelihood. As we overcome the effects of COVID-19, this support can make for a smoother transition back to normal life.
Carpenter is a human resources professional at National Business Furniture, a furniture company with a large variety of products designed to improve every workplace. With a wide array of experience in recruiting, employee relations, and retention, she continuously looks for new ways to improve the candidate and employee experience.
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