How will we take the lessons learned over the past year and make them bigger, better and more effective? And where do we go from here?
Many employees were thrown into remote work during the pandemic, but a year later, what were the lessons learned? What do we know we can do? And what questions do we ask ourselves to do that even better in the future?
- We know we can adapt to sudden change effectively and use our shared experience as a positive team-building.
- We know we can learn new technology and implement it to positively impact citizens.
- We know we can trust employees to do their best work even if we don’t see them every day.
- We know we can embrace family commitments and better work life balance because of the experience navigating work and school closures.
- We know we have employees who will work with incredible dedication in person, public service warriors who have had the opportunity to shine during difficult times.
- We better understand how citizens’ needs change and that we can adapt to meet the needs they have today, rather than do the work the way we have always done it.
These lessons feel like reaching the car after a long hike, the satisfaction of a job well done, of something new accomplished, of sweat and dust well earned. The journey wasn’t easy, and it is important to pause and celebrate all that we have been through, what we learned, and where silver linings were found.
The pandemic touched everyone: Employees with family members with underlying health conditions, employees working from home while parenting children too young for remote schooling, employees with older children who were missing out on life milestones or struggling to find motivation outside the classroom, employees who live alone and missed the social connections they made at their workplaces, public health employees worrying about the exposure to their families, the list goes on. And of course, those who lost family members, unable to say goodbye in person and worked through grief without funerals or celebrations of life or the physical comfort of others.
What’s coming next?
We have all been through a lot. Employers can help bring some peace of mind as employees likely have questions about what may be coming next.
How will remote work evolve going forward? Which jobs, tasks and job descriptions best lend themselves to remote work? If remote work continues, employers will need to indicate the amount of remote work on job descriptions and include the information on job postings. For existing employees, update job descriptions and use a telecommuting agreement memorialize expectations.
What does telecommuting in the “new normal” look like? What will their hours be? How frequently will they telecommute? Are they expected to come into the office for certain meetings or events? Is there a possibility that they could get called into the office in an emergency?
Will some employees work 100 percent remotely? And can they do so from great distance? How close must remote employees be in case they are needed in person? If you allow employees to work remotely from another state, they may be required to obtain worker’s compensation insurance from their own jurisdiction. And HR will need to not only abide by the worker’s hometown laws and regulations, but payroll will need to pay state tax.
In one sense, this pandemic has forced us to speed forward in the adoption of technology and the evolution of service delivery. Unfortunately, it has also reverted us backwards in time as it has resulted in a mass exodus of women from the workplace. According to a CBS article in February of this year, nearly 3 million women left the labor force. Many more news stories reported on the phenomenon, discussing how the pandemic’s impact on the availability of childcare, the increased physical and mental workload placed on women, even those with spouses, the disproportionate number of job cuts impacting women and other causes combined to reduce women’s involvement in the labor force to that of more than 30 years ago in just one year.
While this is a problem with many causes outside any one employer’s control, as you consider how and whether your employees will return to the workplace, this is the opportune time to look at your policies to see how welcoming your workplace is to women. Does your county ensure pay equity? Do you penalize gaps in applicants’ resumes that may have been caused by leaving the workforce to raise children? Do you offer paid sick leave and paid parental leave? How flexible are employees’ work hours? These are policies for which revision can benefit all employees, but the impact of that revision may be to welcome women back to the workforce by showing that they can be a valued employee and a dedicated caregiver. And these policies can invite men to embrace the family caregiving tasks so often left to women. If these kinds of policies are not just adopted, but also encouraged, then collectively employers can perhaps shift the imbalance in their employees’ lives so that the next crisis, whatever it may be, does not have this same impact.
This pivotal moment is about so much more than operational issues. It is about trust, healing, rebuilding and so many other things we may not have even considered yet. We know the telegraph and the technology to follow it forever changed the world. Let’s take a moment and acknowledge the historic moment we are presently in, celebrate our resilience, face our challenges and take on the opportunities to come.