Challenges of Returning to the Workplace after a Pandemic
Last Update: May 7, 2020
Where I come from, this week marked the slow and painful re-opening of non-essential retail after weeks of shut-down from Covid-19.
As an owner of a chain of furnishing shops, I was very happy and welcomed this news with open arms. After almost two monts of solitary confinement, working only online and communicating just by phone and social media I was ready to embrace (virtually of course) a slow integration with other human beings, especially those with the likes of a flesh and blood customer.
The Challenge of Closure and The Challenge of Re-opening
Some 14 years ago I had a massive car accident. It happened in seconds. I fracturerd my spine and a countless of other members of my bone family that previously kept me together.
The recovery was slow and painful. Until my body could fix my bones, and then grow back the muscle that had lain dormant for a few months during my bed stay, to support my bones and finally hold me together again, it took over a year.
I suppose, it will come as no surprise to any of you who may have endured an injury that I am comparing a physical trauma to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
From the day - March 22nd - that a State Order to close shop was issued up till last Monday 4th May - I have had to significantly re-structure and re-think my brick and mortar business.
Because of the mandatory stay-at-home orders, not only was staff and management forced to stay in, but the physical work place was totally shut down.
And then one fine day, the sky cleared and another State Order was released. Some sectors in Commerce - mostly non essential retail could and would open their doors to the public again with some restrictions.
Here are some of the very REAL Problems that both Employers and Employees are and will be Facing as we return to the workplace and the New Normality
Whilst some of the staff members of non-essential retail are fairly tech-savvy and could therefore actually work from home and help out with online shopping, most of the other work force - very pleasant sales persons who have developed exceptionally great skills when dealing with physical clients have been having an extended home stay - mostly re-developing their cooking and parenting skills.
Not to mention warehouses and inventory spaces that have been haunted rather than organized for the past couple of weeks - with the relevant staff - usually blue collar workers - occuping space at home that contained them as an odd fit at times. Those were habitually found fixing long promised maintenance jobs at home.
Ourselves, the "entrepreneurs" have been filling our time with virtual meetings. Zoom's share price rocketed as did Skype. Planning strategy, doing arbitration with government to seek financial assistance packages, halting supplies which were planned for shipment. Re-organizing debt maintenance with banks and so on and so forth. At some point we realized (other than carrying the heavy burden of expenses without income) how much time we wasted in the past fighting traffic to arrive from one physical meeting to another.
And the flesh and blood client, desperate to loose the lose change in his pocket, became the king of whims. Browsing and imagining wants that previously there was no time for, and calling up and getting instant gratification from home deliveries.
And suddenly it was time to return to the workplace.
After almost one week of returning to the workplace with skeleton staff and trying to push the proverbial wheel in motion - here are my very humble observations.
Staff - Whilst some were very eager to find some norm in the "new normal" and get back to a routine, others are still under the false impression that the seven weeks of forced home stay were an extended holiday.
Whilst everyone had to take a forced pay reduction, many have spent a lot less than previously and the home stay was pleasant and welcome. So going back to full pay is not a prime motivator.
Some were happy to finally see a half-face hidden behind a mask - and wondered how they had never realised how beautiful some eyes were - eyes they had known for many months or years. Others were suspicious and keep their distance.
Clients - Beyond the first day or two, which signified release from a virtual prison - clients were mostly relieved to be able to legitimately burn time to browse - but mostly they were feeling the pinch from the first pay cut. The New Normal is clearly showing us already that clients are still nervous from the risk of infection and will still rather "window shop" from home. Maybe it will change in time - but so far this stays true.
Employers - Just as this Pandemic came in fast and unanounced with a speed that took our breath away, so do the changes in the way we do business need to respond with the same speed.
It has become evident very fast that whoever found the convenience of home shopping to be efficient and responsive - may never need to visit a brick and mortar business any more. The window shoppers will always grace our windows, the browsers will always be browsers but they will never pay the salaries.
Browsers are true to brick and mortar business as they are to a virtual shopping experience. Countless hours are spent by proficient staff answering a multitude of questions which never draw a conclusion. The difference between then and now is just one. Whereas previously any pleasant personality could deal with cotton wool questions on a face to face basis - now you need IT proficient staff to do this job.
Resistance to come back to the Workplace .
Although not fair this is another problem that employers are facing with some of their staff. Some understandably still have children at school and cannot get organized to come to work given that schools are still closed. Others are still feeling entitled to their extended holiday and are using fear of contamination and some form of "vulnerability" which was previously never mentioned - as an excuse to not return to work. In the meantime the employer struggles to stimulate the business that is just in a coma.
More resistance in the "new normal" comes from trying to re-structure the brick and mortar business, to become more virtual and online. Staff are now with a head buried in a screen and running around in a Casper-like manner, measuring objects and taking images of goods to offer a better experience. Again the staff who is social media friendly is adepting fast, but others not so.
The challenges of organizing staff to work more virtually, in what was previously a very physical business are proving to be tough. There is confusion on job description, and job requirements, and it takes good leaders to structure the new style of selling and staff not overlapping on each others territories - this is especially true when commissions are paid.
The New Normal and Going Forward
Nothing has ever happened in life that has been so life changing in both our lives and also in how we get our work done. How efficient or inefficient a company is run - especially adepting to technology and training its staff to become more IT orientated will define the new normal and the ability to succeed.
In the meantime, we start the healing process. The long road to putting our bones and muscel back together. One question remains, will we have enough heart beat to see the recovery through? Or will we become casualties from the healing process?
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