Challenges of Returning to the Workplace after a Pandemic

Last Update: May 7, 2020

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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 hea

vy 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, de

sperate 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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Recent Comments


Thanks for sharing Marilla! It describes the challenges of the "new norm" perfectly, and challenges we have to face both in the short term and in the long term.

Were i work, when the pandemic hit Norway, we ended up with, it think, 5 different videoconference tools, instead of one centralized solution..... just to mention one of the smaller challenges.
Now we are down to 2 options, that is Webex and Skype, where Skype is the existing- and will be the solution used onwards.

How interesting. I had never heard of Webex. Always something new. Where I am we are mostly using Zoom

Hi Mariella
You paint an interesting picture of all the challenges you are dealing with. Many of us are grappling with our own versions of this. In my day job I am also trying to work out how to bring back a percentage of the 8 and a half thousand staff for whom I provide office space and the few hundred staff of my office many of whom are currently coming in to fulfill essential building services. We are based in New York. Many staff have experienced loss of family and close friends and we have lost some staff members. So we have to be sensitive to our own fragility. We are going to be adopting a more cautious approach to reopening. It will be gradual and slow and likely not ahead of anyone else in our immediate vicinity. We are very concerned that we will only have one shot at getting this right. We are concerned about the capacity of the local health systems. If cases and hospital admissions start to rise again that will be a major warning signal. Personally I think we will only start to emerge from this in a few months time if we are lucky and it could be much longer. We have already adapted our work and services to online.
Thanks for sharing your story. Good luck to you and I hope your business picks up.
Best regards

Hi Andy. What you have written is so huge. The impact has been massive and the responsibility is really equally profound. Every person concerned is going through Emotional and financial Handicap or breakdown. We really need to have a lot of empathy. I feel you

Hi Mariella. I am a Director and investor in a start up "out there" IT property management business. We are in the middle of a capital raising. Interesting times. We have already retrenched 10 staff. What it has done is taught us to lead with our IT skills. it's working. Still tight but we are remaining strong. We are also aware the way business is going to be done differently. We will be ready. We have now started an office in London. I genuinely believe that there is great opportunity. It is almost that we have to forget the past and look for the new.
Have a great day.

If your business goes 100 mph to 00 mph and 60 days latter is starting over, it is as if it is a whole new business because of the many issues that you stated including all the addition of the Covid-19 items added to it. Unfortunately, it will be harder than when the business was initially started because of the government drag slowing the growth for safety purposes. The audience in some or many will be reluctant to spend money. You have my sympathy as they say, "It ain't gonit to be easy" but I wish you the best with your business.

very true. And it is not easy

I, for one, refuse to become said casualty. I will always remain safe in all I do, but that said, I'll thumb my nose at covid. Life is too short to revert back to cave man days. I wish all the best with your business and hope that you recover and grow. It'll be slow at first as folks will be timid about venturing out, but they will come. Were I in your part of the world, I would gladly and eagle seek your shop and perhaps give you some buyers love. Remember the famous words from Star Trek, To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before. It's like that in our time now, or so I see it.

Best wishes

It is still a wheel and it will turn

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