Business issues to address before getting back to work during the pandemic
That’s what a lot of people are looking forward to doing, as soon as the pandemic shows signs of abating.
Many had hoped that with the beginning of a new year, the tedium of working from home could be traded for the tedium of leaving it for the office, but the virus thwarted everyone’s plans. A new variant reared its ugly head, and the authorities reimposed various movement control orders all over the world, which were essentially a second round of lockdowns. But sooner or later, businesses will have to resume, although perhaps not at 100%. In any case, organisations will have to gear up for a return to some semblance of normalcy. Staff health and safety must therefore be a priority.
But this is easier said than done. Who goes to work, and who stays home to work? Among the many new challenges that firms will find confronting them are the guidelines they must adhere to, to stay safe while trying to get the business back on track. Many businesses will have just restarted, having had to shutter for longer than anticipated. Despite eagerness to get back into the swing of things, the risk of (re)infection remains. Management has to determine what needs to be done, and who should do it. Navigating health and safety issues in a pandemic is no simple task. Complicating the issue further are the risks and uncertainty arising from the mutating virus.
What should first be determined from the outset is what kind of work is essential and must be done on site. Who should do it, will then follow. Once this has been established, the organisation can make arrangements for staff to return, depending on the existing health regulations. Travel restrictions may make return difficult; some essential staff may live outside permitted travel zones. Have alternatives – a “Team B.” There are different protocols to follow if there are frontline staff – in banks, for instance – who have to interact or engage more closely with customers. These employees will need adequate protection as their lives will literally be on the line for the company.
Simultaneously, customers’ needs have to be anticipated; these have also changed in parallel with the environment. What hasn’t changed is their expectations. In fact, the customer, in the current situation, has probably become more demanding. The business will have to figure out what it will take to maintain customer loyalty. The entire customer experience may need redesigning as more move online. Firms will have to look at different delivery methods, increased digitisation of the business, reallocation of resources, staff retraining or upskilling, and more stringent compliance with regulatory requirements.
It will not be possible for all aspects to be constantly considered, as the business restarts. The current scenario requires thinking on the feet. If one measure doesn’t work, the organisation needs to be agile and flexible enough to pivot and try another. Management has to be constantly thinking, planning, implementing, assessing and adjusting. The disruption is overwhelming, and the measures that have to be undertaken may be, too. Organisations should be aware that despite everyone’s best efforts, there will be things that “fall through the cracks.” One of these is often the psychological wellbeing of the workforce, which tends to get pushed to the sidelines in the race to get back to normalcy.
As much as attention needs to be given to the business, the needs of the people required to run them should not be ignored. Treat staff with care. “Our people are our greatest asset” is a much-used phrase, and in trying times especially, an organisation needs to remember that it is this workforce that will carry it through. The workforce needs to be managed with empathy and compassion. Talent pool requirements will change; skills will need upgrading; workers may need reskilling. All this will impact on the way workers see themselves and their jobs, and ultimately affect their performance. The pandemic was unprecedented; everyone is still on a learning curve, with this one!
Its greatest learning point has been how unprepared businesses were to cope with it but they will get back on their feet as organisations realise that their real assets are truly their people. Businesses which can come to grips with where their shortfalls lie, and manage to plug the gaps, are the ones which will ultimately survive, move forward and thrive.