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Navigating Your Post-Pandemic Work Arrangements

5 min read • Aug 04, 2021 • Barry Eitel

As it becomes clear that the coronavirus pandemic remains an ongoing issue in the United States and around the world, small business owners nationwide have probably consideredand re-considered—the best strategy for their reopening plans.

Early vaccination efforts in the US moved at an unexpectedly fast pace, allowing for widespread reopening around the country. But it became clear by the summer of 2021 that the pandemic is not yet in the rearview mirror, with stalling vaccination rates and the rise of the virulent delta strain of COVID-19 making everyone question when the pandemic will end.

Unlike anything else in recent memory, this public health crisis has impacted every American business. From supply issues to shocks in consumer demand to work-from-home arrangements, the pandemic has likely impacted your businessprobably in multiple ways. When it comes to the latter situation, navigating your employees’ work-from-home experience will be an ongoing negotiation between you and your workers amidst the uncertainty.

Whether you expect your staff to come back to the workplace or are going fully remote, there are some steps you need to take for your pandemic and post-pandemic work arrangements to run smoothly. You need to communicate the situation to your employees clearly, even if you haven’t completely settled on an arrangement. However, with time, there needs to be a plan and an agreement between you and your employees.

Communication

Communication is critical to all aspects of any work-from-home operation; in fact, clear communication is what makes WFH possible at all. As lockdowns began in 2020, though, it grew clear that communication is an area with room for improvement for many businesses, both large and small.

During this pandemic, you’ve probably wanted to take your time to determine pandemic-related policy changes—this consideration is totally understandable. But even communicating basic, preliminary plans regarding working from home can have an outsized impact on alleviating some of your workers’ anxieties.

In a McKinsey report from April, researchers note that any communication is better than none and that employees greatly appreciate details.

“Even high-level communication about post-COVID-19 working arrangements boosts employee well-being and productivity,” the McKinsey authors note. “But organizations that convey more detailed, remote-relevant policies and approaches see greater increases.”

Researchers Kimberly Merriman, David Greenway, and Tamara Montag-Smit have been polling worker satisfaction since the pandemic began and found that poor communication can ding morale for people working from home.

“Whether workers said they were staying remote for now, returning to the office, or still unsure, we found that nearly a quarter of the people in our sample said their leaders were not giving them meaningful explanations of what was driving the policy,” the researchers said. “Even worse, the explanations sometimes felt confusing or insulting.”

Considering the dynamic reality of pandemic life—lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccination rates seemingly ebbing and flowing with little warning—consistent communication with your staff needs to be a high priority. Even communicating that you are monitoring the situation is better than not reaching out at all.

Planning

Along with communication, you need to be a persistent planner in the COVID-19 era, one willing to change plans as conditions on the ground change. It’s time to consider revising your corporate culture to incorporate your scattered workforce.

“Most companies advocate a culture of caring,” writes Shawn Murphy of virtual workspace company Bluescape. “This is specifically important for those employees who are returning to the office. Build upon the trust reserves that you have created by showing employees how much you care about their safety.”

Your post-lockdown work arrangements need to be multifaceted and acknowledge contingencies. You’ll need to decide if your entire staff is returning and what protocols you’ll need to put in place to keep them safe. Maybe some of your staff will always work remotely, or else some workers could come into the office a few days a week and work from home the rest of the time. Whatever you’re imagining, you need to sit down and articulate a plan.

Andmost importantlyyour plans need to focus on worker safety.

“In whatever manner you plan to show that employee safety is paramount, continually communicate your safety measures,” Murphy continues. “What’s more, be sure to listen to employees’ concerns without being defensive of your safety protocols. This is a time to listen and learn together. These times are already anxiety triggers.”

When you’re focused on communication and planning together, you can integrate your planning protocols into your ongoing discussions with your employees.

Agreement

The third prong of your staffing arrangements needs to be agreement, a notion that dovetails into both communication and planning. Remember, communication is a 2-way street, and your planning process should take employee concerns into consideration. In the end, your employees need to agree with your work arrangements—or else they might all quit.

“When offering employees a flexible workspace, be sure to implement a thoughtful, written policy to help administer the transition,” HR consultant Lauri Flanagan explains. “Having a prescriptive policy will reduce questions and guesswork for administration; it will also provide equal treatment for all employees who can take advantage of it, and the company can boast as a benefit to candidates they are trying to recruit. This could be a deal-breaker for some recruits in deciding to take an offer of employment.”

Your employees don’t need to embrace their work arrangements without complaint, but they do need to be on board. Worker turnover will probably remain a major issue for years to come; while you don’t have to cater to every whim of an employee, you do need to accommodate your staff enough to keep them happy and productive. And never forget: the safety of you, your staff, and your customers needs to be your highest concern.

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Barry Eitel

Barry Eitel has written about business and technology for eight years, including working as a staff writer for Intuit's Small Business Center and as the Business Editor for the Piedmont Post, a weekly newspaper covering the city of Piedmont, California.