“The New Normal” is becoming one of the most overused terms during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, clichés have value in our hardest times, and this one is sticking because it’s so applicable. The new normal for the workforce is converting most operations and service-delivery to virtual functionality, and if there’s a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s that employees are discovering that they have more work-life balance, and employers are recognizing the value in that. This is a happy accident, and the savvy employers will continue to foster work-life balance after the curve flattens and economies open back up.
Provide Choice Now and Later
I read a great article about work-life balance in Fast Company in February, about a month before things got serious, and the timing was uncanny. Here’s a quote:
“Choice is a significant contributor to work-life fulfillment. People need different things at different times when it comes to navigating the demands of work and life. Providing as much choice as possible helps employees feel like they have the support they need to perform at their best. You can do this by giving people a choice of when they work, where they work, or how they work.”
The irony, of course, is that employers now have no choice but to provide more choices! And in many ways the pandemic has levelled the playing field. A boss sheltering-in-place with their family can empathize with an employee in the same boat. The same goes for a boss who lives alone and an employee in a similar situation.
Will Presenteeism Become a Thing of the Past?
You may have heard of this thing called Zoom. Pretty much overnight, Zoom became a household and ubiquitous business name with its robust tele-meeting capabilities. It seems that people are using Zoom as a verb–as in, let’s Zoom–more than “Google it.” Organizations have long been offenders of presenteeism, which occurs when employees are physically present at work but not functioning at their full potential because of an illness or other medical condition. Presenteeism costs U.S. employers $150 billion to $250 billion annually, and if Coronavirus isn’t the best case to eliminate this practice, then I don’t know what is.
Employers are acknowledging that a sick workplace is a bad one and that commutes and the confinement of the 9 to 5 workday inhibit productivity. This isn’t occurring in a vacuum, and employers will do best to provide their staff with flexibility from here on out.
In our last blog post, we discussed the importance of consistent communication and practicing empathy all day, everyday. These fall under the umbrella of transparency, as Fast Company points out:
“Openness, trust, and liberal sharing of information are the lifeblood of healthy organizational cultures and thriving teams. When people feel in the loop and trusted, they tend to behave in a more trustworthy way. When they have access to crucial information, they can be more proactive, innovative, and effective in their roles.”
The same can be said about personal events. For example, employees with young children are either doubling as full-time childcare providers or teachers (due to e-learning), or both. There’s more openness for employees to discuss their stress so that they can feel supported.
Performance Expectations Remain the Same
The constant among these variables is quality of work. While flexibility is the name of the game, employers still need to set performance expectations. Here again, clear communication is paramount in clarifying roles, responsibilities, and boundaries.
Time for another cliché: these are uncertain times. They are, but one thing is certain: those companies that adapt and create ongoing efficiencies will be best suited to thrive in the new normal.
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