Well, I don’t have to tell anyone that 2020 has been the strangest year most of us have seen in a long time. When science fiction writers were imaging the brave new world of the 21st century, they were envisioning flying cars and robot housekeepers. Not millions of us quarantined inside our homes to evade a global pandemic.
But nevertheless, here we are.
Is the worst behind us? There are many different opinions. But we are seeing enough improvement in the overall situation to start thinking about transitioning from our kitchens and spare bedrooms back to the friendly confines of our business office. Depending upon where you live and what you do, it may be coming quickly, or may still be down the road….but it’s coming.
And you need to be ready for the new “ab-normal”…because what it’s going to look like is largely up to you. It’s more than just unlocking the doors and turning on the lights, folks….here are a few things to ponder.
How far apart are everyone’s desks? Yes, we need to start with the fundamentals, because even in the best scenarios, social distancing is going to be with us for awhile. Visualize the layout of your office—what worked last year may not be the optimal placement for the pandemic age.
How do you handle walk-in customers? How are client appointments scheduled? How’s your waiting room spaced? How about the break room? It may sound overwhelming, but you’ll need a logistical plan for every square inch of space.
Cleaning is more than just emptying wastebaskets. The world has had to ratchet up its longstanding standards of janitorial excellence. Your employees expect it, and so do your customers. A nightly sweep over the carpets and recycle bins isn’t going to cut it anymore.
To meet most new safety standards, any location where humans interact will need to be cleaned and thoroughly disinfected, and quite possibly many times a day. If your work team has handled these tasks themselves, it may be time to consider outsourcing. And if you’re already paying a hired crew, it’s time for an audit with healthy and safety professionals to ensure that they’re up to the challenge.
Does everyone really NEED to be there? One thing we’ve learned through these endless weeks of self-isolating is that many jobs—or many aspects of many jobs—do NOT have to be conducted from a centralized location. The long-held fear that employee productivity will plummet if our colleagues are not held accountable by line-of-sight is rapidly fading.
There are many ways to ensure accountability of your team even if you can’t see them from your office. It requires a different kind of diligence and new supervisory techniques, but it definitely can be done, and done effectively. Plus, the fewer human beings in your office location, the easier those thorny logistical issues we discussed earlier can be resolved.
Try taking turns. Working in shifts may be a productive solution for some work groups. Instead of a 40-hour week, maybe 20 at the office and 20 at home might work, allowing you to stagger schedules to minimize contact. Some offices are even experimenting with a week-on, week-off formula.
The end result of this strategy is to reduce the number of human bodies in your work center at any given time. And it doesn’t mean that “all hands on deck” meetings need to be a thing of the past—Zoom and other interpersonal software tools have shown us that. (And if you want some examples of how NOT to conduct an online meeting, there are plenty of hilarious examples on YouTube.)
But the most important question to ask yourself as we venture tentatively down this uncertain road is….how will all of this affect your team? No matter what changes we make, you’re still going to be faced with the challenge of de-humanizing work processes that are run by human beings.
And that will be hard. Hard on you, and hard on your team. For most of us, work is one-third of our lives, and those with whom we work often become surrogate families. Taking that away can have emotional and even physical side-effects.
So be sure whatever brilliant strategies you concoct for dealing with life in the new “ab-normal” are implemented and communicated with empathy, kindness, and understanding.
Because now, more than ever, we really ARE all in this together.