Navigating HR complexities of the New Workplace

Navigating HR complexities of the New Workplace

COVID19’s impact is lasting; keeping the focus on employee engagement

Five areas to stay focused on

So many facets of HR (Human Resources) are being brought to the forefront of organizations.  The landscape is changing daily, but one thing remains constant, the human and emotional side of your business. We all have emotions and opinions about what is going on and how things are being handled. As leaders, you are being scrutinized by what you do and by what you are not doing. Fear drives the worst possible scenarios if we don’t have information to fill in the blanks. 

While we are all in this pandemic together, each of us is experiencing a different situation when it comes to moving forward in the workplace.  You may have experienced a forced shutdown, moved your team to work remotely, or been deemed an “essential” business. 

Regardless of which situation above you can most relate to, employee engagement is more crucial now than ever before.  

Rules and regulations that never existed are now part of our new workplace.  No one knows if we will go back to normal, but one thing is certain, our workplace today looks and feels different.  Whether you are deemed an essential or non-essential business, learn five core areas you need to stay focused on to evolve with the HR changes.

# 1 Workplace communication:

When it comes to communication in the new workplace, the focus has shifted and you need to over-communicate with your employees.  

We all have our preferences on how we choose to communicate and approach work regardless of what goes on around us. Workplace communication needs to meet the needs of your employees, not what you need.  While you may appreciate a fast-paced environment and a logical outlook, they may appreciate a slower pace and more empathy as they focus on emotions.

Ask yourself these questions when it comes to effective workplace communication:
  • What really matters? What do your employees need to know?  
    • Your meetings should build trust, inspire confidence you’ll get through this, and help everyone stay focused and working together.  The best way to know how engaged your employees are is by providing opportunities for them to share.
  • What type of meetings do you need?
    • Team, 1:1, Specific Topic, Project, or For Fun
  • What is the purpose of each meeting?
    • Who should attend? How often should we meet? How long should we meet? What are the action steps from the meeting? Is follow-up needed?
  •  What is the best format for my employees to receive updates?
    • Video conferencing- is it Zoom worthy? Phone calls, Emails, Instant Messaging, or In-person 
  • Consistent communication
    • Check-ins, continual communication & remember privacy

Don’t underestimate the need employees have for communication from leaders. Give them confidence you have a plan in adapting to the changing workplace. 

# 2  Leading your teams in the new workplace: 

Typically employees physically worked within the walls of an organization where employees would commute to work, interact with co-workers and supervisors with a lot of interaction regardless of your industry.  Within a matter of weeks, disruption occurred and created multiple layers of how the workplace looks. 

The acronym WFH (work from home) and RTW (return to work) seem to pop up frequently in newsletters and updates. Within each term, there is a wide variety of what employees are experiencing.  Employees have worked virtually (WFH- work from home); Onsite (never left the workplace or will RTW- return to work); or a combination of these. 

You may find yourself working through a series of phases into what your new workplace will look like.  

You need to shift how you lead based on whatever phase you are in. Whatever you call it, or however your employees are impacted, here are steps to help you move forward. 

Five focuses on leading a virtual team to keep them engaged and productive are:
  • Clarify Expectations:
    • Do your employees need to start and stop work at a certain time?
    • Do they have key objectives to meet on a daily or weekly basis?
    • Do you understand who your employees’ new “co-workers” are? By co-workers, I mean pets, a spouse, or children indefinitely sharing their workspace.
  • Encourage time blocking:
    • Have employees block time to complete essential work.
    • Recognize that it can be challenging to stop working when you are at home because you no longer have the interruption of driving home from work to break up your day. 
  • Stay Connected: 
    • Schedule meetings with employees as it creates less stress for your employee but also helps you connect when they can be the most focused.
    • Be supportive and check in on them from a personal level.
  • Get up and Move:
    • Encourage your employees to take breaks as needed to balance the demands of work and home.
    • Office ergonomics is important when working from home, especially if you don’t have a desk to sit at. 
  • Lead by example:
    • Share with your employees how you are approaching work today.
    • Be flexible. 
    • Be willing to try something new. 

If your employees are getting ready to return to the workplace, communicate your plan before they step foot into the building.  Ensure they know what to expect, how will you work to keep them safe, and what are new guidelines.  Here is the CDC’s detailed guidance on how to re-enter the workplace. The Greater DSM Partnership has also created Industry playbooks to help you navigate these changes. Check these resources out and don’t wing it! 

Four areas you need in your strategy to keep your employees safe:
  1. Deep clean the workplace. 
    • Create ongoing cleaning measures.
  2. Set up safety measures.  
    • Is it an office space? Are there walls separating employees or do safety dividers need to be installed?  Do they interact frequently with clients?  What changes for clients?
  3. New protocols. 
    • Masks, checking temperatures, available hand sanitizer and cleaning products and expectations around meetings, breakrooms, and how to interact within physical distancing guidelines.
  4. Phased-in approach.
    • If possible, have a slow phased-in approach allowing you to try out the new accommodations and if they are meeting your safety requirements. If employees are feeling unsafe, ask what would help them within reason and see if you can make it happen. 

Do you have scared employees who do not want to return to the workplace or are working and are scared? Be careful to not use COVID19 as an excuse to let someone go as it can come back as discrimination or retaliation.  The best thing to do is to assess each employee and their situation individually.  Also if you hung onto a poor performer pre-COVID19, now is not the time to let them go.

#3 HR Policies/Benefits/Compensation:

Three areas that blend together but play a big impact on employees include the policies they need to follow, what employee benefits they have available to them, and their pay.

Your current HR policies need to reflect any changes that have been made to respond to the impacts of COVID19.  If your policy used to state remote work was not available and employees are now WFH, a change needs to be made. You will need to continually review and revise your policies to respond to the rapidly evolving impacts of the pandemic. For example, how will you handle at-risk employees? 

When it comes to benefits, due to the Families 1st Coronavirus response act many businesses meet the criteria for a 14 day paid leave if the employee has tested positive for COVID19. This too needs to be outlined in your policies so employees are aware of what to do if this happens to them.  Don’t wait for your employees to ask you how it will be handled. 

  • Mid-year benefit changes:
    • As of May 12, the IRS ruled mid-year changes could be made to cafeteria plans and lengthened the date to use flexible spending accounts by. The policy change doesn’t require employers to offer these options as they must opt-in if they want to give their employees added flexibility.  
  • Do you offer an EAP or Employee Assistance Program? 
    • If yes, are you under-communicating to employees this is a benefit available to them?  More often than not employees are not aware of an EAP or feel it’s only available for mental health supports.  Now more than ever personal challenges are spilling into the workplace.  

Compensation will always be a hot topic in the HR world.  Current conversations are taking a different approach and many are adjusting once or more to keep up with the disruption COVID19 is causing.  How can you keep your employees engaged by offering additional compensation resources?  The essential workers who have navigated COVID19 while remaining open have received new support.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • Coronavirus bonuses for employees who continue showing up and work in an industry that you cannot WFH.
  • Hazard pay for those who serve others that are positive for COVID19 but still need continued care and support.

#4 Well-being:

When you think of well-being, many words come to mind.  Overall wellness, mental health (depression, anxiety), financial health (unable to pay the bills or retirement concerns), physical health (worker’s compensation, contracting COVID19), and stress management (never getting a break or loneliness). 

Well-being for employees has always lingered in the background, yet not all organizations have made it a priority.  In the past couple of months, employee well-being has taken on enormous importance

Many employees are scared for the physical health of themselves, family, struggling to WFH with other co-workers, or are essential workers. They fear they have a greater chance of getting COVID19 and sharing it with their families.

Financial stress from the loss of a job, being furloughed, loss of partial income, 401K reductions, unable to pay bills, or some are earning more money by being on unemployment and don’t want to come off of it.  

Check-ins with your employees are powerful. They each have a different situation but also understand their concerns and address as best as you can. 

Can you answer these questions employees are asking?
  1. How will you keep me safe when I RTW?
  2. What happens if a co-worker or I get sick?
  3. What if I have a high-risk family member?
  4. How long will I WFH? I’m so overwhelmed with all the distractions and don’t have a designated workspace.
  5. Being restricted to my home and away from the workplace, I’m lonely living by myself, when can I go back to the workplace?

While you may be wondering how loneliness or your employee’s mental health is your responsibility as an employer, it directly impacts the employee’s engagement and productivity in the workplace.  Their well-being should be of great importance to you, as it’s impacting your bottom line results.

#5 Talent/Retention: 

When it comes to talent and recruitment, you almost need to unlearn some of the traditional hiring practices. 

Rethink your workplace hiring. If you have open positions, how can you leverage virtual ways to receive applications and facilitate interviews when face-to-face interactions should be limited? 

When it comes to retention, your company culture does not live within the four walls of your building. It’s how you work. It can be seen in your employees and how they interact with each other and others’ outside the organization.  

How can you maintain your culture during this disruption?

  • Are you adapting to changes and keeping employees in the loop?
  • Are you treating employees as the total person? 
    • Some grace for their well-being and recognizing their challenges as their personal and professional lives have collided.  The days of separating work and home have completely been blurred and blended.
To review, the overall top 5 areas to stay focused on in the new workplace are:
  1. Communication
  2. Leading your teams: WFH & RTW or a combination 
  3. HR Policies – Benefits – Compensation
  4. Well-being
  5. Talent & Retention

Exhausted trying to do this all alone? Schedule time with me to share your top 3 challenges and learn one thing you can do to start turning this around now. Learn more about my Leader Lifeline package and the top areas you can address in your business today.

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