The New Normal

There are very few occasions in business when you have an opportunity to step back, draw breath and review what has been before and what needs to come next. I do believe that many business owners are now at that point, have just been there or will very soon be arriving at that apex.

Many business owners I know have had no option other than to pivot their businesses or they wouldn’t have food on their tables. Others have cut as many costs as they could and decided to sit out the storm. For some business owners, there was nothing but opportunity. Wherever you are on this continuum, there is a new normal. Whether it is short-lived or here to stay, I can’t really tell, but there will definitely be some changes which I think will hang around…. at least for a while.

Business Continuity Planning

In the Spring edition of PeopleTalk, I wrote an article about Business Continuity Planning (BCP). It was written because of Covid, but Coronavirus hadn’t fully hit at the time that I wrote it. That said, the final paragraph encouraged everyone to write and communicate a BCP for their business, ensuring it was regularly updated and still relevant.

Speaking to one client a couple of months ago, he told me that he did an annual update of their BCP and all of his partners laughed at him – I don’t think they are laughing now and I do hope they appreciate the thinking and preparation which was done. While I’m sure very few BCPs would have accounted for a global pandemic on the scale we have seen, at least having a plan was a starting point and some of the backups required were in place.

My BCP was to lock my team down a week ahead of everyone else. No client visits and no one in the office. We already had cloud based systems including our VOIP phones. The team picked up their chair, their external keyboard and mouse and within 12 hours were working from home.

With the benefit of hindsight, please ensure that you have a BCP, that it is reviewed regularly, updated and communicated. It could be even more important this winter, if some news articles are to be believed and we do get the second wave.

Working from Home

I’ve spent the last 25 years of my career helping employers to say no to their staffs’ requests to work from home. In some cases, the role just couldn’t be done from home, usually for technical reasons, but in most cases, employers just wanted the team where they could see them working and where they could interact with each other.

As I’ve said above, I, like thousands of other employers overturned our decisions and attitudes overnight.

I’ve written a lot throughout covid-19 about working from home, so I won’t dwell on the details or logistics here, but employers do now have some decisions to make:

  • Will they continue to allow employees to work from home?
  • Do employees have a suitable space in which to work on a more permanent basis?
  • How do you train new employees?
  • How will new employees be made to feel part of the team?
  • How will you bring all employees together if you scale down your offices due to more people working from home?

Having a temporary work from home policy is one thing, but now you need to decide what your new normal will look like.

Employee Engagement

People can be motivated by many things including money and benefits, but it doesn’t mean they are engaged with your business. Understanding how your employees feel about your business is going to take on an increasing importance. People are nervous right now for so many reasons: nervous they will lose their jobs, nervous about catching covid, nervous for loved ones…..etc.

As a business owner you want people in your business who are engaged, who share your vision, your values and your goals. Ensuring you create the right environment is essential for achieving business success and don’t just have ‘bums on seats’.

Knowing what your staff are thinking is a fantastic starting point for assessing employee engagement. What do they think about your business, services and customers? What do they think of your products, their managers and your values? Once you know what they think, what can you do to improve their engagement? What are your developmental areas? Where are there quick wins and where do longer term strategies need to be put in place?

Employee Engagement is going to grow in importance with the most successful companies measuring and taking steps to improve the level of engagement, especially if the working environment continues as tough as it has been over the last few months.

Employee Wellbeing

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly being hounded by people on social media who want to introduce employee wellbeing programmes into my workplace – there are only a handful of us, I don’t need a wellbeing programme. I can’t afford a wellbeing programme. We don’t have time for weekly meditations, shoulder massages, deep breathing lessons, foot massages, personal training, essential oils…… you get my point!

In my position as head of an HR practice, it gets worse. I am also being bombarded by people who want to sell to my clients…. No, they are not selling, they want to collaborate with me i.e. want access to all my clients or my database…. They are selling and my answer is always “no”.

While some of these people I have strong trusted relationships with and would willing introduce to any client with a need, most of these people are complete strangers who have cold called me as I have HR in my title and therefore I care about my staff and my clients.

Well the truth is I do care and I know that my clients care, but to a large extent most of us care and support our staff on a case by case basis when the need arises. We signpost help, we get access to specialist services, we do what we can when it is needed.

However, I do think the new normal is going to change this somewhat. As employers, we are going to need to be more caring, more watchful and more aware. We are going to have to pick up cues from speaking to people over the phone or via video conferencing platforms. We are going to need to ask the question and really listen to the answers. We are going to need to hear what is not said as much as we are going to need to hear what is said. We need to ensure that an open door really means an open door. We are going to need socials, employee councils, coffee mornings and afternoon teas.

As employers, just because an employee is not in our office and under our nose doesn’t mean we don’t have a duty of care. As you will read in Naomi Dickson’s article, for some people coming to work was their safe place and by asking them to work from home potentially puts them at risk.

There used to be a saying “you come to work and leave your problems at the door”, this is no longer the case. People find it increasingly difficult to separate work from home. Working from home makes this even harder and if you live on your own, probably even harder.

As an employer operating in the new normal, you need to think about employee wellbeing in a way you have never had to do before. It is not about investing in expensive wellbeing programmes, but it might be about:

  • flexing working hours to ensure better work-life balance,
  • encouraging people to take more breaks during the day
  • ensuring people take all their holiday at regular intervals throughout the year
  • providing gym membership to encourage fitness
  • having walking meetings to ensure mobility

Whatever you do, speak to your staff, find out what they want and work with them so that they, you and your business benefit.

Conclusion

As well as the issues highlighted above, there are lots more considerations and opportunities when looking at the new normal; whether it is the location of the office, the methods of communication, the dress code, working hours or changing benefits …. you have an opportunity, so don’t blow it!

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