A new workplace reality

Gerald Koppes PHOTO CREDIT: contributed

The Department of Labor reported last month that a staggering 36.5 million citizens have filed jobless claims since the start of the coronavirus pandemic a few months ago.

The short-term effects on society are being revealed daily, the long-term damage to our economy and way of life can only be guessed. Social distancing and the wearing of face masks are most certainly a part of our new reality.

What are the implications for employers and employees as they face this brave new workplace? Here are a few highly speculative observations that come to mind.

Workplace Design

Until a vaccine or effective medical treatment is developed, it appears that employers will need to make significant changes to the workplace to mitigate worker exposure to the novel coronavirus.

This might involve continual monitoring of the health of employees, issuance of protective equipment and compliance with new work spacing rules designed to lessen the chance of new infections. Perhaps creative work shifts will be required to properly separate employees throughout the organization.

Collective Bargaining Agreements

Management and labor will need to amend existing agreements and negotiate new contracts that address safety issues in the new work environment. Health protection of human capital will need to be front and center of any new arrangement.

Layoff and recall policies will be revisited to determine the medical circumstance under which an employee might be quarantined or the conditions necessary for return to work. OSHA will most certainly issue new regulations requiring changes in union contracts.

Distance/Online work

Many employees have been working online at home since the pandemic hit. Should they return to the office? How productive were they in their home setup? Should they remain in place?

Perhaps a hybrid combination of in-office and at-home work will provide the best of both worlds going forward. The efficiencies of online off-site work will likely encourage management to reassess pre-pandemic staffing requirements.

Morale

In this time of great uncertainty, what effect will the pandemic have on the morale of employees. How should the company address the fear many will have of workplace contagions, of losing their jobs due to a slowdown in business activity?

Daily media predictions of a nasty recession coupled with reports of long-term high unemployment rates are likely to affect both morale and productivity of workers. What confidence-boosting programs will be needed to keep employees mentally healthy and focused on work. Should health insurance plans be reviewed to insure adequate coverage for counseling and related mental health benefits.

Video Communications

Video visiting and conferencing, using such popular services as FaceTime and Zoom, have, well, zoomed since isolation and people spacing have taken place. Will the business world continue to adopt this new, safer method of face-to-face contact in the future? How will this popular means of communication impact travel and conference budgets?

Training

Many jobs have probably been lost forever as companies realize that business will not return to pre-pandemic levels and they will be forced to carry on with a much leaner workforce. What private and public initiatives should be adopted to retrain the resulting unemployed to take jobs that will rise out of the new emerging economy?

There is little precedent for the damage already done to our once robust economy. Although the coronavirus has dealt a crippling blow to our labor force, we should not give in to apocalyptic thinking.

We live in a strong and resilient country and its citizens will make the changes necessary to survive and thrive in a workforce of the future that is once again both healthy and prosperous.