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Guest Blog: Return to Work Needs a New Mindset

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are working hard to reopen their doors and encourage employees back to the workplace as they seek some semblance of normalcy.

As an essential industry that has continued operating throughout the crisis, chemical distributors and their employees may find this transition a little less distressing than other industries, suggests Trevor Shylock, Senior Consultant at talent management specialist PSI Services LLC.

“Even for those who have not been needed in the laboratories or warehouses these past months and were instead able to work from home, their return should hopefully be smoother thanks to the important lessons that have already been learned,” he notes.

Most of these businesses will already have the plans, policies, and procedures in place to protect their staff and ensure they can operate effectively, even during this period of disruption and uncertainty.

Social distancing and mask mandates have become second nature, along with routine testing and staggered shift patterns.

“COVID-19 has certainly required a change in mindset for companies,” he says.

There is a dichotomy among businesses that were cautious about remote working before the pandemic and how they function now.

Many may have previously reasoned that being physically at work was far more beneficial, with networking and interactions around the office. However, COVID-19 has forced their hand, and the pandemic has proved that it is possible to operate effectively – and still maintain interpersonal connections, share ideas, and work closely together – even if it’s through a screen.

“Companies have seen that you can have your employees work remotely and still be effective – sometimes even more effective,” says Shylock.

“With sales teams, for example, there has always been certain magic that happens when you're meeting in-person and seeing people face-to-face – a certain charm – but companies are far more accepting of these remote conversations and video calls nowadays. And that not only means less travel and less expense to the organization, but it provides opportunities; you don’t have the scheduling issues or the costs, and you can now easily connect with someone on the other side of the country or the world. This is opening doors and bringing down barriers.”

Clearly, some employees will have embraced the chance to stay at home over this period – cutting down on their commutes and travel times and having the opportunity to have more flexible working conditions. However, others may be more eager to return, especially those who miss the work-life balance or do not have a dedicated workspace at home.

Managing expectations and keeping everybody happy will certainly be a challenge for human resources departments across the nation.

“Above all, companies should be supportive during this challenging time,” insists Shylock. This is a critical transition period and employers must be conscious and considerate about people's feelings, emotions, and mental wellbeing – perhaps by offering counseling and greater flexibility.

“There may be some microaggressions directed towards individuals and colleagues as we get used to this new way of working,” he says. “There are those who won’t be wearing masks, for example, and there may be questions for those who aren’t fully vaccinated. There can be hostility towards these personal choices, and this is something that managers must be aware of and know how to deal with.”

He adds that this new working environment may prove challenging for those returning, particularly with many new protocols in place.

“This has been a traumatic experience, and people are fatigued by the whole situation. It can be hard for some people to constantly wear a mask, especially for those who experience physical discomfort., They're tired of restrictions and limitations and the companies have to help them cope with the current situation and regulations.”

Tips for the transition:

  • Ask employees how they feel. Carry out a simple survey or regularly ask the opinions of your staff. As a business owner or manager, don't assume you always know what they want or how they're feeling.
  • Stay on top of everything. Follow state and federal policies but continuously conduct your own research to see what other businesses or industries are doing. Implement measures that will work for you and your business.  
  • Constant communication. Keep everyone informed and overcommunicate. Don't just send an email about the latest measures and leave it at that. Use signage and other methods to remind everyone of protocols and set the right expectations. Have regular conversations and make your messaging consistent.
  • Be flexible. Everything is changing so rapidly that businesses need to adapt and evolve constantly. Companies that have failed to do so may be struggling or have disappeared entirely.

“I feel this is a great opportunity for organizations to be more creative, draw on the positives, and use this as a time to improve your operations and change the way you work for the better,” says Shylock.

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