Public health experts largely agree. A second wave coronavirus infections are extremely likely come the fall or winter of 2020 and no one quite knows what that will look like.
What that means for businesses that have weathered the storm thus far remains to be seen, but the outcome will largely depend on how well companies can apply the lessons learned from this first outbreak. The window to prepare is small and the implications for the health of employees, organizations as well as the economy could not be more serious.
While many are anxious to get back up to speed and resume normal business, the truth is that businesses may only have time for the establishment of a new normal before the nation enters the next phase. If the increase in cases is even worse than the first wave, lockdown could be brought back and may not be eased until a vaccine is discovered.
Projections for a vaccine aren’t promising. Several experts think 2021 has less than a 50% of yielding something with 2022 only looking slightly better. In short, the new normal is going to be an evolving set of circumstances that sees us rely on the expertise of public health officials and completely revamp elements of workplace culture.
What Have We Learned?
There’s a great deal of anxiety around returning to work, but we already know some important things that are going to inform what work looks like going forward.
Chief among the lessons is the reality of remote work and how fruitful it can be for companies as they prioritize employee safety. Numerous companies in the tech sector have already committed to allowing their employees to work remotely for the remainder of 2020. Now, other industries are following suit as a continuation of the crisis looms.
In the end, a return to the office would be ideal, but given new requirements about the flow of human traffic throughout office buildings, social distancing, facilities management and amenities, companies will do well to keep personnel to a minimum. Some are getting creative and working with landlords and commercial real estate brokers to discuss what the workplace of the future looks like.
An idea that is quickly picking up steam is the idea of A/B days, where employees take turns coming into the office, rather than all coming back at once. This alleviates the need for additional space as cutting the number of bodies present in the building by 50% can accommodate social distancing standards.
Employees may not like wearing a mask, but if they’re going to be in close quarters with other workers, asking them to wear one is necessary.
What Do We Do Next?
What’s important is that companies begin to plan for the worst. While the initial severity and impact of the first wave of coronavirus was underestimated by many, the second should be prepared for in the same way you would a natural disaster. Companies have to provide themselves with options to keep business going and methods by which they can react to a variety of internal crises, be it financial, operational or on a personnel level.
From a cultural perspective, it becomes more than just a question of employee behaviors while they’re at work. Now that the office extends to their homes, employees should be encouraged to take precautions and keep best practices to ensure their health in mind at all times.
Business continuity should be top of mind at all times for leadership. This is the time to build stronger organizations with diversified supply chain structures and improved customer data that fuels a refined experience for clients.
Employees should be engaged in career mapping exercises so that succession planning is underway and so that upskilling is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Knowledge sharing in any format, be it additional attendees in a meeting or partnering people with a job-buddy who can teach new skills is something to be considered as the workforce has to evolve with the circumstances in which it exists. Employees need to be prepared to step in where necessary and lend a hand.