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A Brand-New World: Returning to a Post-COVID Workplace

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 A Brand-New World: Returning to a Post-COVID Workplace

What a difference a year makes. With the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, summer 2021 marks, for many, a gradual return to some pre-pandemic aspects of life—like seeing friends and family in person. It’s allowed cautious optimism and a small sense of normalcy. This “getting back to normal,” of course, means “getting back to the workplace” for millions of Americans who have carried out job duties remotely for more than 15 months.

Some employees will remain remote indefinitely; others will seek and secure new positions in this jobseeker’s market. (Essential employees, of course, never left.) But for the millions of workers who will be returning to physical offices and resuming routines abandoned more than a year ago, there’s a lot of trepidation. People are bracing for whatever “new normal” awaits—and no one knows quite what to expect.

“The concept of establishing a new normal implies that what we left was normal—that what ended in March 2020 was ‘normal,’” says MBS executive coach Kathleen Cashman-Walter of our pre-pandemic work culture. Cashman-Walter, a leadership and performance coach who developed and has taught MBS’s cornerstone Communications & Leadership course since inception, vividly remembers the early days of the pandemic and how the abrupt shift to remote work and “work from home” culture was a difficult transition for many, as work life and home life blended indefinitely, and as people struggled to make sense of the unfamiliar, disorienting, and uncertain new dynamic.

“We created processes, procedures, and habits to support something different –and it wasn’t easy,” says Cashman. “But we’ve adapted and evolved. And now people don’t want to go back to what was.”

With so many MBS students full-time working professionals, Cashman-Walter was curious about major changes students had observed within their own companies. She encouraged students to share the top five changes at their workplaces, post their answers, and comment on the information shared by their peers. More than 100 students responded—and the “top five” became a “top ten.”

“As we began discussing all of the changes that were occurring,” says Cashman-Walter, “the energy of the conversation turned from stressed to impressed, if not excitement about what’s to come.” The one sentiment that was loud, clear, and unanimous, she says, “is we don’t want to go back to what we thought was normal.”

What are the top changes your company is instituting as we create a new work world?

1.      Flexible schedule / continued flexibility with remote worktime and/or a hybrid schedule

2.      Increased focus on employee morale (within teams and companywide)

3.      Ongoing COVID-19 monitoring, awareness, and reporting

·         Temperature checks upon building entry

·         COVID-19 companywide reporting (published weekly etc.) 

·         contact tracing

4.      Mental health put at the forefront—with multiple resources made available to employees

5.      Shift to video meetings —a trend that will continue in lieu of in-person meetings, simply for efficiency. Also: shorter & less frequent meetings 

6.      "Summer Fridays" extended throughout the year

7.      Extra PTO days given for employee wellness—with additional PTOs given so employees can receive vaccination.

8.      Meeting-free Fridays (also known as “Focus Fridays” where employees can work uninterrupted)

9.      COVID-19-safe workspaces. Extra cleaning measures implemented / socially distanced desks & workspaces/ revamped systems

10.  Goal setting & project prioritization among teams and 1:1 with managers

“A new realization for top companies: everyone matters,” says Cashman-Walter.  “Now more than ever, organizations want to keep their talent, and managers and company leaders are doing their best to balance the needs of the business in a way that is not at the expense of the needs of the people who drive the organization’s success.”

“There will be challenges, and there will be missteps,” Cashman-Walter continues. “Each decision, however, will hopefully lead to greater awareness adjustments for improvement. Iteration. Because this dynamic is new for everyone.”

“If you think about it—and this is important,” she adds, “every one of us has a responsibility and plays a part in the creation or co-creation of the new normal. Success will go to those who recognize and are willing to embrace something different or new. You also need to have a voice and be heard—but be able to have a dialogue and not an argument.”

“Finally, and most importantly,” she says, “we must all be willing to stay the course and not be disrupted by wanting a quick fix or impatience of wanting this to be over. Because we are a society that wants the pandemic to be over. However, COVID-19 will continue to impact both our professional and personal lives from this day forward.”

Jen Reiseman-Briscoe
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