How to manage in the 'new normal'

Employers can no longer pay lip service to collaboration, diversity, mental health: Expert

How to manage in the 'new normal'

While HR has heard about the value of being flexible for employees in the remote-work environment, that street goes both ways, says one consultant.

“Certainly, employers are told: ‘Be flexible with your employees’ but employees need to be flexible with their employers as well and recognize that sometimes we’re just flying by the seat of our pants, trying to figure it out as we’re going along,” says Janet Candido, principal of the Candido Consulting Group in Toronto.

“It has been a year and a half but it’s only been recently that we thought this might actually continue [indefinitely] so we’re still trying to determine what works best for us.”

There is no normal anymore, she says, and employers have to realize that this means a remote workforce “is quite a bit different than a workforce that’s right under your nose all day long.”

For HR, employee communications and collaborations have changed dramatically and it’s up to them to try and replicate some of the old methods to increase engagement and teamwork.

“They have to be more aware of the social connections that are lost when you’re doing virtual meetings. The fact that you don’t have somebody that you can just say, ‘Oh, by the way, I was thinking of this, what do you think?’ The conversations now are planned and they’re booked; it’s a virtual meeting so you don’t have that spontaneity that occurs when you’re in a physical workplace together,” says Candido.

“They have to remember to make it not just about work but to actually have some more personal connection with people.”

C-suite members are looking more to HR to provide them guidance, according to a recent report. 

New approaches needed

New ideas of what a productive and successful worker actually means will also have to be developed, according to Candido.

“[It’s about] understanding that it really doesn’t matter; in many cases, if you are working from nine to five, it matters if you are delivering what needs to be delivered so that’s a big learning for a lot of leaders on how to manage their remote workforces; things like having different definitions or measures for productivity, rather than ‘Are you in the office from nine to five?’”

Adjusting to these new ways will have to mean training for leaders and HR professionals, she says, and learning practical skills as well.

Janet Candido

“Zoom fatigue is a real thing. You might be able to sit around a boardroom table for two-and-a-half hours and you’ll be grumbling when you leave but… you’re staring into your computer screen now for two-and-a-half hours so we need to structure our meetings differently.”

Businesses will also have to pay greater attention to D&I efforts, says Candido because “people care more about a values alignment now and companies are going to need to work harder to connect with their stakeholders, with their communities and that means more diversity more inclusion.”

As well, more resources and supports will have to be put in place to help employees who suffer from poor mental health, unlike in the past when “we’ve talked about mental health but I don’t think we’ve done much other than pay lip service to it,” she says.

“If you were watching what was happening with the Canadian Mental Health Association and their monthly surveys, the incidence of people reporting depression or suicidal ideation or substance abuse, any of those things, the indices were always going up.”

What about vaccines?

While employers have a legal duty to provide safe workplaces, and that often means requiring workers to be doubly vaccinated, there will be some who refuse to do so or cannot because of medical or religious reasons and they can’t be ignored.

“In addition to people who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons, you’re going to have a certain percentage that just choose not to and the challenge is, what are you going to do with them? Are you going to let them work remotely? Are you going to require they test twice a week to confirm that they are COVID negative? Are you going to put them on unpaid leave or terminate their employment? None of those solutions are particularly great but underlying all of this is the fact that people who are vaccinated have less patience for those who are unvaccinated, so the understanding is not there as much as it might have been several months ago,” says Candido.

Above all, remember that everybody is feeling the strain, she says, and sometimes it won’t be smooth but patience and understanding is always a good piece of the HR toolkit. “Everybody’s tempers are shorter these days. They fly into a rage more quickly. They’re more anxious, they’re more combative so you have to be aware of all of those emotions when you’re when you are trying to introduce a policy.”

All federally regulated workers will now have to be vaccinated before they go back to work.

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