The COVID-19 outbreak has caused a domino effect of unprecedented events to disrupt the global economy – massive layoffs, the plummet of the stock market, interruptions to supply chain and demand, and the closing of "non-essential" businesses – all of which have been defining the new normal for today's world.
As COVID-19 cases continue to grow worldwide, employers and employees alike are scrambling to adapt to the restrictive social distancing protocols and stay-at-home orders. The uncertainty of what the workplace stands to lose – and gain – from the changes brought on by COVID-19 has caused immense levels of stress about returning to work post-pandemic.
While COVID-19 will inevitably leave its mark on the workplace, employers can use the pandemic as an opportunity to transform current challenges into something positive, to come out better on the other side. Through an idea known as post-traumatic growth (PTG), businesses can move beyond merely accepting the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and find the silver linings.
What is Post-traumatic Growth?
Perhaps the famous expression, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going," best conveys the idea of post-traumatic growth. The University of North Carolina Charlotte Posttraumatic Growth Research Group defines post-traumatic growth as the "positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event."
In the case of a significant traumatic event or life crisis, post-traumatic growth shows us that despite these events resulting in high levels of fear and stress, it can also lead to growth, transformation, and resilience. While post-traumatic growth is a phenomenon experienced by individuals, it can be a great way to look at how employers can approach current events within their organizations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed cities, jobs, our economy, and businesses. It's left many employers thinking: What's next? How will we come out on the other side of this epidemic?
Finding the Growth in Trauma
The COVID-19 pandemic will significantly shape the world of work, uprooting the strategic decision-making framework for many employers. Instead of applying negative connotations to these changes, post-traumatic growth pushes employers to look at the silver lining of how a traumatic event can have positive impacts on business.
As one example, though many tragedies have resulted from COVID-19, including the loss of life, the pandemic has also brought about businesses, communities, and governments actively stepping up to provide necessary supplies, equipment, and care to front-line workers and people in need. You may have experienced that in your own business.
There are other silver linings to be found. Here are a few business practices that may prove the current outbreak to be a catalyst for positive change and growth in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Committed, Trust-Based Cultures
COVID-19 is creating a moment of truth for corporate culture. It has forced management to reflect on their actions in responding to this crisis. Have they kept their teams well-connected and well-informed? Do they practice consistent communication and empathy with employees through tough times? Are the right resources being made available to employees, especially the ones who are being laid off or furloughed?
COVID-19 is testing our ability to stay true to our values and purpose. After the pandemic ends, it won't be what employers said, but what they did through the crisis that will show their true colors. The way a business responds during a crisis does not just affect their employees – it affects their employer brand, too.
Looking toward recovery, those who focus on fostering positive relationships with their customers and their employees during the crisis will create a committed, trust-based culture that will build goodwill with current employees and help attract future talent for years to come.
Streamlined and Efficient Processes
Even the most traditional workplaces have been forced to modernize during the COVID-19 pandemic. The increase in remote work has called for the intensified implementation of various tools and technologies to monitor business operations, stay connected with employees, and keep productivity from declining. This has led to more streamlined and efficient processes, some of which will take hold and become permanent parts of the business.
- Companies are retooling their budgets: Keep tracking of spending and analyzing a budget has never been easier in today's world of technology. The companies that are looking for cost savings during COVID-19 can uncover ways to reduce expenses long-term, long after the crisis is over. Employers are coming up with more creative ways to reduce expenses such as suspending unneeded services (i.e., cleaning services or supply delivery), or cutting unnecessary costs, like printing. Making smarter investment decisions and looking at a company's spend overall will likely result in a more financially efficient organization going forward.
- Better team operations efficiency: Some organizations are having to reexamine their employees' roles during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether that includes rearranging responsibilities or cutting staff based on performance, businesses are having to make difficult decisions on how to keep their teams at top efficiency. Retaining the highest performing staff and getting clear on priorities means teams can operate more efficiently in the future.
- Increased digital infrastructure: More businesses post-pandemic will adopt digital tools for team collaboration, project management, remote learning, and shared documents. Technology has undoubtedly played a significant part in keeping teams productive through videoconferencing software (i.e., Zoom and Skype) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses will likely strengthen their digital infrastructure over time and make it a permanent part of operations.
Improved Crisis Response Plans
COVID-19 has prompted many businesses to reflect on their crisis response plans and consider how to better prepare for other unforeseen events.
- Crisis response team. Create a crisis response team to consider potential adverse future events, stay informed about current events from reliable sources, and create a crisis communications plan.
- Updated sick leave policies. Before the COVID-19 crisis, there was no federal law mandating employers to grant paid sick leave to their employees. When Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employees were allocated up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for COVID-19 self-care or the care of a family member. With this new federal paid sick leave set to expire at the end of 2020, it will be likely that more states – and perhaps the federal government – will expand paid sick leave to protect employees. This will be helpful when it comes to responding to future public health emergencies. An updated sick leave policy for employees and encouragement to stay home if they are unwell can better prepare your organization for another outbreak.
- Emergency supply closet. In March, the CDC released guidelines for businesses to sanitize workspaces; however, many cleaning supplies were out of stock with major retailers across the country. Maintaining an inventory of emergency supplies on-site, such as protective equipment like gloves and masks, first aid kits, sanitation materials (like moist towelettes), and thermal scanners, will become common.
These are just a few ways employers can establish new internal guidelines and contingency plans to better respond to future crises.
Increased Workplace Flexibility
Perhaps the most significant legacy that COVID-19 may leave behind is a more flexible work environment. This is due in large part to the crisis causing businesses to restructure their communication and management processes to accommodate remote work in the wake of stay-at-home orders and social distancing protocols.
Remote work typically implies that an employee lives outside the geographic area of the business' location and, therefore, works from home regularly. But there is another way companies can balance their employees' health and wellbeing, and that is through the allowance of telework. Telework is a work arrangement that means an employee works from home at least part of the time, though there may be some on-site work as well.
Now that many employers have been forced to practice remote work, some may find that there are advantages to adopting this going forward, at least on some level. Some employers have found that it can be just as strategic and productive to work from home than in the office, especially for those located in major metropolitan cities where drive time takes up a significant portion of employees' workdays.
Employers worried about productivity can monitor remote work through project management and communications tools, as well as time and activity monitoring services.
Plan Recovery for Now, Not Later
Although the COVID-19 epidemic was an unforeseen event that no business could have been fully prepared for, there are many lessons employers can learn and carry forward to future business practices.
The unprecedented challenges and uncertainty that employers and employees alike are experiencing now can be fertile soil for growth and positive transformation. With an eye toward the post-pandemic period, employers making informed decisions and taking actions with recovery in mind can reshape their business and build resilience to thrive and grow in the future.