Back to Work: Managing and Hiring in the COVID-19 Era

By Robert Half on August 6, 2020 at 9:00am

When it’s time for you and your team to head back to the office, your workplace may look a lot different as health and safety protocols are implemented. And the transition to remote work could be a lasting one for businesses that now realize their employees can be just as productive working at home.

So, how do you manage your employees and make sure you’re staffed adequately when so much is changing? More importantly, what can you do now to prepare for the weeks and months ahead?

As a global specialized staffing firm, Robert Half has unique insight because we work with companies of all sizes on their staffing, recruitment and workforce planning efforts. Here are six lessons being learned from the pandemic and how you can apply each in your organization as you go back to work:

1: Reopening will require significant changes (and lots of reassurance and transparency)

When you return to work, it won’t be just a matter of unlocking the doors and letting everyone back in, of course. You’ll need a strategic plan that encompasses governmental guidelines as well as some of your own that you consider crucial to safeguarding the health of your employees, visitors, customers and vendors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have published guidelines and recommendations for employers planning to reopen their offices and businesses. (Make sure to check the websites of these organizations regularly for up-to-date guidance.)

Along with careful consideration of new safety protocols, your strategic plan for returning to work should include a plan for your people, as people. Think about the actual experience of going back to work and how you can make that as positive as possible for your employees.

Plan to address the emotional state of your team members. Being unsure what to expect while also being worried about their health can be overwhelming. Be very clear about the specific steps the company is taking when reassuring employees that their health and safety is the company’s top priority. Consider a message from leadership welcoming people back on the first day of reopening. But don’t stop there: Transparent, continual communication is essential.

2. The expansion of remote work will necessitate new ways of managing teams

As governments instituted stay-at-home orders, working from home quickly became a business necessity. Despite earlier concerns about productivity, many managers now understand that remote work can be quite effective. In some cases, workers can be even more productive working away from a central location.

So even as firms reopen, not everyone will go back to the office. In fact, one legacy of the pandemic could be fewer people working at physical office locations.

Continued remote work is advantageous for both companies and employees. Employers may see lower costs for real estate (rent for office space), operations (water, electricity), fixed assets (office furniture), office supplies and commuter subsidies. Meanwhile, many employees are feeling more efficient and are enjoying improved work-life balance. According to a new Robert Half survey, 74 percent of workers say they’d like to work remotely more following the pandemic.

While many managers have gained experience directing a virtual team in past years, the challenges are different in an era when a higher percentage of employees will continue to work remotely. Here are some tips for managing a dispersed workforce that’s split between in-office and remote workers:

  • Acknowledge the new normal. This is a time like no other, and its effect on workers will be lasting. Don’t stop expressing your appreciation for everything your team is doing to keep in good spirits and contribute to the company’s bottom line. After all, it’s your strong and dedicated teams who ultimately will get your business through this crisis.
  • Help teams stay connected. During video calls, update off-site staff on key takeaways from meetings held at the office that could impact their projects. Another idea could be to simply continue to make all meetings virtual.
  • Don’t stop remote nonwork conversations. One way employees in some businesses are keeping their spirits up is by having short chats, like previously done when everyone was in the office – including checking in to see how people are doing, whether they’re working in the office or from home. These conversations are still important to keep everyone connected.
  • Pay attention to employee behavior. Don’t overlook the fact that some remote workers may start to feel left out if they’re not physically returning to the office. Out of sight shouldn’t mean out of mind. Look for signs that remote workers aren’t performing at their best, such as missed deadlines, lack of communication or decreasing interest in their assignments.

Whether you need remote workers or on-site talent, one person or an entire team, we have highly skilled candidates available. Get hiring help now!

3. You’ll need to stay agile

The pandemic has taught many employers the importance of being agile. Your ability to prioritize tasks and reassign staff resources will remain key. Directing the projects of people working both in an office and at home will require strong coordination skills, creative thinking and a willingness to adapt and pivot. Prepare for rearranging staff resources and reprioritizing projects yet again if stay-at-home orders are reissued.

You’ll also have to be great at maintaining a dynamic blend of full-time and interim staff to address changing business conditions. As business begins to improve and you need to hire new staff or reinstate furloughed employees, you’ll need to be better than ever at managing a mix of resources.

4: You’ll have access to more top talent than ever before

In just a couple months, the supply of talent has shifted dramatically. Millions of people have lost their jobs because of business conditions, not performance. With so many unemployed, the quality of the available labor pool is very high.

Also, managers who are now more open to hiring remote workers have more recruiting choices because they have, in effect, lifted geographic barriers. You can engage job candidates from across the globe as easily as those living near your office. This provides an opportunity for companies to hire people with valuable skills for immediate needs — as well as new needs when business picks up later.

If you’re reluctant to hire full-time staff until you’re more confident the economy will continue to improve, you can instead tap into the high-quality temporary and contractor pool to meet demand.

5. You’ll need help hiring

Although a high-quality labor pool is emerging due to rising unemployment, the sheer number of applicants means that locating and bringing on board the best of the best is going to be increasingly tough. For every attractive job posting, there will likely be a sky-high stack of resumes to sort through.

And the rest of the hiring process won’t get any easier either: Once you’ve vetted resumes, you’re looking at a series of initial phone interviews, video interviews for your top choices, skills testing, reference checks and other steps. Plus, all this comes at a time when you’re slammed with juggling the staff management and technological challenges of guiding a remote team — and just trying to keep your business in business.

A specialized staffing firm like Robert Half can help as you go back to work and navigate this process. We have a pool of highly skilled candidates whose skills and experience have been evaluated, and we are able to handle the time-consuming details of the hiring process for you. We can also advise you on the fair market rate for salaries.

6. Your retention programs will be put to the test

As a recovery takes hold, now-lean businesses will be going into hiring mode again. Make sure your best people aren’t on their target list. As more companies realize that many formerly in-office positions can be handled just as well by employees working remotely, candidates will not be limited to just the jobs in their immediate area. Again, the whole world, in theory, is now open to them. Consider these retention tips:

  • Pay your top performers well. Even in times of relatively high unemployment, if you aren’t meeting or exceeding what other companies are paying for similar work, you risk losing your most valued employees.
  • Focus on employee wellness. Help people get through this time emotionally. Consider wellness webinars for your team on topics such as coping with uncertainty, living through change, stress management and mind-body relaxation.
  • Be flexible. Allow a wide degree of latitude in working hours and deadlines. This will allow people to arrange their lives as the pandemic continues to erect barriers even to everyday tasks and services they once took for granted.
  • Reinforce the importance of their work. Office perks like all-you-can-eat snacks, cool collaboration spaces and on-site gyms mean much less now. What many members of your team will want most during this time is work that is meaningful and reassurance that their contributions are valued. Make it clear to these workers that they are critical to the firm’s rebound and are supported by the company’s leadership — whether they are remote or in the office.

Closing thoughts on heading back to work

Ultimately, the entire function of the office could change as a result of lessons we are learning while dealing with COVID-19. The central workplace could even become the secondary workplace and the primary one the home, a flip-flop of the way things have been. In that scenario, your employees may only come to the office for important meetings with executives, vendors and others.

For now, the main concern for business owners and managers is reopening. The timeline and scope for the workforce to come back to the office will vary dramatically from company to company. Every business and individual will return at a time that they deem appropriate and safe. Perhaps the best gift you can give your employees in the coming weeks and months is to make it plain you don’t expect them to return to work until they are ready. That will boost their morale as well as their loyalty.

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