What HR should be doing now to prepare for the second wave of COVID-19

Worried HR pro prepares for second wave of COVID-19

It’s not often that I start a blog by telling you I don’t want to write the post, but here we are. Don’t mistake my meaning, though. It’s not that I don’t want to write for you; rather, it’s that I wish I didn’t have to write on this topic at all.

And what topic would that be, you might wonder? Well, it stems from a question, and it's one that I'm sure has been in the back of all our minds as we've watched the latest news reports — "what can HR and other business professionals do to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 cases?"

I can almost hear your collective sigh.

Like the rest of civilization, I hoped that by the time the holiday season was knocking at our door things would be at a point where we didn’t have to worry about a second wave. But we all know the inevitable reality that it is coming, and in some parts of the country it’s already here. Couple that with the impending arrival of cold and flu season, and challenges will continue to pile up for employers and employees alike.

We know that when it comes to this pandemic and the effects it's had on the world of work, we need to expect the unexpected. However, most experts agree at this point that a second wave is projected, if not already starting.

So how do we prepare? What have we learned? I know we're all tired, but we need to explore this so we can ensure we're doing all we can as HR professionals to protect our people and our organizations.

The first step to facing a second wave? Optimism

Don’t worry, I’m not going to discuss a “new normal,” because at this point I believe that any form of normal as we knew it is long gone. There isn’t a “normal” anymore. Each day brings its own unique challenges, and we as resilient HR and business professionals must work to mitigate problems as they come. Each and every day is an “unprecedented time.”

In the post prior to this one, my colleague Keen Hahn wrote about the unique opportunities we have during this time to redefine HR-business partnership, even if it may not feel like it. So, keeping hold of that optimism, let’s explore a few ways we can be better prepared in addition to following federal, state, and local mandates. Armed with the knowledge of what has and hasn’t worked throughout the pandemic, HR and other business leaders can (and should!) take proactive measures to prepare for a second wave, and the potential of continued disruption to business processes and procedures.

Remote work policies

Hindsight can be beneficial, and it can help us learn, grow, and pivot moving forward. Thinking back to the beginning of the pandemic when things shut down suddenly, companies with established remote work capabilities were able to adapt much faster from a business continuity perspective. As you consider that work from home initiatives are no longer a “nice to have" benefit, if you didn't already think that, now really is the time to ensure that your remote work policies are airtight. Furthermore, they should be accessible to those who need to refer to them when needed.

Employees who can work from home — and have been working from home — now largely expect to have the opportunity. And where appropriate, why not? Among other benefits, studies have found that working remotely has increased productivity. It’s best to remove any chance of confusion or questions by preparing for and addressing as many contingencies as possible in your policies.

There are dozens of questions that a work from home policy can address, but some of the most important include identifying which employees can work from home, and what hours they are expected to keep. Distinguishing how remote employees will collaborate and communicate with each other is also paramount, but more on that later.

Of course, the ability to work remotely varies vastly from industry to industry and job to job, but plans must be in place where it is feasible to have them. This will not only help employees but assist managers and the company in risk management and reducing the appearance of favoritism if one person is allowed to work from home and another is denied the opportunity.

Connections with HR technology

For those working from home, making sure that there is a digital ecosystem that closely mirrors their in-person employee experience goes a long way in fostering calmness for employees who are experiencing change in other areas of their lives. The last thing employees should be concerned about is how they'll do things like access their paychecks, log their hours, or update their tax information.

In times where remote work is necessary, manual processes become even more of a hindrance to productivity and satisfaction and can be frustrating for both the employee and employer. If in-person business is not being conducted and there is no way for employees to manually access or change their employment information, this can lead to a host of problems on both sides.

Ensuring your HR tech is in place, accessible, and utilized right now before the second wave hits can also help with the need to onboard employees quickly and safely. With so many businesses having to pivot and hire more people due to virus-related surges in business, having the ability to quickly bring new employees aboard can help with business continuity and can also serve to reduce staff burnout from working overtime. If unfortunately you're on the other side of this equation and have to make tough choices about furloughs and layoffs due to COVID-19, having a consolidated, unified approach to HR technology will serve you well in that instance too with standard, automated processes and easy options for rehiring and reboarding the people whose hours were reduced when the time is right.

Eliminating unnecessary manual activities and focusing on providing your employees with solid HR technology systems now will help prepare the organization for whatever may come, and for any other business disruptions of the future.

Communication methods

I know, I know, an HR blogger is telling you yet again about the importance of effective communication. I'm sure you're shocked. I actually considered leaving this category out, as it should be a given that effective communication should already be paramount in any business. But you’d be surprised how many employers I’ve met with who don’t have a communication plan — or a crisis communication plan — in place.

That's right, even now after all that's happened communication is still a struggle for some organizations.

As an employer, the obligation you have to your people to keep them informed and aware is among the most important roles the organization plays. Assess what went right and what went wrong during the initial wave of coronavirus-related disruption. Were messages received and perceived as intended? Have you surveyed employees on whether they felt like messages were clear and actionable, when necessary? If not, the time to do so is now so that you can ensure a more positive experience when the second wave comes.

I’ve written before that the way you treat employees during this crisis will shape how your company is viewed when things settle down and will affect future success. That sentiment still rings true. How will you communicate important messages during a second wave? Will you have the ability to use multiple channels of two- way communication, and make sure that important messages are overcommunicated via things like email, text, and even phone calls, for example?

Health and safety resources

Safety at work has always been a focus for employers, but now is the time to double down on those initiatives that might already be in place. Moving forward, employers should consider what worked and what can be improved about how they managed health and safety in their workplace during the first wave of the pandemic — and even before the pandemic.

From an opportunity standpoint, now is also a great time to establish your company as an employer of choice by truly showing employees that you see the whole person, and not just the worker. Your focus on employee safety from both a physical and psychological perspective should be paramount in order to solidify your position as an employer that cares.  Not only will focusing on this improve your company brand for recruiting, but it can work to improve existing employee loyalty and retention as well.

Be sure that your HR technology has the ability to communicate clear standards for workplace safety and options that minimize employees’ physical risk when working their shifts. Whether it’s in the form of scheduling processes, alternative options for punching in and out, or health and safety reminders, your HCM software has the power to make a positive impact across all your physical locations. It also has the power to make an impact across remote locations as well, as it serves as a vehicle for bringing people together in the digital work ecosystem.

Conclusion: Taking action now is the bottom line

When the pandemic first hit, businesses had little to no time to plan how they would adapt. Now, you have the benefit of hindsight to guide your decisions moving forward. Learn from your organization's initial response to COVID-19 and make improvements now that you have more experience with and information about working through a global pandemic. Plan so that you're as prepared as possible to help your business thrive, whether or not the second wave affects your company. Now is an essential time to take action to move your business forward.

We have all the resources you need to help you through this process. Our Complete Playbook for HR Technology During Times of Crisis outlines many practical ways to implement the strategies we just talked through in ways that are repeatable and sustainable. Make sure you and your people don't get caught unprepared again.

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