Monday Mornings with Madison

Reimagining Business for the Age of Contagion

Word Count: 1,411
Estimated Read Time: 5 ½ min.

The Winds of Change

With the development of a highly effective treatment for Novel Coronavirus still months away, and a vaccine not expected until perhaps next year, it appears the pandemic may continue for a while.  However, most businesses will surely not be able to remain closed or curtailed for anywhere near that long and most people cannot afford to be unemployed or furloughed for that length of time.  Business owners and managers should replace a short-term mindset with longer-term thinking. The question to ask then isn’t “if” to reopen, but “how best” to reopen?

Reopening in the current landscape will affect company processes, suppliers and supply chains, employee habits and behaviors, and use of workspaces of most businesses.  And it will affect departments across the board from IT, HR and Accounting to Marketing, Sales, Production and Legal.  Most of all, it will affect business models and profitability, so finding viable longer-term solutions is everyone’s job.

What Will the New Normal Look Like?

As the nation begins to reopen, it will definitely not be a return to business as usual.  Workplaces must adjust what they do and how they do it in order to protect employees from contagion and make customers feel safe enough to do business again.  That requires much more thought than just asking everyone to wear face masks and wash hands regularly.  Get ready for big shifts in behavior and adjustments to how things look and are done.

  • Work Space - The way to think about what needs to change means thinking about how virus is transmitted.  Then thinking about how to eliminate – or at least greatly minimize – the opportunity for virus to spread through touch and interaction.  Seems easy… but it involves a lot of consideration about the Standard Operating Procedures for each department… each process that cannot be done by an employee working at home.
    • Should the company install hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes dispensers next to any equipment shared by many, such as copy machines, water coolers, coffee machines, scanners, price tag applicators at stores, scales at doctor’s offices, shared computer workstations, etc.?  Instead of shared coffee pots, should companies invest in single-serve coffee makers that require minimal touch?  Should a dispenser with wipes be placed next to it so that it is wiped clean after every use?
    • Should UV light sanitizers be used in large workspaces at the end of each work week to totally disinfect large workspaces that cannot be continually deep cleaned?
    • Should touchless door opening equipment or tools be provided to employees to keep them from touching doors, especially doors leading to common areas, other departments and restrooms?
    • Should employees be provided with disposable gloves and masks daily to reduce the spread of germs on computers, phones, staplers, mugs, pens, etc.?   Or should employees be provided with their own desk equipment and discouraged from casually sharing it with others?
    • Should open work spaces and cubicles be reconfigured to have high tempered glass dividers?  Should those glass partitions be wiped down daily with disinfectant?
    • For workplaces where there might be a line of customers, should floor markers be used to indicate proper distancing?
    • At places where files or goods are being picked up in the lobby, should there be someone assigned to dispense with packages to ensure that outsiders don’t rifle through other people’s items?
    • To what extent can documents be transmitted electronically to eliminate all in-person contact?  What type of “signing” is allowed per municipality for documents to be legally-binding?
  • Hiring Practices – Although many companies are focused on layoffs and furloughs right now, once reopening begins, HR will need to deal with rehiring and hiring to fill the spots of those who went to work elsewhere, retired or decided to start their own business.  At that point, HR will likely have to modify its hiring practices.
  • With the unemployment rate soaring, finding available, interested applicants is certain to become easier.  And the ability to hire workers in other markets will open up the hiring pool to anyone (that has the skills and experience to do the job), anywhere (as long as they can fit in with the company’s schedule based on time zone and are adept at working remotely).  But that is bound to increase the number of applicants to never-before-seen levels, putting a strain on HR.  Hiring managers and HR employees will need to adjust.

    What is valued on a resume will now need to include consideration of how an employee might function working remotely.

    • Does the person have the right skills and temperament to be effective working “home alone”, such as being a self-starter, having a strong work ethic, and having a track record for punctuality?  Does the person have other people also working at home?  Is there space to accommodate that?
    • Does the person hit deadlines when there isn’t someone looking over their shoulder?
    • Has the person delivered results consistently in past positions?
    • Is the person skilled and confident communicating by phone, video and in writing?

    To help further narrow down the applicant pool, software can be used to eliminate those who don’t match the job profile.  Then, skills and personality tests can be used to narrow the pool even further by identifying those who would most likely fit the workplace and opening.  Video interviews must then be used to replace in-person meetings for screening the most viable candidates.

  • Workplace Behavior –Managers must balance the need to keep workers and customers healthy against the company’s need to get work done and turn a profit.  Management must consider what steps can be implemented to best accomplish both goals.
    • Will employees who ordinarily take mass transit to work be offered / encouraged to take other forms of transportation that reduce infection transmission?  Should they be asked/required to wear masks and gloves while riding mass transit?
    • Should employees be required to submit to a body temperature check daily or some type of wellness test before entering the workplace?
    • Should a more generous sick leave policy be put into effect for non-remote workers to ensure that no one “works sick”?  Since any kind of flu or cold is likely to cause alarm, employees who don’t work from home or take sick leave if they have any symptoms that could be associated with Coronavirus, whether it is Novel Coronavirus, some other type of flu or a common cold.  This is as much an issue of perception as it is contagion mitigation.
    • Should 6’ social distancing protocols be implemented as part of the workplace rules so that no employee has to have a confrontation with someone who isn’t following such guidelines?
    • Operations must adjust work processes to accommodate long-term remote work and workers, including the cost of technology equipment, Wi-Fi and other needs.  What began as a temporary measure must be revisited to ensure that it can work long-term (up to a year) or perhaps forever.   How will employees get IT support at critical moments, such as software or hardware failure?
    • Companies that rely heavily on tradeshows and conferences will need to adjust to life without large-setting events.  Can virtual conferences be used in place of in-person events for the time being?  How can salespeople use social media and other tools to connect with prospective customers in a virtual setting?
    • Should client meetings be restricted to video conferences for the duration, cutting back on flights to meet clients or visit regional offices/stores?
  • Vendor Relationships – For companies that produce a product, leaders will need to become more attune to the supply chain and with which countries they are conducting business.  Procurement specialists and buyers for companies must ask their vendors questions such as:
    • Where are all of the components in this product manufactured?
    • How much inventory of the component parts is kept by the manufacturer?
    • Does the manufacturer of component parts have facilities in multiple locations that are far enough apart to ensure that production can continue even in the event of an illness outbreak?
    • While many long to return to work – and a return to normal – that is a place that may not be reached in 2020.  And depending on how well people adjust to the new reality, it may be a place that is replaced permanently by a “new normal.”  That remains to be seen.  In the meantime, it is important to start asking a lot of questions and planning for a workplace (physical and/or virtual) that helps keep a company’s most valuable assets – its employees and customers – safe and well.   Good planning.

    Quote of the Week

    “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” R. Buckminster Fuller

     

    © 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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