Paul Raggio | Time for Employees to Return to Work?

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“For the most part, masks are off, and I’m ready to bring back our team to the office! Let’s get back to normal. I miss the face-to-face dialogues, the watercooler chatter, the ease of giving guidance in person, the team-building and team-ship that occurs when we’re all together. I’m exhausted trying to lead them virtually. I’m uncertain whether our productivity suffered, but I sense it has. I don’t trust every employee is giving eight hours’ worth of work. It’s so much harder for my management team and me to train or troubleshoot issues virtually. They ought to be grateful we kept them employed during the pandemic, and I can’t understand why they resist returning to work.” 

Lisa and I have heard this refrain several times over the past month. First, recognize we’re in another transition period. Even though mask wear may not be necessary, the virus is still present, and Cal/OSHA continues to proliferate workforce rules related to the pandemic. \ 

Second, the Centers for Disease Control is anticipating a fall surge of the virus as a normal progression. New COVID variants are making their way to our country’s shores, and there is still debate about requiring booster doses of the vaccine.  

Third, and even more troubling, about 30% of our population is opposed to getting vaccinated, which will impact society at large, and more narrowly, how business proceeds.  

Finally, fourth, we’re also seeing the economy and consumer demand skyrocketing. However, many supplies are lagging because of paused production lines caused by the pandemic. It will take several months for our economy to find equilibrium, and until then, companies will continue to suffer the effects.  

So, don’t anticipate a new novel business environment until spring or summer of 2022. By then, we’ll have a much better and predictable idea of the course of the virus and the impact of the actions or inactions taken by society. So, get comfortable, being uncomfortable with the uncertainty of the work environment. 

Many CEOs, leadership teams and business owners are contemplating how to reengage the workforce in the business and the subsequent impact on sales. The way you did business before the pandemic is ever gone. The way you will do business one year from now is not how you will do business for the next 12 months. Your ability to create opportunities by adapting, improvising and overcoming today’s challenges will be what positions your company for explosive growth very soon. Bank on it! 

The pandemic induced a workforce physical location flexibility that’s been on the periphery for years. Likely you will develop a hybrid model for workforce engagement that will adopt the best practices before and during the pandemic. Doing so means reviewing, modifying, creating and practicing new workforce rules, systems, processes, procedures for the post-pandemic transition period and the novel business environment expected to arrive next spring.  

Many of you may resist changing. You have a strong desire to return to the old way of business because that’s what you’re familiar with, and you’re exhausted with how you’ve been operating the last 14 months. However, work-from-home and virtual meetings are here to stay in some form or fashion. 

Geographic proximity to the company location is no longer a barrier to employment if employees can perform virtually in the workflow process. As a result, in-office hours and geographic distance from the workplace have lost some relevance to productivity and sales. Many businesses adapted to the pandemic exceedingly well and discovered that workforce productivity didn’t drop when their employees chose the best environment to work from other than the office; quite the contrary, productivity, and communication improved for those companies that established common virtual standards. 

So, whatever changes you’re contemplating by bringing the workforce back to full engagement in your business operations, ensure you’re compliant with Cal/OSHA and stay in touch with your labor law attorney. Then, balance what’s best for the company, employee and customer, adopt a hybrid approach that maximizes your company productivity until we enter the novel business environment forecasted for next spring. During this transition period, remain situationally aware, continue your detailed planning, and position your business for long-term, sustainable growth. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it!    

Retired Col. Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. Paul and Lisa mentor and coach business owners on leadership and management principles in achieving and sustaining their business growth and profitability goals. He can be reached at [email protected]. 

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