“Return-to-work” implies a going back to where we were. Is there a “going-back” or are we simply moving toward a whole new reality? In conversation with human resource leaders across the U.S., Boyden's Steve Nilsen explores cross-sector return-to-work strategies.
Nilsen: Is there a “going-back”?
Staines: We are moving to a whole new reality. Whilst COVID-19 has impacted our business, it has also inspired innovation and creative thinking about how we operate. We have learned that many roles that would not have been viewed as possible to work from home (such as call center roles) can be productive and collaborative without being in the same office. This learning will be incorporated into our future plans opening up a new way to engage and work.
Nilsen: What are the biggest changes you have implemented to continue operating? In your return-to-work plan, what will remain as a COVID-19 legacy?
Staines: We’ve shown that we can be productive and collaborative with a remote workforce and where that suits our previously office-based associates, we want to continue offering that flexibility in whether they want to work in the office, at home or a hybrid of the two. Our Field Associates have always worked remotely, but have had a hands-on, in-person type of role. Through this experience, we have adopted remote processes that leverage new technology and new ways of engaging panelists which will complement our in-person activities into the future. In all situations, we have adopted additional safety standards that prioritize the health and well-being of our associates and the communities in which we work.
Nilsen: What metrics are you tracking to help guide your organization’s return-to-work? Are you implementing new related internal metrics?
Staines: We track infection rates in all communities in which we work in offices or in-field, watching for at least a 20% decrease in two successive weeks before we consider returning. We will continue to monitor and take appropriate action if rates spike again. We also collect ongoing associate sentiment regarding their concerns, their willingness and ability to return, considering many are caring for children not in school, or family who are at high risk. When we do return, it will be in a phased approach, ensuring sufficient inventories of PPE.
Nilsen: In what new ways are you using technology in your return-to-work strategy?
Staines: We have relied more heavily on our existing Google Suite of tools to ensure face-to-face (virtual) engagement amongst associates and the collaboration needed to run our business. We have also accelerated technology deployments that enable former in-person work to function remotely to continue delivering on client commitments.
Nilsen: What do you anticipate will be the greatest obstacle in the return-to-work phase?
Staines: Managing second spikes or outbreaks will require continued monitoring and being ready to quickly make decisions, for example, if we need to return to WFH.
Nilsen: What is your greatest learning from this so far, and what advice would you offer as we continue to navigate these unchartered waters?
Staines: The situation has pushed creativity to new levels and we have introduced new ways of doing things to maintain business continuity. We pulled together a Project Management Office comprising key functions (client service, operations, legal, security, HR, IT, communications, facilities etc) to coordinate responses. The PMO had daily stand-ups to quickly get on top of issues and solution whilst ensuring we are consistent and keep a safety-first approach to all decisions.