Gil Carrara discusses the modifications businesses must consider as the "new normal" in the post pandemic workplace

By Gilbert J. Carrara, MD
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A great deal has been written recently about how companies will come back to “normal” after COVID-19. However, a great number of articles have kept discussions at a very high level, talking about things like commuting and meetings. I would like to touch on some under-discussed challenges.

First, I think it is fair to say that remote work is here to stay. The naysayers have been proven wrong. Businesses may look different, but for the most part, companies have been able to continue to do business while their teams work from home. What is not discussed as much is the home office itself. I have heard many people say “home office” in conversation, as if everyone has a room in their home that is designated as an office with high-speed internet access, a full desk, and a suitable ergonomic chair. That is just not the case. I have spoken with many people that are working on dining room tables or foldable card tables with hard, uncomfortable chairs and poorly positioned keyboards.

As we come back, businesses will need to think about their employees and where they are working as an extension of their company. After all, a great amount of time and money is used to attract and hire people; therefore companies need to treat them well and look after their growth. This includes their working conditions.

Next, companies need to think about the costs associated with keeping their employees working from home. Who pays for the computer, monitor, printer, headset and high-speed internet, to name a few work-related necessities? Companies also need to think about how they will collect these assets when someone quits or is fired. In addition, companies need to cover the cost of keeping their business information secure using state-of-the-art security encryption.

Companies have been realizing that many employees who have reduced their work hours or left their jobs temporarily during COVID are mothers with young children. In the U.S., mothers are doing this at a rate 4 to 5 times higher than fathers. In a recent article, sociologist Caitlyn Collins noted that American mothers are also 1.5 times more likely than fathers to spend an extra three or more hours a day on housework and childcare – equivalent to 20 hours a week.

It’s no coincidence that the sectors to suffer the highest rates of unemployment in 2020 and 2021 include hospitality, food services and retail, which have high rates of female employees.

As schools open back up and people begin to go back to their offices, we need to think about whether women will be at the same level as their peers who did not leave. Will they still be considered equally for advancement? In addition to matters of equity, there are mental health challenges that will persist for a few years. Companies will need to implement personal well-being and enrichment programs.

In the end, human resource executives will continue to play a central role in finding flexible ways to help their employees and transform their companies during a crisis like COVID-19. They will need to discuss and create innovative ways to return to work, and speed up the return to normalcy through a human-centric approach.

 

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