News & Insights

General BusinessJanuary 26, 2021by Stanton LawLessons from 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, requiring us to adjust our work habits, be more involved with our children’s education, reduce traveling, learn to cope with uncertainty, and more. Many Americans were hit hard with layoffs, fear of exposure to the virus, and insecurity about the future.

Since March 2020, businesses have scrambled to abide by government mandates and change the traditional office environment to either remote work or other arrangements conducive to increased safety measures. Other businesses deemed essential balanced the need to address employee health and safety while ensuring the public received necessary services.

Almost a year later, people are still struggling with how to work remotely, how to use online platforms, how to pay the bills, how to stay healthy and safe, etc. Additionally, it is not forgotten that 2020 has brought added challenges to employers who have to juggle politics, race, and other social issues in the workplace.

A New Way of Life

The pandemic and calls for social change forced employers to solve employment issues that were unique and unprecedented. Questions arose around the best ways to successfully shift to remote work, support employees with kids or family members in their households, and handle employees who contract COVID-19, as well as whether to mandate vaccinations. The shift to remote work required employers to identify ways to maintain strong connections among employees, invest in technologies to enable work from home, and re-invent the workflow while maintaining productivity. How adaptable and resilient was your organization? What measures have you put in place to address the next disaster?

Employees who had access to childcare, technology, and support from their employers experienced time saved and increased job satisfaction because they could focus on more things that mattered to them. Without the commute, they could have a longer night’s sleep, increased physical and outdoor activities, and more family time; and they could embark on unrealized goals and hobbies that previously fell to the wayside. Without dismissing the hardships imposed in other regards, many found the slower and less-obligated pace to be enjoyable, and they have used the pandemic to revisit the frenetic schedules to which they had subjected themselves in “normal times.” Not everything has sucked.

Still, many other businesses struggled to keep doors open, provide protective equipment for working employees, and find inventive ways to keep customers safe and coming through the door. Many employees were forced to learn new technology, step in as teachers while balancing work responsibilities, find new ways to manage physical and mental health, and so much more. It has been a new normal for all of us, and it requires both employers and employees to adapt and be flexible. We’re adaptable, but tired.

A New Way of Approaching Workplace Culture

Pre-2020, work and home life were ostensibly separate, but the line became blurred with the shift to remote work, school closures, and an increase in the number of social issues reported in the news. There has been a need to determine whether the workplace culture accommodates the employees’ needs in different political, racial, and social spheres. Employers are left to decide whether, and if so how, to wade into what used to be prohibitively personal spheres of their employees’ lives. They had to evaluate the risk of not acting and being perceived as aloof and uncaring against opening a potentially unwelcome dialog and creating employment law liability.

There is no simple solution as to whether businesses should make solidarity or diversity statements or ban certain merchandise in the workplace. There’s no easy way to ask a mom or dad how they’re handling childcare issues. Perhaps employers are best served by simply recognizing that the way the company treats these issues must be consistent with the culture of the business and, of course, the law. 2020 likely revealed the strength of your – and your organization’s – culture and character. How do you think you fared?

Here are a few takeaways from this year:

1. By providing the necessary equipment and support, certain industries can allow their employees to work remotely, saving the employees time from commuting and the business money spent on maintaining the office space.
2. Management styles matter, and those that can adapt to change are more successful.
3. Flexibility and communication are essential for healthy relationships, whether at home or work, or both at the same time. Candor, goodwill, and clear expectations make things better, pandemic or not.
4. Employers can simultaneously acknowledge employee concerns, stress the importance of focused attention on the work, address behavior that distracts from the goals of the business, and avoid discriminatory comments and actions.
5. Keep the workplace as safe and low stress as possible for all employees and guests by following CDC guidelines and enforcing safety measures such as hand-washing.