3 months in, how are employers faring?

It’s been about three months since widespread shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. How—and what—are employers doing?

That was the focus of a new survey from The Conference Board, which polled about 150 HR executives primarily at large U.S. companies. Among the survey findings, remote work—among the biggest shifts of the pandemic—has largely been successful; more than one-third of companies with remote workers before the pandemic report an increase in employee productivity since the crisis. More than three-quarters expect more employees to work remotely, at least a few days a week, even up to a year after the pandemic subsides.

While some employers are shifting to permanent remote work, Robin Erickson, PhD, a report co-author and principal researcher at The Conference Board, notes that not all employees will want to work remotely—so some turnover is possible at organizations that make that shift.

Those that do expect increased remote work in the coming months need to invest in IT infrastructures and equipment to support that model, she notes, as well as create definitive policies that include expectations and details like payment for printers or WiFi.

“The tenor of work itself will change,” she adds, “as managers and employees have to develop new skills of building virtual relationships to effectively accomplish projects and build camaraderie.” HR tasks will also have to adapt to new virtual modes—onboarding, recruiting, learning and development, performance management.

“The tenor of work itself will change”

In that vein, she says, many employers are moving out of crisis mode—and assessing performance and productivity from a new lens.

“Three months into the pandemic, we’re beginning to see the effects of working as though there’s a 24/7 crisis and realizing that many aspects of our lives that we’ve taken for granted may change—and that any actions taken could impact productivity,” Erickson says.

Many employees are experiencing burnout—with no delineation between work and home and increased pressure from the shutdowns—and may be overwhelmed by balancing full-time work and caregiving, which could prompt some, particularly women, to exit the workforce.

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Others are concerned about job security, Erickson notes, and “are trying to remain indispensable by never saying ‘no’ and working longer hours—but this is not feasible long term.”

Companies should avoid taking advantage of the “crisis goodwill” of employees by not rewarding them, or instead rewarding executives.

And organizations that do have to make workforce reductions must take care to consider reverberating brand consequences, she says.

“Companies that do not treat their employees well during a crisis will face lowered employee engagement, which in turn will lead to increased voluntary turnover once employees can find other options,” Erickson says. “In addition, they won’t be able to attract the best candidates for future hiring because they’ll acquire a reputation for not caring about their employees.”

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