As disruptive and inconsistent as the year 2020 has been for everyone’s schedules, things are about to get even more complicated. As employers, we are still navigating a world of COVID-19 disruptions. While the dust might be settling on some of those new routines, now we’re into a new school year and flu season is almost upon us. All three factors are starting to collide in offices and create new challenges, whether employees are working in person or remote.
As students re-enter school life for the first time since spring break, many employers find themselves with offices that include employees whose children attend different districts and have different schedules. Some schools are fully virtual whereas others have split days in school and at home. Still other schools may be fully back to in-person classes. Employees may find themselves juggling the role of worker and educator at the same time. Even without the added complication of COVID, flu season disrupts schedules on its own. Last flu season, some schools in Oklahoma City had to shut down because there were more children and staff absent then in class. In short, all these factors can add up to chaos.
As employers, our challenge is to figure out how to navigate this chaos and provide consistency in how we handle our employees’ changing needs and situations. This is a time when we need to support employees and bring stability to an important aspect of their lives, even when many other parts of life are in flux. How will we step back and retool our policies to add the flexibility employees need while still maintaining consistency in dealing with each employee? We need consistency in the process, even if the situation and specific adjustments for each employee look very different in the end.
Consistency in assessing the situation
Before an issue arises, employees should know how to reach out to discuss their situation and how requests will be handled. They need to know what the process looks like to discuss their specific situation and find a customized solution. As employers, we need to create the channels of communication and share them employees so they can let us know their needs. The immediate situation for many includes school schedules, and the reality is that these schedules are likely to change, sometimes at a moment’s notice. Already we’ve seen schools attempt to reopen, only to close a day later when cases were found. This inconsistency and change will get worse before it gets better. Make sure your employees know the process for requesting flexibility in their hours or responsibilities.
Consistency through communication
The second area where we can create consistency is through communication. As various schedules and situations change, it is important that the entire team knows what’s happening and what’s expected of them and their teammates. How are project assignments being handled? What’s the expectation for how often a remote employee checks in with their supervisor? When are regular Zoom calls happening to keep the team connected and on the same page?
As customized solutions are put in place for each employee, be sure to communicate any changes in work hours or responsibilities so it doesn’t impact workflow overall. This could also include reviewing individual responsibilities to see if certain projects could be delayed or if duties could be shared among teammates.
As a part of consistent communication, be proactive in creating and communicating policies before emergency situations arise. Clearly set expectations surrounding what employees should do if they’ve been exposed or have symptoms of COVID or the flu to prevent potential spread within your workplace. Be sure employees feel secure knowing that following these expectations will not result in losing their job.
In a time of great chaos in our society, take the time to create consistency in your workplace. Providing a way for employees to communicate and address their changing situations will relieve some of their stress and create a better workplace environment for all. Although the accommodations made for each employee may look inconsistent, a consistent method of addressing needs and communication will provide stability within your business.