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COVID-19 And The Workplace – Adjusting To Working Remotely

(3-5 minute read)


It’s easy to lead when all the arrows are pointed up. Or at least it seemed like it was in hindsight, even with the daily stresses that come along with being in a leadership position. We’re now in uncharted territory for most organizations that were not as impacted by prior times of crisis: dotcom bust, 9/11, housing meltdown/great recession, and nobody has seen a situation like COVID-19 which has swept across the entire economy and world, in months, weeks, and even days.

Top of mind is communications. Unless you are already a “remote worker” organization, having most of your crew spread to the four winds is probably not in your wheelhouse. Be it daily check-in calls, GoTo/Zoom/Skype/Google Meetings, virtual happy hours, virtual lunch, or similar, be sure to stay in touch and not let folks feel like they’ve been kicked off the island. The goals is not to “micromanage” from afar, but to stay in touch and keep a finger on the pulse of your team, remove roadblocks to productivity, keep them in touch with the big picture, be it sales, client satisfaction, deadlines, metrics or similar.

This also includes them as a person, their family, etc. We often take for granted the casual conversations we have at work (how was your weekend, what are you doing tonight, how was Janie’s ballgame?), but it is all part of the cultural/relationship web we all have that helps tie the workplace together. With many of these casual communication paths blocked right now, our new business communications paths – conference calls, video meetings, etc. are often “all business”, so be sure to interject some casual conversation as well. What new (or maybe old) hobbies are your folks enjoying, any new binge-worthy series, new walking routes (suddenly everyone wants to go for walks)? Add it to your agenda.

For all organizations, but especially for essential businesses that are still operating “in person”, such as manufacturing, medical & food services, an additional layer of stress exists: employees fear of coming into work.

Everyone is going through a tough time right now, and it is challenging to create a sense of safety in the workplace while working to keep productivity up. Everyone is tense, and many folks thought processes are at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid right now – they are truly in survival, fight/flight mode. We know in these situations people do not make the reasoned decisions. Panic buying TP barely scrapes the surface of what is going on in some people’s heads right now. This is an issue at every organization that is operating right now, but exponentially higher for staff operating on site.

A best practice is to address daily about what is being done to keep the workplace, and them, safe, and ask for any additional suggestions or ideas. This message needs to be repeated over & over. Employees have a lot of outside incentive right now not work, so we have to do everything appropriate we can to offset that. A volunteer cleaning crew will likely be the “safest” in the group assuming they will using gloves & be around disinfectant throughout the day, maybe ask for volunteers to take care of this work. Reiterate distancing guidelines, etc. This needs to be done daily as a “safety meeting”. Think of it as a campaign stump speech, which is kind of is – a campaign to stay operating. Rally the troops; build bridges, don’t burn them, etc.

In this high-stress environment, it is especially important for employees to be able to voice their concerns and to do so without fear of retaliation. Front-line managers & supervisors are often not prepared for this. If there is an employee issue of any kind right now, they will often escalate quickly. If so:

  • Try to address it, and if it cannot be resolved calmly at the time, always better to come back to the discussion when you can; if more extreme have the individual go home and try to work it out the next day and let cooler heads prevail – Maslow may be talking, not your employee.
  • Remember, a lot of employee behavior right now is not coming from a rational place. We don’t want our responses coming from that same place.
  • While in many crisis situations we need to speed up decision making and become more “top-down”, when making individual people decisions we may need to actually slow down our reaction time and seek counsel.
  • Talk with your management team, HR or an outside advisor.
  • There needs to be a lot of deep breaths taken right now.


Now is the time when leaders step up and others screw up. Everyone is being tested right now.

Remember, every organization that is operating right now is struggling with these issues. The organizations that come out the other side of this ready to make things happen are going to be flexible, understanding, and allow a bit of grace to permeate their actions and decisions. We will come out the other side, and how we manage now will greatly influence your teams’ motivation and commitment to your organization and their ability to adjust to a “New Normal”.

To that point, a recent Gallup poll shows that 59% of employees who are working from home would prefer to keep doing so after restrictions are lifted. Are you ready for this? Some organizations had already embraced flex scheduling, remote work and similar arrangements, but the majority have not. Now, having been forced to “make it work”, many will find it does work and this will change the workplace expectations as we move forward.

The balance (41%), are looking forward to getting back to work, seeing their co-workers and not having to pay for their own coffee.

As we re-enter the workplace, facemasks will become dejour (and highly personalized), social distance will still be a thing, and hand sanitizer will need to be plentiful. The CDC and OSHA have guidelines for workplace preparedness, so start putting your plans in place while remembering that many individuals will continue to have child-care, family health issues, or similar concerns at, and well past, the time that any Stay-at-Home order is lifted.

New benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) will be utilized. Emergency rules for unemployment may, or may not, be extended. You will need to be ready.

Let your friends at Axios HR know how we can help.



April 15, 2020


Axios HR


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