A COVID-19 WFH (Retro-Pro)Spective

Employers enacted BCP with HR and IT moving PDQ from WAO to WFH for COVID-19 … SMH.

The world is filled with acronyms but the most important one right now, for every employer, is WFH (work from home). Because of shelter-in-place restrictions to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19, what used to be optional and selective quickly became mandatory and universal. Some employers already used that business model for many so expanding it to most was doable. Some employers had never done it for any so moving to most was challenging. Some employers did not have WFH as an option so they had to be creative while continuing to WAO. While the risk management industry has talked about Black Swan events for decades, this BS still wreaked havoc on how to conduct business seemingly overnight.

In the midst of this upheaval, individual employees were dealing with their own personal circumstances related to COVID-19, from those affected by the decisions to those making the decisions (yes, every single person). Family, friends, finances, food, football … Everything that people took for granted were suddenly no longer status quo. All of society – actually, the entire planet – was fixated on fear and uncertainty, not just about the present but the future. Because of that, sensitivity needed to accompany potentially harsh business decisions.

This Employee Benefit News article says it well:  “Transparency has to get better, and it’s not just transparency of the numbers and the strategy, but transparency about our humanness … I would poll them, I would survey them, I would call them directly and just listen to them for a half hour.”

Preferred Medical did just that and the results were enlightening. The first anonymous survey of employees was conducted on April 8, three weeks after WFH was initiated in anticipation of Kentucky’s shelter-in-place effective March 23. The second survey was conducted on May 4, an additional four weeks into what had settled into a routine. Following are the highlights:

  • 85 percent of hourly workers had never WFH and a large percentage were not excited about the prospect
  • Only 19 percent of respondents were home alone while the rest had pets, children, a significant other, roommate, or parents as their “co-workers”
  • In regards to their biggest challenge with WFH, 29 percent said it was the lack of in-person communication and 25 percent said it was difficult to unplug at the end of the business day – in the second survey both of those numbers decreased slightly to 19 percent while “juggling my work and my children” increased from six percent to 16 percent
  • Almost 50 percent said they had less distractions (29 percent) or increased productivity (16 percent) while 29 percent said the lack of commute increased their quality of life
  • In the first survey, 48 percent said they wanted to WFH long-term while 45 percent wanted a part-time arrangement – in the second survey it was 54 percent and 35 percent respectively
  • In the second survey, only 19 percent felt that in-person access to teammates and leaders was “very important” or “important”

For a group that suddenly transitioned from WAO to WFH during a worldwide pandemic and were not necessarily happy about it, those last two statistics are telling. Not just for the present but for the future. WFH grew on them over time. Yes, there were adjustments, but this “new normal” was a net positive for most. Over-communication (54 percent had at least five daily interactions with their manager) was a key but individualized adaptability was paramount. In other words, WFH is here to stay and probably to a larger degree than anyone would have predicted in mid-March.

The ripple effects from business decisions based on WFH will be large and lasting. Are you prepared for what’s next?