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Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have faced a number of unprecedented challenges. It has dramatically launched us forward in what has been the most rapid transformation of the workforce ever seen – creating a new normal that prioritizes the use of technology and innovative thinking. For example, remote work has become a standard for many businesses. As a result, we’ve turned to technology to digitally maintain employer-employee relationships.

Employers have been forced to make a lot of tough calls over the past few months. Those who have adapted their business practices have reaped the rewards, while those who failed to change have been set back and exposed to increased risks.

As we continue to respond to COVID-19 in the workplace, we must also be thinking about recovery and the post-COVID economy. With this, a new approach to benefits and communications will be absolutely critical to both employers and employees. While the timeline is difficult to predict, it is clear that the post-COVID economy will embody this new normal, and employers and employees alike will experience many changes to our habits, the way we work, and how we live our daily lives.

New Challenges for Employers and Employees

Many employers are having difficulty shifting their workforce to remote work, particularly if it is the employees’ first working entirely remotely. Remote work poses many challenges such as availability and accessibility, fostering engagement and communication, recognizing the effects of social isolation, and implementing a way to meet this culture of isolation with trust and support for one another.

In addition, employees are experiencing more stress than before. COVID related stressors can include social isolation, remote learning, technological challenges, disruption to routines, work/life balance, and financial uncertainty. These stressors can have a big impact on mental health, employee performance, and, in turn, the bottom-line of their employer. Pre-COVID statistics estimated that stressors and their effect on employee performance cost U.S. businesses roughly $500 billion annually. Since the outbreak, COVID-19 has taken a serious toll on workers’ mental health, which will only continue to increase the financial impact on employers.

In a report by The Society for Human Resources Management, data showed that financial stress was the leading cause of loss of productivity, followed by unplanned absence, lower job performance, and greater distractions among employees. This stress has certainly increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, giving employers a financial incentive to improve this condition and put in place measures to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.

In order to succeed in this unprecedented time, employers and employees need to have an equal commitment to one another’s success and well-being. While we have been headed in the right direction to an employer-employee relationship based on mutual respect, flexibility, inclusivity, and shared goals, COVID-19 has accelerated this and given us all an opportunity to make significant progress. Health and safety must be placed in front of profits – not only creating greater trust in employer-employee relationships, but bringing a new sense of humanity into the workplace.

How to Adjust to the New Normal

We all have to adjust to the new normal. The right approach is one that creates trust between employers and employees and encourages communication and resourcefulness. The hope is that, moving forward, employers will recognize that this new relationship with employees will become their foundation for success. Here are a few things that employers must consider as we continue to navigate these uncertain times.

1. Learn To Be Agile

We’ve never before had so many people start working from home at the same time. A pre-COVID mentality would likely suggest that this level of remote was entirely infeasible. However, as the events unfolded, it revealed that we are indeed capable of adapting more quickly than we ever thought possible. Employers now understand just how agile they can be and that they must continue to consider this moving forward. How can you apply this agility to other areas of your business? Which traditional processes can be shifted and which ones can’t? Those who are able to find more efficient and cost-effective ways to operate will be the ones to succeed in the new normal.

2. Create Trust and Transparency

As we face uncertainty, it is required that we support one another. In doing so, trust has taken the place of control. Employees are operating with less oversight and learning what works and what doesn’t on their own. While we may have conducted virtual meetings before, now that it has become the norm, we are learning how to communicate in a way that is more transparent. Employers must continue to build adaptive teams, communicate clearly, and prioritize connection and trust.

3. Prioritize Individual Well-Being

COVID-19 has put pressures on employees in ways that we’ve never seen. It has created a mandate to address and expand the way we approach the mental health of the workforce. Individual well-being is being prioritized over profits. Employers that have resisted implementing remote work policies in the past are now allowing employees to work from home. Employees that don’t feel safe coming into work can express this without fear of termination and employers are allowing for flexibility in schedules to accommodate the needs of their employees’ families. Employers must continue to rebalance their priorities, making individual well-being equally as important in their strategic thinking as cost and efficiency.

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