Let the inevitable coming of spring refresh and reinvigorate us from the winter of COVID-19 and help us retain the lessons learned to prevent the next pandemic.
However, the New Normal isn’t here yet, this is still a no man’s land with a long horizon that’s changing the way we work.
When will the pandemic emergency be over, and the New Normal begin? Not soon but many more months.
The New Normal won’t begin until 80-90% of the US have been vaccinated for COVID-19, and that’s not going to start until that vaccine has been fast-tracked and readily available to all, which will likely be 12 months more of no man’s land. And economic survival will wallow through the long, slow-tail of recovery estimated at 18 months.
But spring is inevitable, and the corner will be turned: faith in this will help.
So, for private businesses here are some ideas about how work in the New Normal might look.
#1. “Cleaning for Health” will Formally Replace “Cleaning”
The cleaning industry will finally get the respect it deserves when “cleaning for health” formally replaces “cleaning” in the public’s consciousness.
This move has been a long-term strategy of leading cleaning contractors and industry associations. It was only the majority of customers that didn’t see it that way. Until now, when COVID-19 has changed that perception for the better.
With “cleaning for health,” disinfection touchpoint cleaning becomes the norm in work specifications.
This has raised cleaning costs during the current pandemic, much like security officer spend spiked immediately after 9/11 then slowly dropped months after the fear subsided.
The net change stayed slightly higher than pre-9/11 levels*. This is a likely scenario for disinfectant cleaning following the COVID-19 pandemic.Disinfectant cleaning (frequency and spend) will likely fall 12-18 months after the worst is realized and vaccinations are available to all. Click To Tweet
For some cost-sensitive customers, disinfection frequencies will become less frequent as the pandemic recedes: while daily now, will they drop to monthly or even quarterly later? Those customers will say it’s to avoid overworking a problem that’s no longer an emergency — as their way of bringing down cleaning costs to pre-COVID-19 times.
They will also reduce other non-daily, periodic cleaning tasks (cleaning blinds, vacuuming vents, etc.) they deem not as impactful to workplace health — again to reduce costs.
It remains to be seen if their employees find these cleaning reductions reassuring for the health of their workplace.
Savvy cleaning customers will keep their full cleaning specifications, accepting frequent disinfection of high touchpoints as part of their healthy and safe workplace. For their New Normal, employee retention, satisfaction, and workplace experience continue to be key drivers of their workplace investments.
#2. Stringent Health Protocols @ Start of Service Shifts
Service workers have to be at work to work – and employers only want healthy, non-contagious workers at work.
Employers, and their contractors, will begin more stringent health protocols of their service staff before they start each shift.
Protocols could be as simple as answering questions by their supervisors (anyone has Anosmia?), and/or have their temperatures taken non-invasively via infrared thermometers, or fever detection using computer vision over CCTV cameras.
With greater health screening of service workers at the start of shifts, there will be some minor staffing shortfalls (the more scrutiny, the more illness will be found).
This means service employers will have to prepare for those unplanned shortages, and it won’t be easy in historically tight labor markets. But still, it’s a “have to,” so here goes:
- More cross-training of employees with proportionately scaled wages for higher competencies
- Hiring more part-time employees @ higher wages as a pool of flex workers to fill-in ad hoc
The bottom line is if service workers are ill and work when contagious, that information will be found out eventually. And woe is the employer who helped start the next pandemic.
For stringent health protocols to work, employer policies for paid sick leave, call-in/off protocols must be in place, equitable, and universally understood by workers per company.
#3. Social Distancing 2.0 — the Indoor, Retail Version
Retail B2C businesses will bounce back; we all want to eat, drink, shop, and be merry.
And social distancing will remain but in a revised version for restaurants, bars, stores, retail banks, etc.
Those retail spaces will look slightly different from what they did before, such as:
- Fewer tables, & chairs to maintain distance between individuals
- Outlined floor spots & seat placements designating where customers should stand or sit
This will reduce the number of people that can use the space at one time during meals or store hours.
As a result of more unused space from fewer tables and chairs, will businesses:
- Raise prices to keep revenues up from fewer customers?
- Reduce the number of service staff during what was once peak times?
- Extend open hours to maintain lower occupancy & prevent community spread?
- Redistribute staff schedules over the earlier/later periods of extended open hours?
#4. Social Distancing 2.0 — the Large Employer, Office Version
Employers with large office areas and on-site cafeterias will change the way they think about space.
Like indoor retail, social distancing in large employer cafeterias will have fewer tables and chairs, along with outlined floor spots with seat placements to limit occupancy and increase social distance.
Enlarged Configurable Office Spaces
Large employers will try to reconfigure movable-partitioned offices into larger individual spaces, seeking to decrease office density, creating more space per occupant above a once-desirable, rabbit-hutch size.
Limited Numbers in Conference Rooms
Conference rooms will have occupancy limits with better signage, and online conference room scheduling will be hard wired to those numbers. Security officer patrols may be added to check conference rooms so that occupancy limits are followed.
Extended Open Hours to Maintain Lower Occupancy
Naturally, work at home will increase but normal office work hours will be extended. This will create wider windows for fewer workers to be on-site at the same time. Access control applications may even limit the number of workers allowed inside at the same time who work in the same building area.
This will increase the energy costs of lighting and cleaning as buildings will be “on longer.”
#5. Workforce at Large
Maybe some, or all of these new federal and/or state regulations will establish a national foundation for employees and employers.
As the US Treasury Secretary is requesting $2 trillion for Congress to approve, why not tackle these issues of the workforce at large? Needed and necessary legislation includes:
- Paid sick days for all workers, in all industries, especially low-wage, hourly-paid service workers
- Family paid leave including childcare & elder care
- Extended state unemployment benefits during pandemic emergencies
- Mandatory public health testing of individuals with paid time off for testing & childcare during school closures
- Workplace hiring profiles/bonuses/higher wages for candidates with full, public health vaccinations
Large, profitable private companies and public agencies already have these to varying degrees. And during this pandemic, other big corporations and small businesses will receive financial support as the US Congress slugs out legislative details.
However, it’s the rest of the US workforce that needs this support – as shown now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
#6. Increased Working from Home but Less than 100% of the Time
This was a no-brainer in that working from home (for those who can) has long had many benefits. The New Normal will work more this way, as workers get comfortable with, and enjoy a greater reliance on:
- Video conferencing (Zoom, Skype, etc.)
- Collaborative websites (think Slack, Basecamp, etc.)
- Online work practices (muting, bio breaks, turning off video cams, etc.)
- Home workspaces (desks, connectivity speeds & access, etc.)
- Timing & coordinating with home occupants (family, pets, work-life balance, etc.)
However, there will remain the need and desire to get together in-person. Just not as often as once practiced. Face-to-face will be reduced to 1-2 times per week, or even less frequently, to 1-time per month, or quarter.
This change will impact office space needs, making WeWork look a lot smarter. It will also benefit employers with large office spaces who changed to more flexible layouts, like hoteling, single worker spaces, and group workspaces.
The way we work is changing, has changed, will not be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic is finally cleared.While hindsight is perfect, foresight is perfectly right, even when half-wrong. Click To Tweet
* Author’s anecdotal evidence
This article first published on LinkedIn.