Is Your Company Ready for a Pandemic?

Sitting back in my home office the one thing I am very thankful for is I don’t have to constantly be thinking about the Corona (COVID19) virus and sick co-workers.  When I worked in corporate HR it was always a battle of when to call in sick – was I sick enough to call in sick?  Do I go to work just to sit there and be unproductive because I feel awful?  When coworkers would come in sick; I would immediately beg them to go home and rest.  But I would feel bad myself when calling in sick. I would end up checking email all day in a complete paranoia panic that my coworkers and boss thought I was taking advantage of the system. It was ridiculous the guilt I felt for taking sick time that I was given. 

I think about that now as this increasing fear of a pandemic is upon us.  Are people comfortable taking their sick time?  Are companies comfortable with allowing ALL of their employees to work from home? Is that said company’s technology ready for a work from home workforce?  

Corporate used to battle the exempt vs non-exempt worker debate.  Exempt workers could easily work from home but how do we trust hourly employees at home?!  God forbid companies actually trust the people they hire.  The angst and resentment that this belief caused in the workplace between employees – was it worth it?  Of course not.   

I live in Upstate NY – where snow is plentiful in the winter.  Last winter we had a wallop of a snow storm.  Two feet of snow overnight.  No one was driving.  We were told only essential travel. So, the HR team (4 of us) emailed each other and decided to work from home.  Returning to work the next day, we were told never again by senior leadership. The reasoning:  the accounting department (mostly hourly workers) were livid with us.  So that stopped our ability to have a flexible choice during even a weather event.  Is that fair?  Nope.  Was it fair that the accounting staff were forced to come into the office? Nope.  But instead of re-thinking their trust in employees and safety – they decided no more work from home.  Not the other way around.  

Strike One for me deciding to give my notice. 

I think about this company a lot today during COVID19.  Are they prepared?  Is the VPN strong enough for the workforce to entirely work from home during a possible global pandemic?  Are the applications, used by most of the technical workforce, able to handle a VPN connection?  Have they ever thought about this possibility in any disaster planning?  I doubt it.  I bet the same conversation is happening about non-exempt/exempt workers.   They can’t get out of their own way. 

Are companies ready?  Are service workers and employers who employ them ready?  Are the PTO plans, that mesh vacation and sick time together, ready to flex?  Are managers going to guilt their employees to come in?  I don’t trust America and our work values to be able to handle a pandemic like this.  

I worry that the bottom line will only matter to leadership and not the health and safety of their employees. 

Working from home, when you have never done so, is also extremely challenging at first.  It takes will power, determination, passion and energy to stay focused all day long.  It takes strength not to clean the house, do the laundry or even take a nap.  It is a different type of working – alone – with no one but your dog to talk to.  You have to plan your days or you end up staring at a wall not knowing what to do all day.  It takes tenacity to stick to the plan.   

Are your workers even ready for that? 

Are you prepping them for how to manage their time or how to be productive?  Are you giving them virtual meeting options with video to collaborate with their coworkers?  Are you setting expectations for what a successful work from home looks like to you, as their leader?  Do your employees have internet capabilities at home (don’t assume)?  Or are you just assuming everyone on your team can grab their laptop and get their jobs done at their house?    

You, as their leader, have to prepare for this.  You have to condition your employees for this.  Never assume that everyone would be successful working in their pajamas.   

You as leaders will set the tone in the workplace so your employees do not feel guilt calling in sick or asking to work from home.  The one thing I believe COVID19 will do is impress on corporations the importance of a flexible workforce and options.  We have no choice but to accept it. 

I hope corporations are ready.  I hope they are thinking past the trust in their teams.  I hope they are taking this seriously and preparing for the safety of their workforce and not just worrying about their bottom line. 

Do not feel guilt staying home if you are sick.   

Use the time you are given. 

We all thank you.