Episode 19: Easing into The New Normal
With the recent Memorial Day weekend, many states began relaxing restrictions put in place for the pandemic. Many companies are now easing back into a new normal and starting to reopen as well, or at least beginning to plan for some kind of return. It is not the old normal of February, however, and significant challenges are ahead with regard to employee connectedness and safety.
In this episode of Employee Connectedness, Unitonomy founder Charley Miller discusses potentially challenging areas employers will need to keep in mind that will look very different in the new normal. Joining Charley for this conversation are UofL researcher Dr. Brad Shuck, and OnPlane consultant Martin Low.
On a related culture management note, On Plane Consulting is conducting a short poll to take a quick pulse of how employees are feeling during this COVID-19 crisis. Please take a moment to fill out the 50-second, anonymous survey here (and share the link with others):
Link to the On Plane Survey
Thanks in advance!
Episode 19: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPJ-a8tcdOY
Employee Connectedness is live-streamed Tuesdays and Fridays at 10:15am EST on the Unitonomy YouTube channel. You can join there and ask questions in the chat. You can also find previous episodes posted there and on the Unitonomy blog.
Employee Connectedness: Easing into The New Normal
Charley Miller 0:03
Hi everybody. We’re live with the Unitonomy, talking Employee Connectedness. On this side is Dr. Brad Shuck from the University of Louisville. On this side is Martin Low of On Plane Consulting. So far I’m throwing a perfect game here with my pointing. We’ll see if Martin can also match my deftness with his mute button today. We’re getting better. This is I think Episode 19 if I’m right, we’re right. Almost to 20 and I always say once we get to 20, we want to package them all up and make sure we, we can share them as a full playlist or even maybe as a podcast, but it’s exciting. We’ve been doing this now for a few months talking all things Employee Connectedness in the age of COVID-19 and social distancing.
And that brings us to today’s topic which is everyone’s starting to come back together, dare I say running back together in some situations. We’re in a phase of recovery. That’s awesome in a lot of ways, but there’s plenty of apprehension to go around, especially for employees who are being asked to come back to the office. So I think that’s really what we’re talking about today. To me, there’s like kind of like three areas of recovery. There’s like the area of just office and safety and what do you have to do to make sure people feel secure to come back to the office? There’s an area of recovery the sort of emotional gathering of everybody and what needs to be expressed and talked about, sort of the softer side of the recovery. But then there’s all the way down to the individual level, and that sort of emotional thing that people need to kind of be self-aware about. And I feel like you guys probably have plenty to talk about when it comes to this topic. Dr. Shuck, I’ll start with you real quickly, you work at a big university, what’s the conversation there as they’re thinking about getting people back to the environment?
Dr. Brad Shuck 2:23
Yeah, so it’s multi-layered for sure right? So there is that physical piece, and we’re trying to figure out, you know, how do we have classes in a way that helps keep people well and not sick? How do we have meetings in the department and with the college and things like that. Um, we saw that, I think we’re thinking a lot about the experience of the employee, experience the student experience and then, and then what the limitations and the context are going to be for us physically and how that’s going to look very different. We know we were doing a lot of stuff online. And I think we’re going to continue to do a lot of that stuff online. The way that we had meetings previously I think is changed forever.
Charley Miller 3:19
Interesting. And Martin, with eyes sort of the frontlines of this with organizations On Plane works with. Where’s the mindset right now as people are kicked back to the office?
Martin Low 3:31
You know, I think it’s first and foremost as a business, doing whatever you can do to keep people safe, like Brad said you know, earlier, want to make sure that we’ve got things position so that people don’t get sick. I think at the top of the house, all of these organizations are spending a lot of time on this either for the purposes of business continuity, you know, risk mitigation and management or generally because it’s the right thing to do for their employees. I think that that’s good so there’s a lot of good intent there.
I think there’s a few challenges inside of there. One is, no matter what you do, you can’t completely eliminated someone’s risk of getting COVID just like you can’t completely eliminate someone who was getting the flu or anything else. And I’m not saying it’s the same thing as the flu. But I am saying that there’s only so much that you can do, and still run the business and I think that’s a big challenge. I think the other thing that’s not happening enough is people really trying to understand where each individual person and sort of coming back is from, you know, kind of like from a headspace standpoint. So there’s a number of different issues that even if I put a plexiglass roof and if I do dividers or even if I sanitize it goes well–any of these things that people have been doing–everyone’s in a different place. Some people are like, it’s not a big deal and I’m not worried about fine. Some people are, you know, worried about it because they have a pre-existing condition that either makes them more susceptible or would make this much worse for them to get it. Some people have family members that live with them that may be in that same circumstance where maybe you know an aging parent, like I’m really worried not so much about me, but about the place where I get exposed in that back and what does that mean for my parents. And that’s a big deal.
The other thing that’s not happening enough is people really trying to understand where each individual person…is coming…from a headspace standpoint…everyone’s in a different place. Some people are like, it’s not a big deal and I’m not worried about it, fine. Some people are…worried about it because they have a pre-existing condition that either makes them more susceptible or would make this much worse for them to get it. Some people have family members that live with them…maybe an aging parent, like I’m really worried not so much about me, but about the place where I get exposed and bring that back and what does that mean for my parents. And that’s a big deal.Martin Low, On Plane Consulting
And I think the other thing is, is there’s still a lot of weirdness that wasn’t there when we started. So basic things like, I want to come to work, I’m really anxious to get back to normal. I don’t have a place to put my kids, so I can’t come to work right because daycares aren’t open, schools aren’t open, camps aren’t open, all the things that everybody was going to do with their kids this summer aren’t available right now, so everybody’s in a different place. And I think that’s where this is because if you’re at the top of the house, you’re gonna do a lot of work. You want to make sure that what you’re doing is communicated out effectively. Secondarily, you want to make sure that the things that you put in place address and solve the issues that people have. And to have either you or your management team spend time trying to understand, by the person, where the issues are how you can best help them as to how you navigate this.
Charley Miller 6:13
Okay, some really good advice there. Something that I’ve been wondering is if I’m an employee in a big company and we’re all coming back to the office but something doesn’t sit right with me. Something that’s maybe giving me anxiety because they’re not doing anything and I fear that’s the risk my health, you know. Crowding us on elevators, or an open office, just the same old open office, or we all use one big bathroom, and you know, there’s no lids up the toilets, who knows what particles are coming up when someone flushes…there’s so many things you’re reading about right now that offices need to be thinking about. Well, if my office isn’t doing some of those things, what do I do as an individual? Do I go to the leadership and say this? Do I need to talk to the other colleagues and see if I’m the only one? Like what’s the right way to handle that kind of situation? Yeah. Martin. Martin on that. Yeah, go, go, buddy.
Martin Low 7:14
I think you just have to say something, and, you know, I think you also have to understand that everybody’s gonna try and hopefully do their best. It may not be possible to, you know, take some of these measures or make everybody feel 100%, say. It’s just it’s not, it’s not possible. I mean in life, there is nothing that is 100%. So, but I think you have to raise your hand, I think you have to say something. And I think you have to give your management team the opportunity to respond in some way.
Dr. Brad Shuck 7:49
No, I agree. I think we each are responsible for what we’re comfortable with and knowing what that is and then being empowered to speak up. And so if somebody is going to work and they don’t feel safe, I hope that they would have the kind of relationship with their, their next level leader or the manager that they could say “hey, you know, these kind of these, there’s some things that are making me uncomfortable and, and as a result of that I’m not able to do my best work. Can we can we talk about some of that stuff and is there anything I can do to help?”
Charley Miller 8:28
Just a nice way of asking, right. And I would say the flip side of this is for leadership being proactive to make sure people realize that it’s a safe place to speak up in the first place. To raise your hand, come to us if you have a concern. We are doing our best but we’re not gonna be perfect. We’re all figuring this out for the first time. We need input. I hope leadership has an open ear and it’s encouraging people to come to them with ideas or suggestions of how they can make the place safer.
One thing I’m reading in the news is a lot of companies are saying “you know what we can either go back to cubicles,” which is kind of funny because in the last decade we really evolved the way in most offices to more open office style setting, which saves companies money right. They could actually get more people into those spaces for the open office thing. Well, now a company is looking like “do we spend all this money to make it super safe and get the cubicles back and now people are going to have more space divided between them, which means a lot more overhead for us,” or “hey we’re starting to figure out this work for home thing. This saves us a lot of overhead. Even more so than open office today, maybe we just keep doing this, maybe we kind of lean into that and take whatever was the money we’re saving what are the perks can we offer our employees, like maybe childcare.” I don’t know. Are you guys hearing any of this?
Dr. Brad Shuck 9:47
I’m not hearing anything about it yet but I am I’m also wondering the same thing like, you know, for example, I wonder are we gonna have big giant office buildings in downtown? So like is that space gonna be needed or can we repurpose some of that space for affordable housing or markets or opportune developmental opportunities. I mean who knows, but I wonder what that’s gonna look like. I hadn’t thought about the idea of using that cost savings to reinvest, as, as a way to build your workforce and offer more incentives and perks, but that is a great idea. I love that idea.
Martin Low 10:35
I was gonna say I will tell you that that’s on the top of mind of anybody that’s doing commercial real estate development today. What happens if even 20% of these businesses go, oh wait no, I can save, pick up with a big number by allowing people to work from home. I do think that it was happening already. This is back to that like what trends have been happening, which is already coming out of this. I think employees are gonna expect it. I think management’s excuses “I just don’t know what you’re doing and we got to have people here,” has been you know banished, or been put in a position where the employees are gonna call bs on it, like very quickly if that’s where you want to go. I think that there’s a huge dollar number on that especially I mean, in Louisville you see a little bit of it, but when you get into these like high rent markets, it’s a lot, I mean, it’s substantial. I don’t know if anybody actually has reinvested that now, I think that’d be a great way to do it. But, but I think that they end up pushing that work from home. I think this saves you money on the bottom line. And I also think that companies are going to be looking very hard for dollars to save because whether we like it or not, I think there’s going to be quite a bit of budgetary challenges in terms of revenue not coming back as quickly as people want.
Charley Miller 12:04
So I have friends who work in Manhattan’s in the commercial real estate business. And I know the biggest challenge they have at this point it’s just figuring out elevators. Right. You can’t have queues, 300 people long each morning to get up the elevator people are having to ride one or two at a time. And people aren’t walking 40 flights of stairs to get to their office right. So it’s a real challenge in the big cities. Now, I think some companies that are forward-thinking, that are fairly nimble, realize, this can be a competitive advantage, like you had companies, you know, for a decade now slowly start to advertise “Hey, we have more flexibility to work from home one day a week or something like that” or the company are fully remote first but that was kind of on the fringe over the tech world. Well, with what’s happened, you’re gonna see a lot of companies realize, wow, people really want this, especially the millennials. We need to lead with this message for our new job postings, as we start hiring, that we are flexible in a flipped workplace or remote first company, anything that’s going to help with recruiting specialists, or anyone with kids right, which is a real, real thing as Martin said right.
Dr. Brad Shuck 13:18
We were talking about that with my wife, and she’s an elementary school teacher, and I think right now is an interesting time to be in public education, and to be a teacher but also to have a little one that’s, that’s also in school. And we were thinking about like she teaches kindergarten, what is the fall scenario look like for kindergarteners? How do you have 25 five-year-olds in a class that used to sit on carpets, find their space, and use manipulatives and things like that. And that’s all going to be, you know, very, very different. So we thought, well, how can the economy, begin to re-emerge and start back up, even to get back to 50% of where we were back in February. This school thing is a big piece of that I don’t have any, I don’t have an answer for that. We spend a lot of time kind of thinking about and talking about it, but unless parents are able to consistently know that. Right now, some of the scenarios standard plan out there are some kids going on A days, other kids go on B days, and the kids go on C days. Well if you’re a dual-income family, how do you, how do you navigate having your, your kiddos on for two or three days of the week, and knowing that that schedule could change over time? I don’t know it’s an interesting the way the economy, the way the market is all kind of tied in together with this is. It’s been a really interesting science experiment for sure.
Charley Miller 14:47
I can tell you that as a co-founder of a startup, eight years ago, I didn’t have kids, then, and I did not appreciate at all what it was like for any of my employees who had kids to juggle those two worlds. Now I’m in this startup Unitonomy with kids, I have a whole new perspective. I definitely I realized that those things are not, you know, just two different things which were kind of the way to compartmentalize your life, often as Martin you’ve said. You had worked over here and family life over here. And now thanks to COVID-19 switch those things completely to get you just have life and it’s all one big squishy thing. I think that you’re definitely going to be able to see when it comes to culture as a brand and other things, Martin you speak toward a lot, you’re gonna realize wow that company gets it, that if our employees have kids we really need to understand that situation over and over again, back to almost the recruitment advantage here. You’re going to be able to see on paper which companies work for people with kids versus which ones don’t they just don’t quite get it. They’re expecting you to be in the office and they don’t have any sense of the schools not being in session or childcare being an issue and that’s why people need to be home. So, it’s another thing I would think companies really need to get ahead of which is actually to have a strategy related to our employees with kids and how do we support them.
You’re definitely going to be able to see when it comes to culture as a brand…wow that company gets it, that if our employees have kids, we really need to understand that situation over and over again, back to almost the recruitment advantage here. You’re going to be able to see on paper which companies work for people with kids versus which ones don’t…companies really need…to have a strategy related to our employees with kids and how do we support them.Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy
Martin Low 16:28
How disruptive is it if someone you were depending on all of a sudden gets saddled with a couple kids? I mean think about if you go to this like AB schedule or even worse they open schools, everybody thinks things are normal, then they are closed down again. Right. And you’re right back there so to have some sort of plan for these, these people on your staff like who’s gonna do the work, how do they back up? How are you making sure that you can deal with the capacity concerns that may happen to you as you get going again? It was good business to do that in the first place, in terms of succession, continuity planning, but I think it’s absolutely a must right now to get that sorted so that you can be proactive. You don’t know if that’s gonna happen, but, you know, you need to make sure that you have your hands around it.
And then, in terms of taking care of that employee, you know at some point we come out of this and you’re gonna want that person back in it, so make sure that you’re doing the right things for now so they come back. I think one of the interesting things is coming out of the recovery conversations is because everyone assumes that all people like when they turn this thing back on to they’re just gonna pick up the phone, and just gonna show it back up. I don’t think we will find that to be true. And I think for the people that hadn’t taken care of their employees during this time, they’re gonna find out the people who are great employers who are hiring because they’re having capacity issues with people not being able to work, and they’re going to pull from the people who weren’t doing a great job. So I think that’s going to be interesting to watch play out.
One of the interesting things is coming out of the recovery conversations is…everyone assumes that all people [are] just gonna pick up the phone, and just gonna show it back up. I don’t think we will find that to be true. And I think for the people that hadn’t taken care of their employees during this time, they’re gonna find out the people who are great employers who are hiring because they’re having capacity issues with people not being able to work, they’re going to pull from the people who weren’t doing a great job.Martin Low, On Plane Consulting
Charley Miller 17:58
And something I hope is that we don’t start to see a slew of articles come out in two years time of companies, let’s say, not hiring people with kids and selectively saying oh, that person’s got kids. That’s a liability for us, you know, because of the childcare issues and whatever’s happening is still really healthy, and that’s for the time will tell.
Martin Low 18:22
I don’t think they’re gonna have a choice. Yeah, well I mean think of it, like sit back and think about it right. So the labor market for in-demand people was was really tight before we got into this. Knock even 5% of those people out for childcare issues or other things, now what do you do? Yeah, right. I think it’s more than 5%. I mean we’re, we’re seeing people who are saying “how do I start up?” I mean we’re having even inside our own business, we’re having challenges with that we’ve got people who are like “I want to have some work I want to be there work for you; I don’t have a place to park my kids, I can’t do it.” And I think a lot of people are seeing that when you knock a percentage out of the labor pool, I don’t think they’re going to have a choice.
Charley Miller 20:01
Now, I want to give a quick shout out on the topic. Business First had a really good piece last week by Haley Cawthon about local law offices and what they’re doing in terms of kind of literally office design to kind of get back and make sure things are safe. I would check that out if anyone’s looking for local resources. And there’s generally a lot of good stories out there right now related to the whole remote work thing and how businesses are adapting with different strategies. On a lighter side maybe we end up with this as a different idea of recovery are different aspects of recovery. What are you guys looking forward to right now, as you kind of dip your toes back into the old lifestyle, going out and doing things?
Dr. Brad Shuck 20:10
So I am looking forward to taking my wife out for dinner. Just two of us sit down and go to a restaurant. We were gonna go out to get some food this weekend, and we just realized like our family wasn’t ready to be in a sit down restaurant yet, and we weren’t comfortable again. So we decided to do something. I’m also looking forward to live sports. I’m a huge basketball huge football fan, and I can’t wait to watch sports on TV and attend some live events.
Charley Miller 20:45
So, just to tack on a thought there…that’s a different kind of office to come back to, right. There’s a lot of issues right now getting the baseball players back into the stadium, to make sure things are safe. So baseball has been around long enough that this is not their first pandemic. There’s a lot of photos you can find of the players back in 1917, you know 1916 wearing the masks and playing baseball during the Spanish flu. Alright Martin. What about you?
Martin Low 21:20
I can’t wait for the pools to open up. There’s two things. So one is every year, Memorial Day weekend, we go to Holiday World for a day. It’s always like the Memorial Day weekend and July Fourth weekend, as most people don’t know, everyone’s so busy with family stuff that they tend not to actually go to theme parks. And so those are like the best times to go to, you know, Holiday World, or Six Flags. So every year we do Holiday World, but not this year. I was so excited to do that trip because there’s a lot of fun. And then, I’m excited for the pools open, because that’s a big summer event for the kids and they you know they get ice cream, they swim together and, and my youngest is right at this age where I know that she’ll be swimming this year. And for us, having to wait through four kids before we can actually enjoy sitting at the pool and not worry about someone drowning, like we’re so close.
Charley Miller 22:27
I get that. I remember last year my wife thinking we should join a pool and I was like we have a one year old, it won’t be fun. It won’t be relaxing. One year old, you know, three year olds and four year olds we’re not joining. Yeah give us a few years. I guess I’ll just tack on to your points here, what we’re missing. Like my wife and I’ve talked a few times, I can’t wait to have an adult conversation over food where we’re not just constantly doing the kid thing, definitely looking forward to sports, definitely looking forward to the pool, we’ve had all those conversations. So I think, probably, if we’re all talking about the same things, I’ll give that as kind of everyone’s talking about it. So let’s just hope these things aren’t crowded crazy crowded as we all try to get back out to the world. Alright guys, thanks for taking the time to talk all things recovery. Do it again hopefully Friday, but everyone have a great week. Thank you, Dr. Brad Shuck. Thank you Martin Low, On Plane Consulting.