The coronavirus pandemic will end, but it won't be overnight. It will take a concerted and sustained effort from federal, state, and local governments, as well as its citizens to ensure that people are and feel safe and more at ease. This could take months. But it will end.
During this time, your company will begin to get back to business and slowly work its way back to normal. But what is normal? When it comes to your employees, pre-COVID-19 normal won't apply. Based on what employers and employees have experienced during the pandemic, a new way of work will be the new normal. How will that affect your business? I predict five significant ways.
There will be an opportunity to hire new employees
It was only a short time ago that our number one problem was finding enough, let alone qualified employees to work in our companies, but the coronavirus sparked a tidal wave of unemployment. This massive disruption in the workforce could take years to right itself.
All of this brings opportunity for employers and employees. Set free from past jobs that either changed or no longer exist, I foresee a significant amount of qualified talent emerging. We all know that people are our most valuable assets. You may be looking for bargains in the stock market, but these are the wins that will last you longer and provide an even bigger return on investment.
More people will work from home
Just about all my clients who resisted remote working have now realized they were wrong. I know this because I asked and they admitted they had preconceived notions about the limits of productivity and technology and had not given it a chance. They agreed that the technology works well. They said most of their people have been just as productive working from home as they were in the office. What will happen is a re-visiting of work-from-home and remote-working policies.
There will, of course, need to be a balance between being out of the office and having human contact in the office. I predict there will be a re-investment in cloud-based applications, security and training. There will be a shift in how people communicate. But, as a result, business owners who implement new work-from-home policies will be able to attract talented people from all over the world who have been asking for this benefit for years.
Workplace safety will be turned upside down
When all of this is behind us –and probably before –expect to start hearing a lot more from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, safety will no longer just be about not losing an arm or slipping on a wet floor. It will be about social distancing, proper hygiene, the gathering of crowds, and the overall health and hygiene of employees. Offices will likely have new procedures and guidelines about cleanliness. Certain supplies –sanitizers and wipes –may be required materials. Certain health-focused procedures likely will need to be in place, with potential fines for those employers who don't comply.
Government mandated paid sick leave
Since 1993, employers with more than 50 workers were required to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for their employees who needed time off for qualified family and medical reasons to take care of themselves or their families. The coronavirus pandemic expanded that leave. Emergency legislation has been passed, which expires at year end, that requires most employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide up to two weeks of paid sick and/or additional paid family leave for certain qualifying COVID 19-related reasons.
Many states and local governments have already expanded existing laws and passed new laws requiring employers to provide paid time off. I predict this experience will significantly push the movement forward, and employers –regardless of size – if they have not already, could face new, permanent federal, state, and local laws requiring mandatory paid sick and family leave. The big question is whether or not the governments will help subsidize this potentially significant additional cost.
Changes to healthcare plans
Health insurance plans will need to look at how they cover diagnostic testing and treatment, not only for COVID-19 but for other similar viruses. The world has now learned of the economic and physical consequences caused by a pandemic, and healthcare and insurance companies will be required to respond. While debate about America's healthcare system will continue, there's no question that coverages will need to change to cover these additional benefits. Those changes could result in higher health insurance premiums and perhaps more requirements imposed on an employer to maintain a healthy workspace and allow for employees to leave the office for testing or treatment.
Independent contractors will demand more security
Since the last Great Recession, countless millions of entrepreneurs left their jobs and began working for themselves. They call themselves freelancers, independent contractors, proprietors, or simply just 1099s – after the tax forms they're required to receive to verify their income.
Over the past few years, many of these 1099 workers have argued for more benefits and security from the corporations that hire them. The corporations have fought back, saying that these workers are not employees under the applicable laws, but run their own businesses.
Nationally, and not including guidance for the treatment of these workers provided by the IRS, no legislation has been passed to protect these workers. Given the lack of safety net they have, which this pandemic has revealed all too well, I would look for many more laws that bring these contractors closer to employee classification. Companies will likely be required to provide more security, more protection and more compensation to ensure that the 1099s are not completely exposed in the event of another similar national incident.
What comes after the pandemic?
There's no question that the coronavirus pandemic will bring about big changes to the workplace over the next few years and for the foreseeable future. Employers will need to brace for additional costs to meet these challenges. Given the losses so many have incurred and the deep economic shock caused by this outbreak, I believe that many employers will be happy to do whatever is necessary to avoid such a significant economic hardship for them and their valuable employees going forward.