Navigating the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has challenged HR professionals in virtually every aspect of their work and forced many of us to move at a break-neck pace to address a seemingly endless line of issues: safety and health concerns for essential workers, deployment of remote workforces, maintaining engagement… the list goes on.

A quick “return to normalcy” is something we are all hoping for. However, the more likely outcome is that our society and workplaces will feel the impact of the events of the last ten months for years to come.

As talent partners, we endeavor to “see around corners” and prepare the businesses we support for what’s next. How do we accomplish this work in response to a once in a lifetime event like COVID-19? Here are a few ideas:

1. Make Your COVID-19 Safety Plan Semi-Permanent: We all hope that temperature checks and masks will be a thing of the past soon, but there’s just as good a chance that we these measures will be needed well into (if not throughout) 2021 in order to continue to make our essential workforces feel safe and to account for the concerns of workers who may slowly return to their offices.

"Leaders who empathize with these challenges and are patient as individual workers adjust will be more successful in managing these changes"

2. Train Your Leaders to Practice Empathy and Patience: Leading with empathy and an appropriate degree of patience has always been key to successfully engaging employees, but it has never been quite as important as now. Many workers have been forced to rearrange their lives to account for the safety and health of loved ones, childcare for small children, supporting remote learning for older children, etc. When COVID-19 finally abates, they will have to do it all over again. Leaders who empathize with these challenges and are patient as individual workers adjust will be more successful in managing these changes.

3. Design A Proactive Employee Engagement Strategy & Make It Part of Your Road Map: At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s been a year of significant change and unusual anxiety. It’s likely that our mutual and individual experiences throughout 2020 have changed how we view all aspects of our lives, including the workplace. Therefore, it has never been more important than now to have a strategy for not only connecting with your employees but also evaluating the quality and impact of your efforts moving forward.

4. A Federal Paid Sick and Family Leave Law Is on the Horizon: No matter who wins on November 3rd, a federal paid sick and family leave law is likely to be in place by next year. Most state and local paid sick and family leave laws allow employers to meet the mandate by providing a bank of paid time off that can be used for any purpose (i.e., vacation, sick days, doctor’s appointments, or just a “mental health” day). Does your business go with the “PTO” approach, or large banks of vacation time along with a couple of paid sick days? Which approach is better for your business over the long term? Now’s the time to think about these issues.

5. Invest In Mental Health Support for Your People: Bouts of depression and other mental health issues have been a significant concern since the pandemic began in the U.S. last March. Readjusting to a life of in-person interaction and human contact will be challenging for many people after such an extended period of relative isolation. Now is the time to illustrate your understanding and concern about these issues by investing in resources that provide support and promote good mental hygiene habits.