It’s hard to believe the pandemic started a year ago – and what a long year it has been. Thanks to the phased rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to essential workers, EMS, and now, K-12 school staff, as well as law enforcement and protective services, it’s finally beginning to feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel. Returning safely to classrooms and in-person work environments not only seems more attainable but also much more desirable than it was just a few months ago.
While it’s easy to be excited and eager to jump back into our normal pre-pandemic work routine, we need to accept the reality that our work environment and the ways in which we communicate with each other and carry out our duties has changed us drastically – and in a lot of cases, for the better! A year ago, communication was done face-to-face, in person at meetings and lunches – not on a webcam. Virtual video communication was foreign to so many of us, especially those operating in the local public sector. Fast forward to today, it’s our main form of communication. Who would’ve thought?
Preparing for and supporting these changes within ourselves and our employees is an important piece of welcoming everyone back to in-person work safely, and to moving forward with a fresh mindset and direction.
In this post, we’re going to reflect back on what we experienced and learned in 2020 that will help us support each other and our employees this year and in years to come. Some areas we recognize that are important to focus on are digital technology, communication, and empathy, health and wellness, as well as diversity and inclusion.
1. Digital Technology
Over the past year, we have seen a considerable rise in the utilization of digital tools. Digital video calls, meetings, and task management tools have fundamentally forever changed the way we, individuals and organizations, operate; a “digitalization” trend projected to only accelerate moving forward.
While we may now be “on-trend” with these tools, this time last year many of us were operating in full-blown survival work mode. We were scrambling, forced to use and adopt technology platforms that we never heard of — nor had any use for before the pandemic.
In that process, we’ve learned a lot, and now recognize the extreme value of these tools. They not only allow us to connect and engage one another instantaneously, whether that be friends and family, teachers and students, city officials and citizens, or 100 attendees at a virtual conference; but also mimic the connection and engagement we were used to doing safely in the pre-pandemic days.
By now, you’ve likely used, tested and vetted technology platforms, and have settled on the right one(s) to meet your needs. It’s important to realize that your employees have gone through the same thing! Ask for their feedback, assess what’s been working for them and what hasn’t been working. Becoming more technologically savvy while testing the best programs and methods is a great goal for everyone this year.
2. Communication and Empathy
While technology platforms have clearly changed how we work, the reality is that it has also changed when we work and how we live. For many of us right now, work is at home – and home is at work.
The wide, defined line that separated work and life for many of us before 2020 has since narrowed and blurred. Work-life balance is anything but balanced. Zoom fatigue is real. Pandemic panic is still real. We’re all on the same merry-go-around — just waiting for it to stop.
It’s important to have open honest communication, empathy and respect for one another, especially now. While we’ve all had a uniquely difficult 2020, we’re all in this boat together – and collectively, we can see the shoreline.
Although we can’t go back and change the past, we can learn from the past and improve upon the future. Ask that your employees communicate their thoughts and concerns. Be empathetic to their questions and responses, and respectful of their time and experiences.
3. Health and Wellness
If 2020 were a newspaper, “health” would have been in the front-page headline. The last twelve months have forced many of us to not only consider our current health and coverages but also to think about our future health and coverages.
Everyone is looking for affordable avenues to protect both our health and financial future, which we’ve worked so hard to build. Ensure your employees have access to the coverage(s) and support they want and need – including wellness.
In the past, studies have found that “employee wellness programs have often been viewed as a nice extra, not a strategic imperative.” More recent data reflects something to the contrary. Citing findings from Texas A&M University, Baylor University, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Center shows that the “ROI on comprehensive, well-run employee wellness programs is impressive, and a valuable asset to the contemporary employer.”
Wellness has always been a centerpiece of our mission at Valley Schools. Our exclusive wellness program, Wellstyles, is a turnkey solution for our clients that provides education, motivation, and improved quality of life for employees. With an effective employee wellness program in place, employees maintain optimal health, employers reap the benefits that include a reduction in absenteeism, prevention of chronic disease, higher morale, increase in employee retention, and reduced healthcare costs.
The numbers speak for themselves. Clients who participate in WellStyles, experience an average healthcare cost savings of $168 per employee per month!
4. Diversity and Inclusion
A diverse team can bring new ideas and perspectives to your organization, as well as help you to foster an inclusive workplace environment that can boost overall productivity and morale. A recent study by Deloitte found that employees were 83 percent more innovative and 42 percent more collaborative when working in a diverse environment.
In addition, diversity within your organization is important to consider when making hiring decisions. If you’re questioning what diversity in the workplace really means or you’re interested in what steps to take next, we encourage you to seek out a diversity and inclusion consultant.
The impact of a worldwide pandemic has shown us just how resilient and adaptable we are – both at home and in the workplace. When we all safely return to work (which is hopefully very, very soon), feel free to use the above to support your employees as they grow in their new future with your organization.
About Valley Schools
Valley Schools, a non-profit employee benefits consultant and public sector specialist, provides expert consulting, customized plan administration, robust, affordable benefit options and flexibility, and much more to Arizona school districts and municipalities. For more information about employee benefits consulting and any of our other services, please contact us today.