Each day, as the confirmed Covid-19 cases rise across the United States, more state and local governments announce restrictions on the public’s ability to congregate to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and to “flatten the curve.”
To date, nearly 73 million California, New York and Illinois residents are under a “stay-at-home” order until further notice, exempting only “essential” workers such as health care professionals, bank tellers and garbage collectors. Pennsylvania ordered all “non-life-threatening” businesses to close, or face enforcement actions starting tomorrow. Of the remaining states and territories, 46 have closed schools and 37 have closed or limited bars, restaurants and gyms.
For non-essential workers, public health officials are urging U.S. employers nationwide to allow teleworking and are encouraging people to wash hands regularly and to adopt prudent “social distance” behaviors: maintain a 6-foot distance from other people and limit outings to essential-only trips to the grocery store and the pharmacy.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers, which recommends “flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees.”
Under normal circumstances, employers usually have months to prepare telework policies, distribute necessary technology and conduct training. But these decisions are being made, or being mandated, with little time to prepare. Even employers with existing telecommuting policies aren’t experienced in managing an entirely remote workforce.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a unique, fast-moving situation affecting how employees work and how managers manage. But its uniqueness may produce positive outcomes, according to Emily Medvin, Ph.D., research scientist at HumRRO in Alexandria, Va., whose research has focused on teleworking, particularly its effect on manager-employee relationships.
“The uncertainty of telework usually revolves around the fact that some people work remotely and some don’t,” she explains. “With the whole team teleworking, you don’t have to worry about your manager forgetting you exist because you’re the only one not in the office, or that you’re missing out on important, informal interactions or that your co-workers harbor some jealousy over your arrangement.”
Furthermore, when it’s in response to a public health crisis, urged on by government officials and public health experts, any prior resistance by managers to allow teleworking quickly dissipates, Medvin notes.
The next few weeks may enhance manager-employee relationships, build trust and encourage more teleworking post-crisis, if the situation is handled well. Below are tips and resources to help you manage your newfound virtual work environment.