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Companies Brace for Second Covid-19 Wave

Businesses still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic that has wrecked, shutdown or greatly limited operations are now bracing for an expected second wave.

COVID corona 4901881 640smallBurnout is a top-of-mind concern for many companies and human resources departments that had embraced temporary work-from-home approaches earlier in the year, but that are still figuring out what the new normal will be for their workforces, CNBC reports.

“The myth that work from home is not productive has been busted,” Harmit Singh, CFO at Levi Strauss & Co. said at a recent CNBC @Work virtual event. “I believe we will settle into a culture where working from anywhere will be the new norm, with work from home or office or a hybrid arrangement.”

One of the biggest apparel companies worldwide has “pulled the plug” on new commercial real estate it was considering this year, Singh said, as it reimagines the new workplace and fears about declining productivity. “Employee burnout is a core issue,” he said, noting that the firm has already required that meetings be shorter, that there be no meetings on Fridays and allowing a day off for the last Friday of every month.

Matthew Schuyler, chief human resources officer for Hilton, is anticipating a second wave of employee stress from coronavirus and situations that employees have been forced to deal with, such as parents working from home and supervising their children’s remote schooling. “I believe we will go through a second wave of team member or employee duress,” Schuyler said. “The first wave was when the crisis first hit us in the spring, and the second is settling in ...and it will be longer term.” 

The fallout from the second wave will include “lower productivity,” he noted. “With the isolation from work from home, we can expect to see more of it,” Schuyler said. “Keeping the workforce connected remotely was sustainable for a period of time, but it is harder as it goes on.”

The Global Business Travel Association noted, in a recent survey of its member companies, that 45% of businesses anticipate workers will return to in-person events the first half of next year, Hospitality Net reports. That survey, conducted from September 15 to 19, also found that while most companies have given up on in-person meetings, events and conferences this year, 37% plan to host some or many meetings or events in the first quarter. That is expected to go up to 61% by the second quarter.

Just over 50% of survey respondents are hoping a Covid-19 vaccine will allow workers to have office and in-person events. And, 24% say they want to see a reduction in the spread of the virus globally.

"While there is no doubt the current global uncertainty around a second wave is delaying the return to business travel, the outlook for 2021 is looking more positive, with companies planning a return to face-to-face meetings and events,” says Dave Hilfman, the interim executive director of GBTA. “It is encouraging to see businesses planning their return to office in a careful and safe way.”

Another recent survey from Randstad RiseSmart found that almost 50% of U.S. employers who furloughed or laid off workers because of the pandemic are thinking of making more cuts over the next 12 months, Hunt Scanlon Media reports. That is a huge shift from pre-pandemic levels, when 86% of employers had no plans so shrink their workforce. The survey respondents were made up of more than 250 human resources professionals spanning 20 industries.

“Companies should prepare for the possibility of a second lockdown by developing strategies to make their workforce more agile to both avoid layoffs and address evolving business needs,” said Dan Davenport, president and general manager of Randstad RiseSmart. Less than 4% of employers, according to the survey, reassigned workers as a way to keep them working during the pandemic. And 54% took zero action to keep workers from being laid off, he said. Reskilling workers as opposed to laying them off should be a top priority moving forward.

“Beyond the obvious benefit to the worker who is retained rather than let go, there is tremendous financial incentive for companies that are able to successfully redeploy rather than lay off employees,” Davenport said. “Organizations that reskill and reassign talent can retain valuable institutional knowledge, strengthen employee morale, enhance their employer brand, reduce unemployment taxes and severance costs, and save on recruiting costs when those positions ultimately need to be restaffed.”

Readjusting to the new norm for Google means coming to terms that 62% of their workers want to go back to their offices eventually, but not five days a week, CNBC reports. This mean the company will adopt “hybrid” work models. Google will try 'hybrid' work-from-home models, as most employees don't want to come in every day.

“I see the future as being more flexible,” said Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai. “We firmly believe that in-person, being together, having a sense of community is super important when you have to solve hard problems and create something new so we don’t see that changing. But we do think we need to create more flexibility and more hybrid models.”

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