Reinventing Work – Not Returning to It

Dave Moore, Staff Writer

Employers and employees must remain flexible and adaptable to returning to the workplace from COVID-19, consultants from Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading global public relations firms, shared Wednesday, May 6, in the latest installment of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Confronting COVID-19 virtual town hall series.

“We can’t call it a return to work, but more a move forward into work,” said Peter Duda, President of Global Crisis and Issues at Weber Shandwick. “We’re not going back the workplace that we all left before the stay-in-place orders were issued. It’s a new reality, and one that we all have to prepare for.”

In addition to Duda, also representing Weber Shandwick were Executive Vice President of Organizational Transformation and Employment Engagement Anthea Hoyle, and Jennifer Cho, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the firm’s Dallas office.

Here are five takeaways from the 45-minute discussion:

Recognize the need to act, even if information is imperfect or incomplete.

“We have to make determinations on what matters most and how we should act,” Duda said. “In an environment where we’re dealing with constant change and new information, we have to make decisions when information is imperfect. There’s a lot, where we don’t know what we don’t know yet, but we still have to move forward and still have to run an economy and run the society.”

Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more.

“Whether you’re a small organization or a large organization, you can’t overcommunicate,” said Duda. “I haven’t seen any incidence of communication fatigue. To the contrary – the employers that communicate most, tell it like it is, offer empathy, and give straight talk to employees are the ones that employees have the most loyalty to, and the best feelings about.

American ingenuity, on steroids.

“We need to look at how we’re going to reinvent, and how we are going to do things differently,” Duda said. “The world has changed, but I think we should be confidant that we’re going to change with it. It will just require more creativity, more ingenuity, and more innovation. They are the three pillars of American business already, and we’re just going to need to apply all those things on steroids to get this country going again.”

Duda cautioned that at the same time, restarting the economy will have to be done in a deliberate, safe way.

Don’t reopen until you and your employees are ready.

In her portion of the presentation, Hoyle emphasized the need for employers to gauge the sentiments and concerns of its workers, and to be clear in its communication. Organizations also need to think of protective measures to put in place before bringing back workers who are more essential and at lower risk of contracting the virus, she said.

Hoyle cited Jane Frazer at Citi, who said her company would add its own layer of decision making, beyond the guidance provided by governmental agencies.

Keep your eyes open – to recurrences of the virus and to employee needs.

Hoyle also cited Starbucks as an example in this case.

“They’re taking lessons from overseas – from things they’ve experienced in, say, China, and applying, by a community-to-community approach. And communicating with employees and customers.”