Return to the Workplace is an FFT Moment (i4cp login required)


Within minutes two articles appeared on my desktop this

One declared The
office as we knew it is dead
and described how the “coronavirus
crisis has proved that companies can remain productive over Zoom,” and that
remote work will become more common than ever.
It cited CEOs from big companies like Morgan Stanley and Barclays who “questioned
the need for their pre-virus office square footage,” and may capitalize on the
success they’ve witnessed running their businesses totally remotely.

The second advised Why
you feel exhausted from endless Zoom calls
, and told me not only
why I’m tired, but also all the reasons why Zoom is inferior to in-person
interactions. The article cited many
studies which claim, among other things, that we are less trusting and
understanding while videoconferencing, more cautious in our communication and
much more self-conscious and less certain in our interactions.

There are a lot of predictions about what the future will
hold for our return to the workplace (don’t say return to work…it’s HR faux
paus de jour…many of us have been working). Executives at companies have been
a lot of time on this
and creating exhaustive
for a return. CHRO’s
we’ve been talking
with weekly
are telling us they are looking at a variety of options to make
it physically safe in the office – from temperature checking, to phased work
schedules to reconfiguring the office. More
draconian: up to a quarter of companies are exploring
digital contact tracing apps
as part of their back to office strategy,
creating what is expected to be a brand new multi-billion dollar industry. And in case you are wondering, it’s
likely legal
for private employers in the United States to mandate that
employees use a contact-tracing app as a condition of employment.

But all of that is assuming companies want people to come
back at all. An executive at a Fortune
100 company told me a few days ago that the CEO announced internally he’s a
convert to working from home – never done it before – but now plans to downsize
office space as a result and move as many people to remote work as possible. That same scenario is playing out in
thousands of companies worldwide as executives have a new understanding of the
work-from-home experience. With schools,
camps, day-care and eldercare in various states of closure, employees may have
no choice but to work from home for the foreseeable future.

While all of this plays out over the next several weeks and
months, all executives need to heed the brilliant Brené Brown’s reminder: this is an FFT (f***ing first time) for all
of us. FFT’s are times of anxiety and
susceptibility. “This pandemic
experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability.  We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid,
or our very best, bravest selves,” advises

While companies roll out a myriad of new policies, logistics
and mandates, keep in mind two important elements:

  1. The psyche of the workforce.  It’s more fragile today than it’s ever been
    before. Attention
    to emotional and mental well-being
    should be viewed as important as
    physical safety.
  2. The importance of agility.  Everything you are rolling out now is susceptible
    to change – some of it rapid and drastic – so preface that aspect to your
    employees. Collectively we are doing the
    best we can right now, but we don’t have all the answers.

On Sunday CBS’ 60 Minutes did a segment on Amazon’s
treatment of its workers during the pandemic.
Amazon’s business has exploded while everyone shelters in place, but
there’s increasing concern over the health and safety of warehouse workers at
Amazon facilities across the U.S. The
segment took viewers on a tour of a warehouse near Seattle, to show where some
of the $800 million the company says it has spent on worker protections thus
far has gone. They have installed
thermal cameras in many of their locations, provided masks, on site cleansing
stations, misting disinfectant guns and onsite testing labs they are reportedly
spending additional hundreds of millions of dollars on for employees to
self-administer a coronavirus test. They
are even working on enforcing social distancing by videotaping employees and
using artificial intelligence to study their movements.

Regardless of Amazon’s efforts, it was a scathing segment. Many Amazon warehouse workers have reportedly
been diagnosed with COVID-19. Dave
Clark, Amazon’s SVP of Worldwide Operations, was on the hot seat as Lesley
Stahl grilled him about this. After many
awkward answers to pointed questions, Clark wrapped up the segment by saying:

“If anybody walked into this with a perfect playbook for how
to execute…continuing to…to send essential goods to people in the middle of a
pandemic, I’d love to see it.  You know,
do I wish we were perfect from day one?  Of

His basic point: it’s
an FFT. Nothing will ever be perfect. 

Kevin Oakes, CEO, i4cp

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