This article was originally published in The Business News
I resigned from two boards this past week. While the emails went out in quick succession, the thought process behind those decisions was anything but easy. For weeks I agonized over stepping back from my board obligations: one was a fairly new commitment for me, the other I had been on for years. But reality is forcing me to make these kinds of decisions and I know I’m only one woman out of millions who is faced with gut wrenching decisions when it comes to juggling work, children’s school, elderly parents’ care and many other aspects of a new reality of what it means to be a woman trying to hold down a job.
There are many directions I could take with this column, but I’m going to take this space to talk to fellow business leaders and urge you to make changes to adapt and flex to a world that is in a state of crisis. This is your opportunity to evaluate the way you do business today and build a sustainable path for the future. To build the intangible infrastructure such as a culture that meets your needs as an employer and your employees’ needs as parents, children, spouses and community members.
Parents everywhere are faced with chaos of children and school due to COVID-19. This will be the year to test employers and families across the board when it comes to holding onto employees and employees holding onto their jobs. When you look at it that way, both employers and employees want the same thing: To help keep the economy running no matter what. Families earn money, they spend money. Employers make money, they pay their employees and they reinvest money to grow their business. We need all parts and people working together.
As business leaders, ask your employees what they need. Will you be able to accommodate everyone and everything? No, that’s not realistic. Can you accommodate some of their needs or strike a more flexible approach to meeting the demands of today? Probably. Are there meetings that are typically scheduled for the early morning hours that could be shifted to a new time? Is there a nighttime shift where hours could be adjusted? Do employees feel like they have job security even if they are working from home when their supervisors are not? Is there anything you can do to help with childcare?
These are just a few of the questions you should be asking your leadership team and employees in the hopes of having a robust dialogue to come to workable solutions that are at the very least accommodating to a new world.
At my company, we have shifted to an entirely remote workplace. All employees are working from home as many have children, are about to have children, have parents who need help and more. This decision was not made easily, in fact it was a process we waded through based on the shifting dynamics. After closing our office in March, we opened back up in late spring (with plenty of precautions in place) only to discover that no one was using it. So, we decided to close the office to manage the expenses of a workspace that was no longer used. Will we open up the office again? I sure hope so. But in the meantime, I have really valuable employees that I want to keep healthy and provide them the flexibility they need to foster the growth and well-being of their families. Is this challenging for me? Absolutely. Do we run into hiccups? Of course. But as an employer I’m looking at the big picture of what’s best not only for the company but for my employees and our community.
Use this historic time to create a culture now that allows you to grow into the future. What are you doing today to ensure that the story you tell the next time you are recruiting is a positive one? Start building the story now of how your company faced the COVID challenge and took the road less traveled in spite of what your peers were doing. That as a company you took the lead to show others how it’s done right. There’s a saying I hate using or hearing: “It is what it is.” That’s nonsense. It is what you make it to be.