The New COVID-19 Environment

As summer is almost over, the hopes of global pandemic (COVID-19) decline, as the weather warms and gets more humid, did not prove to be true. The economy is still in shock and according to the UN, COVID-19 will cost the global economy 2 trillion USD this year alone triggering severe socio-economic impact. 

Plans by companies to re-open offices in the summer changed as the number of people testing positive for the COVID -19 started to rise again around the world. Many employers considering extending work from home or remote work, through the fall or even to the end of the year, placing employee health and safety first. 

Because the pandemic is impacting each country and each employer differently, not all companies are able to provide continued ability to work from home.  

In the African region the populations are being severely impacted with measures taken to restrain the pandemic. Since its first appearance in the African region, COVID-19 has spread to 46 of the 47 countries and caused unprecedented social and economic disruptions. These include closure of borders and schools; restriction of travel and trade; reduction in the international investment and development; delay or recall of expat employee assignments, termination and freezing of employment, reduction of economic productivity and public services among others. In addition, the absence of the essentials for the work home set up, such as electricity, network connection, electronic tools (computers, laptops) is causing hardships and socio-economic consequences forcing multinational companies make redundancies and closures in their African based companies.    

Today, we are facing a new COVID-19 created environment and going back to normal will not mean going back to how things used to be. Companies need to rethink their daily operations or even the whole business models. This new unique reality provides an opportunity for innovation and an outside-the-box thinking despite the restrictions and limitations that will be with us for months. Where working from home arrangements are not possible, alternatives are flexible work hours or schedules that will allow employees to be at the job site at 50% and below capacity.  Organizations rapidly adopted the new health and sanitary programs for the employees who have to be at the work site due to the job requirements. Installing hand sanitizer stations, providing masks, and other safety covers and requiring employees to keep the 6-inch distance while interacting with co-workers or clients became a new norm.  Organizations also overcame logistical challenges related to working remotely.  

Employers globally face challenges that are new by their nature and there is not one solution that will fit all. Each country has implemented local workplace policies, issued various orders and mandates in response to the spread of COVID-19 based on their employment laws and regulations and the challenges that their nation faces. 

Today, the governments continue to issue directives every day, as we learn more about the invisible threat, and the employers’ main task is to stay updated on local developments in real time and adapt to the changing regulations as it fits their organization’s operational needs.  

The efforts to combat COVID-19 is not limited to implementing policies and procedures, or HSSE regulations but also demonstrating compassion and giving guidance and assurance towards their employees.  Mutual trust must be developed while working from home, trust that your employees to get the job done versus feeling you have to track your employees to make sure they get their work done.  This requires allowing flexibilities in working hours, taking into account personal obligations like caring for elderly or sick family members and dealing with childcare issues when schools are closed, making available professional psychologist to employees to deal with the mental problems caused by the COVID-19  environment.  

Lessons learned from this health emergency reminded everyone that in face of the global catastrophe we all have to unite and act as one nation of human beings and land a helping hand to each other as we fight the invisible enemy and adapt to our new COVID-19 reality.  

Lilith Kirsh
B.S., M.S., M.B.A., iHR

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