HR in the Time of a Pandemic

Ed Wenck | May 20, 2020

Courtney Berg has a word of advice for bosses who suddenly find themselves with some number of their employees working from home: “Don’t micromanage.”

Berg, who runs the firm Courtside Consulting – and has been a regular CEDIA instructor for years – explains that, “When managers who are not used to having remote workers suddenly have remote workers, they start thinking, ‘How do I know they're not doing the laundry? Or out in the backyard with their dog?’”

Berg says that instead of marking hours, employers should be setting expectations based on “the big results that they want. And managers need to be especially flexible regarding their employees’ specific situations. We have spouses that are home together that are trying to do their jobs and take care of the kids. How can we support them? Is it flexible work hours? If so, that's where you really need to drill down into the results side of it.

“Ask yourself and the employee: What are the four or five things that we have to get done this week? And then meet with them on the following Monday, and check that progress.”

Adjusting the Home Office

Still, Berg is a big believer in boundary-setting, flexible hours or not. “One of the most important things for people who are transitioning from working in an office to working at home is a schedule, a routine,” says Berg. “Set something up where you say, okay, every morning I get up at this time. Have office hours at home. Let your family know: these are my office hours. This is when I have to work and I get a break for lunch at this particular time. I'm happy to catch up with you if there's an emergency, just like you would call me at work.”

And employers can help with the physical space to make those office hours as productive as they can be. Does the worker need a more robust home network? Better cybersecurity measures? Even a more ergonomic chair?

“Should we bring masks for our clients so that we can have them wear a mask while we're there?" 

“All of these things can be negotiated, but office equipment is still office equipment – don’t forget that,” says Berg. “If it’s a temporary situation, that property will need to come back to the business, and you need to make that clear to the employee.”

The New “Normal”

As some regions begin to “open up” with a pandemic still factoring into the equation, the business of business – for someone returning to an office or a technician in the field – comes with a new set of consideration, from socially-distanced desks to clearly marked paths: “Think about employers putting tape on the office floors to show the one-way traffic that's going around so people aren't closer together. Will you need mask protocols?”

Moreover, says Berg, “The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has now come out with guidelines saying you can take your employees temperatures before they come in, but you've got to maintain separate medical files if you're doing that -- because you can't keep that in a personnel file.”

For your technicians pulling cable and your designers and engineers on-site, there’s another universe of planning that needs to be undertaken. First, says Berg, “You've got to be thinking about creating the plans that are going to work for you to go into somebody's home.” That’s not just about keeping your clients safe – it’s a two-way street, after all. “What kind of screening do we need to do to find out if that customer has had or does have COVID-19? And what kind of questions can we ask? And um, you know, what, what precautions should we ask of them?” asks Berg.

“Should we bring masks for our clients so that we can have them wear a mask while we're there? And how do you broach that subject when you’re setting up that appointment? In the end, it’s all about sensitivity – and empathy, for both your workers and your clients.”