Rebecca has been busy since the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. As an experienced HR manager, she thought she’d seen and heard it all but recent events are providing new frontiers to fascinate a student of human behavior.
Zoom meetings are an excellent lab for studying humans. Debbie’s co-workers have doubled down on hating her for taking over meetings with rambling updates and for her clothes. Who the heck puts on a professional suit for a video meeting when there’s not a customer in sight?
Dark rumblings are bubbling up to Rebecca’s ear about brown-nose Debbie trying to make the rest of the team look bad.
Mike and Emmy, who Rebecca privately calls the Evil Twins because they work together when causing trouble, are again complaining that Alice is a rotten manager who is taking all the joy out of working from home. Rebecca suppresses her overwhelming urge to tune them out as white noise. When you’re the HR manager, you have to listen to all the whining because there may be an actual violation of the law buried in there somewhere.
Worse, since the work-from-home initiative began, the company has split into two factions. Lower paid employees visibly sour as higher income employees casually chatter about their on-line buying habits and the difficulties of doing business while the cleaning lady is running the vacuum. Rebecca’s bracing for a corporate version of Les Miserables if the higher paid employees ignore her hints about empathy.
Mack, the company owner, recently asked Rebecca to redesign the office space so that the staff can return. Mack is struggling to renegotiate the contract of a key vendor. He thinks the negotiations would be easier if he could yell across the hallway of the office when he needs help instead of wasting time sending emails and attending Zoom meetings.
When rumors leaked of a possible return to the office, several employees offered Rebecca bribes to think of clever reasons why returning to the office is “bad”. For parents, there are obvious childcare challenges with the school year beginning on-line only. But Rebecca has also noticed that productivity is up since everyone went home. Even micro-manager Ron’s subordinates have settled into a level of contentment leaving Rebecca free to deal with the Evil Twins.
How should Rebecca advise Mack on requiring employees to return to the office?
- She can point out that during a Zoom meeting Mack can turn off the video allowing him to do other work during the boring bits of the meeting.
- She can show him the stats that employees are happier and more productive working from home.
- She can hint that parents will bring their children to work until schools reopen for in-person teaching.
Government guidelines on safely reopening are just one aspect of the myriad issues a company should consider before calling employees back to the office.
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