In Indiana and well beyond, we have seen countless examples of companies large and small responding to constantly-changing health and safety needs brought on by the pandemic. Companies that were historically in-office made remote work happen. Leaders who typically came in early and stayed late began logging out earlier in order to care for their children who were at home instead of school. Everyone adapted, and by-and-large, company leaders listened. 

The massive adaptation that had to happen as a result of COVID-19 was unprecedented. But companies did it, and many did it in a way that nurtured their relationships with existing employees in a time that was plagued with anxiety and uncertainty. Anxiety is known to reduce job satisfaction and decrease work performance, but companies were reporting impressive productivity numbers despite the anxiety of the pandemic and a shift to remote work. This indicates that employees in many situations were thriving professionally, despite the challenges. And that’s telling.

With many companies strategizing and executing plans for their so-called new normal, a new question emerges: will they continue to care about what employees think in the post-COVID world?

As increased vaccine availability and reduced COVID-19 rates have brought upon a renewed sense of relief, it’s important that company leaders take what they’ve learned from the pandemic and apply it to the future. Here are some ideas on how to do it.

Consider mental health needs of employees. During the height of the pandemic, more than 40 percent of adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Many employers began placing larger emphasis on employee mental health. The mental health issues sparked by the pandemic continue, as well as mental health struggles completely unrelated. This is an opportunity for businesses to really start addressing mental health in the workplace. This could include promoting a culture where managers are flexible and nimble with people when they need time off, prefer to continue working from home, or otherwise need space for mental health. Offering a culture where mental health can be discussed in a non-judgmental, open way helps destigmatize mental health and bolster workplace relationships.

Provide constant, thorough communication: A spring 2021 report from McKinsey and Company found that employees who feel included in more detailed communication are nearly five times more likely to report increased productivity. This should go well beyond a quarterly email send. As companies adjust their in-person/at-home work schedules and environments, employees should be kept in the loop. That doesn’t mean that companies need to have all the answers now, but it does mean they should be keeping the people most affected—employees—abreast of upcoming changes, even if they are not certain. This goes beyond COVID-related changes, too. Perhaps it’s changes to the company’s insurance plans or standards for annual bonuses. No matter the topic, if it is important to employees and it may be changing, it deserves attention. At Bradley and Montgomery, we have started to host weekly team meetings to share updates and answer questions as another forum for everyone to connect and stay updated.

Request feedback. Many companies, including mine, sent out surveys multiple times throughout the pandemic requesting anonymous employer feedback on policies and precautions. It’s not necessary for companies to send these types of surveys on a monthly or highly-regular basis. However, it can be valuable to send surveys before any major decisions are made about schedules, protocols or office locations. To build trust with employees, share stats that generalize the feedback received to show how the company is not just requesting feedback from employees, but acting on it.

Seeing so many companies address and adapt to the changing needs of their employees has been inspiring. The experiences we’ve all had related to navigating work and life throughout a worldwide pandemic have varied widely. But one positive has been the ability for companies to prove they can be nimble, to be reflective and most importantly, to be caring. Let us all take the lessons we’ve learned in the past 18 months and apply them moving forward to make Indiana companies better places to work, pandemic or not.

Laurie Schneider is the Executive Vice President and COO of Bradley and Montgomery (BaM), a creative agency.

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