We are starting to hear the communities think about "opening back up" after the first wave of extreme social distancing comes to a close. Employers have furloughed and laid off staff, and they are already thinking through who would be best to bring back on full time, part time, and who is a permanent departure from the team.
One manufacturer that we spoke to had 110 production employees in their factory pre-COVID. In April that was down to 60. Now, they have 35 production employees. Almost 70% of their workforce is no longer employed.
We can assume that companies retained their top performers and best employees on staff, or that they are slated to come back to full time status as soon as possible when the doors open.
After the obvious top performers are accounted for, how will companies decide on who else to bring back? The rating system for the middle 80% of employees is often difficult and subjective. Each area needs to bring back some of the middle 80%, but who and how many is the real question.
Companies are balancing 30 year tenured employees who have the perception of "coasting to retirement" with the 5-10 year tenured employees who are eager to still prove themselves. Determining who to bring back is no doubt a heated conversation in a lot of team rooms across the country.
We know that departments will bring back less staff than "ideal state" which means that work will need to be redistributed and new systems will need to be in place to hold the processes together in the absence of extra staffing. Each department will be looking at their critical jobs and reorganizing the work to not only comply with the new COVID safety regulations, but also with the fewer staffed areas and positions.
Employees who do come back will be happy for the opportunity to work, but they will be under stress to stay healthy for their families and perform well so that they can keep their job.
Employers who were struggling to find people 6 months ago are now going to have more choices over who to hire, shifting the balance of power from employees to employers.
How do employers hold this new power and create positive atmospheres of employee engagement?
Employees will be more aware of their workplace performance and will want to demonstrate how much value they are adding to the company. They will be weary of too much face to face interaction, while recognizing the importance of a positive perception by their supervisors.
Digital tools will drive a big improvement in the marketplace, allowing for supervisors (and higher) to stay engaged in the work that is happening on the floor without being physically beside the people doing the work. Yes, I'm talking about digital factories, but that is already a trend and not 'new' news.
I'm really talking about a digital desk-less workforce. Employees on the factory floor that are connected to personal performance management systems to showcase their daily performance to employers.
Digital tools can be the fabric that streamlines communication between departments and between supervisors and employees.
This has been a problem for a long time in 1 mile sqft facilities where supervisors can't manage by walking around all day. The tools to solve this are often so focused on the machines, but the gap exists in human performance measurement. Humans who work in a factory and don't see leaders all day need a tool to help them stay connected and engaged with their leaders and peers.
The COVID crisis has imposed the same challenges on small factories that large factories see. Now managers can't be on site or be on the floor as much as they are used to. The "risk" to speak to employees face to face multiple times per day is just too great. So, how do you choose who to bring back to work as you are ramping up your operations?
The one thing we do know about the future is that "change" will be a part of it.
Do you have an employee who excels in adapting to new situations or environments? Think about the employees who are most flexible and willing to go "flow to the work" in any area of the business. The employees who are constantly learning new things and improving themselves have a growth mindset.
The employees with a growth mindset find setbacks to be challenges. They aren't always the "smartest" or most "naturally capable" people, but they work harder than most and appreciate the process of improvement.
Growth mindset is not a character trait, but rather an expression of the environment.
Think about a new toddler learning to walk. They fall down and get right back up and try again. They don't look at trips or slips as "failure," and they keep standing up and trying another time. We used to be those toddlers. Somewhere along the way we started to accept less risk for fear of failure. But if we look at our entire lives, we aren't homogenous risk takers.
Sometimes we continue to put effort and energy toward something without fear of failure. Other times we let a little obstacle slow us down for a long time.
Mindset is a function of your environment. If you create the environment of continuous change, focused adaptation, and on the job learning, you will point the mindset of the organization toward growth.