Updated: Apr 26, 2021
The whole world is feeling the effects of the coronavirus, and we are reeling not just from health concerns, but an increasingly overwhelmed healthcare system, a panicked population, and an economic depression looming in the horizon. In addition, the very habits and policies that help address one problem exacerbate the others.
However, it's important to understand that not all are not suffering equally in this struggle. Though it is true that the virus itself does not discriminate across race and socio-economic lines, the economic and societal impacts are much more devastating for certain populations. During the current crisis and the aftermath to follow, it is essential that we as a society and as businesses make reforms that address the disparities and inequities so greatly heightened by this situation.
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Consider those who are unable to work remotely. There are numerous reasons this may be the case:
Their professions do not translate to virtual spaces and rely on human contact
They have no childcare solutions and are unable to allocate work time
They have no access to internet or technology required to make the adjustment to virtual spaces
The businesses they were employed by were too small to financially sustain through the pandemic and they have been laid off
The loss of income is unpleasant for any individual, but for those who have high levels of debt or limited savings, struggles with food or shelter insecurity, less social capital (friends and networks of support), language barriers, pre-existing medical concerns, crowded or unsanitary living conditions... the impact can be devastating. The long term effects of the pandemic disproportionately impact communities of color, women and children, the elderly, and the poorest segments of our population, where holding out for the virus to subside may not be a viable option.
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There are also those who have no choice but to come in contact with the virus. Those working in "essential" positions that are still expected to come to work (not only healthcare but grocery services, construction and so on) may feel limited in their options to say no. If they are not given the option to stay home or risk permanently losing their jobs with no benefits, is that truly a choice?
What Can We Do?
Second, we can build better workforce plans within our own organizations to acknowledge these inequities, regardless of where the company is positioned in the crisis. This might require getting more buy-in from leadership, which we detail here.
Managing Virtual Team Members | Understand that not every team member has the same home office capabilities. If some employees are struggling to work in the home, inquire about the challenges and see if you can help alleviate them. Expecting a 9-5 nothing's-changed work schedule is unrealistic and can be harmful for work productivity and employee engagement. Allow your team whenever possible to pick their own schedules and be intentional about required meeting times and frequency. Is the meeting necessary or could the work be done in other ways?
Learn how video producers make virtual spaces more equitable
Reducing Employee Hours & Layoffs | If your organization is forced to cut hours or lay off employees entirely, take the time to develop a clear strategy and plan before reaching out. Determine what your message is and make sure it is personal and compassionate. Be transparent about things you haven't figured out and allow them to ask questions. Provide as much structure and information as possible. Do your best to connect them to services and resources. Are there resources or support your company can provide in the meantime? Don't forget to communicate to those still working with you.
Teams on the Front Line | Whether healthcare professionals or grocery store clerks, invest time on your employees who are risking their health and their families to continue to provide services. Set up feedback forums to hear about how you can best protect and serve them. Make sure employees have options and are able to voice concerns when they arise.
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How Covid 19 Exacerbates Inequality https://www.economist.com/britain/2020/03/26/how-covid-19-exacerbates-inequality
Inequalities in School Closures https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(20)30116-9/fulltext
How to Communicate Layoffs https://www.davisandco.com/blog/how-communicate-layoffs-or-furlough-arrangements