Transitioning back to the “New Normal” post COVID-19

We are not yet through the disruptions and changes in our work and community life that the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced across the world, but it is worthwhile beginning to think about and plan for managing the transition back to a time where work from the office and some home visiting services are possible. What will this “New Normal’ look like and how can your organization navigate through the many challenges ahead – balancing the need to keep your staff safe and healthy while meeting a growing demand in services?

This brief article is intended to provide a summary of critical considerations to inform your organizations’ planning for surviving, as an important human service provider, ’what happens next’.

woman working from homeWhile so much is still uncertain, a few things seem clear:

  1. There will likely not be a return to a pre-COVID normal for many years, if at all. Beyond the economic shock waves that will cause pivots and transformations across many aspects of our work and community life such as:
    • a move toward contact-free and then gradual entrenchment of many essential transactions as either remote or contactless (eg. retail changes, move to completely cashless transactions, more travel restrictions and possible limitations on large gatherings such as festivals, sporting events and concerts)
    • remote working and increased expectations around flex time will likely become entrenched and become far more common (even demanded as a workplace expectation)
    • increased physical isolation / protection of vulnerable groups possibly through increased emphasis on e-health and remote biometric monitoring
  2. As the world emerges in different timescales out of forced isolation and from a period of nearly unprecedented economic disruption, there will be a massive surge in demand for social services and community supports of nearly every kind across the continuum of care. Beyond the projected surge in demand for services due to the unique circumstances resulting from this prolonged period of forced isolation, shelter in place and social distancing era , if your agency experiences increased demand in times of economic turmoil or hardship, then you can expect to face unprecedented levels of requests for service as social isolation protocols unwind in your area. 1/3 of the world will be emerging in the coming months from some form of temporary lock down and around 1/5 of people have lost their jobs (at least temporarily) in the US, Canada and Australia. This is a combination of conditions that will put incredible strain on the social services sector around the world.
  3. Your own staff and volunteers – and importantly, clients and their families – will have differing feelings on the appropriate degree of risk they are comfortable accepting in the context of return to work, engaging in front line, direct service and close proximity service in the client’s home or other community settings. There will be little uniformity in your staff’s willingness and acceptable timescale to return to ‘normal’ pre-COVID working conditions and operational expectations and it will be a difficult management challenge to create alignment and return to effective and productive operations once again. Clients and their families will also be distributed on this wide spectrum of risk tolerance and willingness to return to pre-COVID service characteristics. Given the tight margins many not-for-profit organizations operate within, efficiently balancing resource demands in this context may prove decisive in the struggle for sustainability through this crisis. Is your organization structured and staffed (with the appropriate tools, controls, communication systems, SOPs, SLAs, KPIs, etc.) to effectively manage remote staff on an ongoing basis – including on-boarding, performance management, supervision and professional development? Preparing to pivot your organization to develop competencies in these vital areas – particularly during uncertain times of crisis and strain – requires a completely different set of considerations, strategic planning and focus than merely carrying on business as usual.
  4. There will be “after-shocks” and setbacks in a health sense – felt in a grim mini-repeat of these past few months but perhaps on a more geographically variable or localized basis. The effects of how this will play out in terms of accelerating or entrenching elements of this new reality are hard to forecast but it is clear that the “road back” will not be short or easy. For this reason, many of the changes that your organization is contemplating and evaluating are probably better understood as longer term or permanent in nature and planned for on that basis.

person providing remote service via video callHow will certain aspects of your service experience be considered in light of this new Normal Environment?

  • How will you conduct group services? Will your clients feel any reluctance to participate in group services in light of COVID-19 and its aftermath? What will the return to normal trajectory look like for your services?
  • How will your clients respond to waiting in your office waiting rooms or visiting your office settings (such as wait rooms, front desk encounters and children’s play areas)?
  • What adjustments will need to be made to serve vulnerable populations such as the elderly or other groups at risk to the coronavirus?
  • What adjustments will need to be made to provide remote services on an ongoing basis – where it is deemed necessary to keep staff and clients safe and healthy?
  • What adjustments will need to be made in order to ensure that legal documents (or any document requiring client or staff signatures) continue to be processed and managed?
  • What arrangements will need to be made with your funding bodies re: reporting backlogs or accounting for COVID-19 related anomalies?
  • If your revenues are supported by self paying client fees, how are you reorganizing your technological ability to manage these payments in the absence of cash transactions?

Ask your organization how equipped you are to face the challenges of this post-COVID era characterized by (as identified in the Board of Innovation’s Low Touch Economy” paper)

  • Even more anxiousness/loneliness and depression
  • Damaged trust in hygiene of people and products
  • Extended travel restrictions, even within a country
  • Optimized work from home setups, beyond typical office jobs
  • Rising tension & conflicts at all levels
  • Unprecedented levels of global unemployment
  • Take out/home delivery everything
  • Limited contact with older generations
  • Our identity is more than our job
  • The value of certified immune consumers

How are you preparing and planning for how these post-COVID shifts will affect your organization’s ability to continue to perform its mission? Share your thoughts with your peers on on our Communities pages dedicated to addressing the impact of COVID-19.