We’re months into the COVID-19 pandemic and have all been forced to adapt. We’re working from home, we’re settling into our social-distancing. You probably know who is in your bubble.
We’re public relations experts — and that means that we manage our clients’ reputations and protect them when things go wrong.
The next big challenge facing organizations is unique to this moment: the personal lives of employees and contractors.
It’s cute when kids and cats pop into the frame of your Zoom call. There are other parts of working from home that are… less cute. Technology and remote working are our friends until they are not. As our personal and professional lives are increasingly blended, your organization is vulnerable to a new type of crisis.
Many employees or contractors have set up make-shift workstations in their homes. They are using personal devices like laptops and cell phones for work—and in a lot of cases, they are paying for these out of their own pockets. We are downloading the cost of work onto our employees and requiring them to show us the most personal, formerly private, parts of their lives—their homes.
Let’s be clear: we’re asking people to show us their personal lives. Well-compensated executives at Fortune 500 companies may have very nice homes as Zoom backgrounds—and they’re looking into their employees’ homes. This can lead to internal tensions caused from socio-economic discrepancies between colleagues and organizational levels.
Some employees have even “re-staged” their homes for a better backdrop on video calls. Not to mention the added pressure of Room Rater, a Twitter account that helpfully suggests how your home can improve while you’re doing your work. What a world.
Our personal lives and professional lives are increasingly intertwined. We’ve seen this recently with Chris Evans accidentally posting a nude that he meant to privately DM, some members of the BC Liberals’ sexist remarks in a roast getting circulated on social and an author from the New Yorker having to resign for exposing himself during a Zoom call. On top of these types of issues, you have the potential for employee accidents and security breaches.
In the workplace—whether it’s in a boardroom or your home—there is no excuse for sexual harassment, sexist, racist, or otherwise inappropriate behaviour. Period. Full stop. But these events keep happening, and they keep making the news.
Smart organizations need to be prepared for how the work/home balance changes how they prepare for crisis management.
Here are some tips to help you avert a crisis before it hits:
1. Sexual harassment and workplace bullying don’t go away just because your workforce is remote.
Ensure your team is clear on what is expected in the company culture and provided appropriate training and action is quickly taken if protocol is violated. To be absolutely clear: do not sexually harass your colleagues. Work is supposed to be a safe space, and when work is home, this is amplified. There is no room for this nonsense, ever.
2. Ensure your company’s workplace policies are well-documented and up-to-date based on the new work-from-home reality.
Internal communications and HR should work together to ensure their new training guides and employee manuals are appropriate and reflective of a work from home culture.
3. Invest in your employees.
If you’re requiring employees to work from home, ensure they have the technology and other tools and support systems they need to do their job effectively and so they can keep their professional lives separate from their personal lives. Now is not the time to be penny wise and pound foolish. Some companies are even investing in new mental health benefits to better support their teams. A new laptop is cheaper than a lawsuit.
4. Update your crisis plans to reflect the new reality.
If you don’t have a crisis plan, stop reading this article and make one. If you do have one, it’s important that it’s updated with possible messaging and scenarios from a work from home perspective. If you have never managed a crisis before, call an expert for help.
5. Help create clear distinctions between work hours and non-work hours.
More than ever, the distinction between work and playtime needs to be communicated and respected. Whether that’s Zoom-free days or policies about not sending work emails on the weekend, providing employees with the needed work break is crucial to their mental health.
We’re starting to more clearly understand the positive and negative effects of so many employees working from home. Companies need to be prepared for all scenarios. Your human resources team needs to be fully integrated into all aspects of your organization. This cross-disciplinary approach is no longer a “nice to have” policy; it’s essential.
Welcome to working from home.
This article first appeared on DailyHive.com. Kylie McMullan (she/her) is the principal of Finch Media and is a communications strategy expert. Paul Nixey (he/him) is the principal of Nixey Communications and is a political strategist and crisis communications expert.
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