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Leading the Covid Workplace

There has been a loss of public trust and the complete abdication of national leadership. To restore our economy, as Dr. Harvey Feinberg, Former President of the American Academy of Medicine, said "The goal is to crush the virus."

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It’s not over. In fact, the scientists and infectious disease experts say Covid-19 won’t be crushed until there is a vaccine—and everyone is vaccinated, which could be 3-5 years. As of this writing,the US has 4.5 million cases, 150,000+ deaths that we know of, and the pandemic is spiraling out of control. In addition to 33 million unemployed, the highest level since the Great Depression, small businesses in particular are facing an economic crisis. According to McKinsey (May), 30 million small business jobs are vulnerable to the virus, and firms with less than 100 employees are the hardest hit. All of this as states attempt to reopen even when the data show that wearing masks and social distancing for 8 weeks is what would help us crush the virus.

Let us remember that work gets done by people. If they trust leadership, and feel respected and safe, they will choose to return to work. As the robber would say, “Your money or your life”. That should not be a choice leaders should force their workers to make, like the meatpackers. Collaboration, not compliance, inspires loyalty and hard work. To that end, here are some things to consider at the strategic and tactical levels:

Strategic:

  • Trust Science, Not Politics: Covid does not have a party affiliation. It just is. The only way to crush it is by respecting that reality and our scientists and doctors dedicated to fighting it
  • Employee Health and Safety First: No one is safe until we are all safe. Reject the survival of the fittest mentality and embrace the reality this is about all of us; we are all responsible for each other’s safety; as the Prime Minister of New Zealand said: “Act as if you’re infected.”
  • Strengthen Trust and Confidence: Workers need to trust their leaders; show them empathy, engage them in the decision-making process; be transparent—about everything Covid-19
  • Be Fair and Equitable: Treat everyone with fairness and equity
  • Prepare for 2nd and 3rd Waves: Plan ahead this time. Be prepared. It will come back

Tactical:

  • Test-Test-Test: If there are no tests, don’t reopen; if available, test 100% of the workforce daily; use contact tracing and isolation where necessary
  • Return Based on Data and Science: Use a dimmer switch vs. an on-off process; the reproductive rate must be less than 1.0 and the infection rate lower than 5%; it is phased, controlled, measured, and based on the data
  • Social Distancing: The way we remain safe is by being apart; have a virtual workplace wherever possible; redesign the workplace with 6-9 feet distances; try alternative days; enforce having people not coming to work sick
  • PPE: Until everyone is vaccinated, all wear masks, use gloves, hand sanitizer, and frequently wash their hands

The choice for the workforce should not be “your money or your life”. The workplace should be a psychologically and physically safe place where people choose to return.

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Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business and Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University; ICF certified executive coach, Lifetime Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, author of the forthcoming book: Leadership’s 4th Evolution: Collaboration for the 21st Century, September, 2020. Write [email protected] for advance copies.

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