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Navigating HR Complexities of the New Workplace

HR in the New Workplace

June 4, 2020

The HR (Human Resources) landscape is changing daily, but one thing remains constant: the human and emotional side of your business. We all have emotions and opinions about what is going on and how things are being handled. As leaders, you are being scrutinized by what you do and by what you are not doing. Fear drives the worst possible scenarios if we don't have information to fill in the blanks.

While we are all in this pandemic together, each of us is experiencing a different situation when it comes to moving forward in the workplace. You may have experienced a forced shutdown, moved your team to work remotely or been deemed an “essential” business.

Regardless of which situation above you can most relate to, employee engagement is more crucial now than ever before.

Rules and regulations that never existed are now part of our new workplace. No one knows if we will go back to normal, but one thing is certain, our workplace today looks and feels different. Whether you are deemed an essential or non-essential business, here are five core areas to focus on in the HR industry.

1. Workplace Communication

When it comes to communication in the new workplace, the focus has shifted. You need to over-communicate with your employees at this time.

We all have our preferences on how we choose to communicate and approach work regardless of what goes on around us. Workplace communication needs to meet the needs of your employees. It’s not about what you need. While you may appreciate a fast-paced environment and a logical outlook, they may appreciate a slower pace and more empathy as they focus on emotions.

Ask yourself these questions when it comes to effective workplace communication:

  • What really matters?
  • What type of meetings do you need (team, 1:1, etc.)?
  • What is the purpose of each meeting?
  • What is the best format for my employees to receive updates?
  • Am I providing consistent communication?

Don’t underestimate the need employees have for communication from leaders. If you are a solopreneur you can apply these same questions to communication with your clients or anyone considered part of your support team. Give them confidence you have a plan in adapting to the changing workplace.

2. Leading Your Team in the New Workplace:

Typically, employees physically worked within the walls of an organization. Employees would commute to work and interact with co-workers and supervisors. Within a matter of weeks, disruption occurred and created multiple layers of how the workplace looks.

The acronym WFH (work from home) and RTW (return to work) seem to pop up frequently in newsletters and updates. Within each term, there is a wide variety of what employees are experiencing. Employees have worked virtually (WFH); onsite (never left the workplace or will RTW); or a combination of these.

You may find yourself working through a series of phases into what your new workplace will look like.

You need to shift how you lead based on whatever phase you are in. Whatever you call it, or however your employees are impacted, here are steps to help you move forward. If you are leading a virtual team, keep them engaged and productive by:

  • Clarifying Expectations
  • Encouraging Time Blocking
  • Staying Connected
  • Getting Active/Taking Breaks
  • Being Flexible

If your employees are getting ready to RTW, communicate your plan before they step foot into the building. Ensure they know what to expect, how you plan to keep them safe and any new guidelines. Here is the CDC’s detailed guidance on how to RTW. The Greater Des Moines Partnership has also created industry playbooks to help you navigate these changes. Check these resources out and don’t wing it!

Don’t forget these tips to keeping your employees safe:

  • Deep clean the workplace.
  • Set up safety measures.
  • Go over new protocols.
  • Take a phased-in approach.

3. HR Policies/Benefits/Compensation

Three areas that blend together but have a big impact on employees include: the policies they need to follow, what employee benefits they have available to them and their pay.


Your current HR policies need to reflect any changes that have been made to respond to the impacts of COVID-19. If your policy used to state remote work was not available and employees are now WFH, a change needs to be made. You will need to continually review and revise your policies to respond to the rapidly evolving impacts of the pandemic. For example, how will you handle at-risk employees?


When it comes to benefits, due to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), many businesses meet the criteria for a 14-day paid leave if the employee has tested positive for COVID-19. This needs to be outlined in your policies so employees are aware of what to do if this happens to them. Don’t wait for your employees to ask you how it will be handled.

  • Mid-year benefit changes:
    • As of May 12, the IRS ruled mid-year changes could be made to cafeteria plans and lengthened the date to use flexible spending accounts by. The policy change doesn’t require employers to offer these options as they must opt-in if they want to give their employees added flexibility.
  • Do you offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?
    • If yes, are you under-communicating to employees this is a benefit available to them? More often than not employees are not aware of an EAP or feel it’s only available for mental health supports. Now, more than ever, personal challenges are spilling into the workplace.


Compensation will always be a hot topic in the HR world. Current conversations are taking a different approach and many are adjusting once or more to keep up with the disruption COVID-19 is causing. How can you keep your employees engaged by offering additional compensation resources? The essential workers who have navigated COVID-19 while remaining open have received new support. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Coronavirus bonuses for employees who continue showing up and work in an industry that you cannot WFH
  • Hazard pay for those who serve others that are positive for COVID-19 but still need continued care and support

4. Well-Being

When you think of well-being, many words come to mind. Overall wellness, mental health (depression, anxiety), financial health (unable to pay the bills or retirement concerns), physical health (worker’s compensation, contracting COVID-19) and stress management (never getting a break or loneliness).

In the past couple of months, employee well-being has taken on enormous importance. Many employees are scared for the physical health of themselves and their families. Financial stress can come from the loss of a job, being furloughed, loss of partial income and 401K reductions. Check-ins with your employees are a powerful way to combat fear.

Can you answer these questions employees are asking?

  • How will you keep me safe when I RTW?
  • What happens if a coworker or I get sick?
  • What if I have a high-risk family member?
  • How long will I WFH? I’m so overwhelmed with all the distractions and don’t have a designated workspace.
  • Being restricted to my home and away from the workplace is lonely. When can I go back to the workplace?

While you may be wondering how loneliness or employee mental health is your responsibility as an employer, it directly impacts the employee’s engagement and productivity in the workplace. Their well-being should be of great importance to you, as it’s impacting your bottom line.

5. Talent/Retention

When it comes to talent and recruitment, you almost need to unlearn some of the traditional hiring practices.


Rethink your workplace hiring. If you have open positions, how can you leverage virtual ways to receive applications and facilitate interviews when face-to-face interactions should be limited?


When it comes to retention, your company culture does not live within the four walls of your building. It’s how you work. It can be seen in your employees and how they interact with each other and others outside the organization.

Maintaining Culture

How can you maintain your culture during this disruption? Determine whether you are adapting to changes and keeping employees in the loop. Are you treating employees as the total person? Give grace and recognize their challenges as their personal and professional lives have collided. The days of separating work and home have completely been blurred and blended.

Exhausted trying to do this all alone? Schedule time with me to share your top three challenges and learn one thing you can do to start turning this around now. Learn more about my Leader Lifeline package and the top areas you can address in your business today.

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For more information on the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Top Five series, visit the Business Resources page. While there, be sure to register for the next Top Five series.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Danielle Rusch

Danielle Rusch leads the Dynamic Talent Consultants team as senior HR consultant. She is passionate about guiding leaders to optimize working relationships and hiring for job fit. Danielle worked in human resources for over 17 years in a variety of industries.