OK. Admittedly, the headline on this blog is over the top. But, lately, you could be forgiven for wondering if these are the end of days. Likely, they are not…in the usual sense of the phrase, that is. But, in the sense that this pandemic might…just might…be beginning to turn a corner, that the end of those days are nigh? Well, maybe. And maybe not.
The upside of maybe comes with glimmers of hope parts of the country are seeing in their desperate eagerness to return to some notion of normal. The “curve is flattening” over here, we are told. The rate of infection seems to be “plateauing” over there, we are told. The incidence of death, well, that’s another thing. The pace of fatal COVID-19 cases lags behind the millions worldwide who have become infected. The Grim Reaper is a follower in this pandemic, not a leader.
So, with apologies to Shakespeare, to open or not to open – that is the question now. A few governors and other governmental leaders, under pressure from people terrified about falling into financial ruin, are cracking open their closed states hoping to jump start their economic engines, hoping to get businesses up and running and people back to work. Many medical experts and countless others fear that what is being cracked open is a Pandora’s box. A rush to normalcy, they worry, only means falling head-long back into the maw of the coronavirus.
That ‘maybe not’ part also comes with an ominous new warning from the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Robert Redfield tells the Washington Post that “there’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation will actually be more difficult” than the one we are currently going through. The reason, he says, is “we’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.”
This virus is deadly and painfully difficult on several levels. First, there is the here and now; the pain, suffering, sorrow and the personal financial burdens that are growing exponentially every day. Those are nasty matters, real consequences that we must face at this moment. But we cannot afford to ignore what lies ahead. We do so at our peril.
It appears, however, that many business leaders, struggling mightily to maintain an equilibrium in this out-of-kilter time, apparently have their backs turned on danger down the road. The results of an exhaustive survey by the Institue for Public Relations (IPR) are both enlightening and worrisome.
The IPR, in partnership with Peppercomm, a communications and marketing agency, surveyed 403 communications executives and senior leaders to find out how effectively their companies are communicating and engaging the workforce during this pandemic. In the survey, 93 per cent of those communications executives say their companies are doing well with the response to COVID-19. More than half say they don’t plan to lay anyone off, but less than third have actually made that commitment. Generally, the respondents say they have experienced “positive outcomes on employee engagement, satisfaction, collaboration and trust.” But, “productivitity overall has declined.” That, perhaps, is not surprising since “more than three-quarters of employees are now working from home.”
The survey took a look at the “new normal” method of conducting business, which includes not only working from home but also increased physical distancing of employees, closing shared spaces, creating physical barriers, adding plexiglass shields, more contact-less meetings, instituting temperature checks, even banning handshakes. Only 10 per cent of the respondents have given any thought “to return-to-office preparations in the future.” Nearly three-quarters “had not discussed any changes to the physical work environment or were unsure if their organization was going to make any changes”.
These may not be the End of Days, but they are the beginning of a very long stretch of difficult and challenging time. We should all be prepared.