The further we get from the start of the pandemic, the more permanent the changes to the world of workers’ compensation become. New industry players have been introduced, business needs have been refined and program practices have evolved. Those who found ways to pivot quickly — while adhering to their mission and serving their customers — thrived in the face of adversity. Those who did not joined many others on a long list of COVID-19 business casualties.
In considering the lessons learned, what are the underpinnings of a successful change management plan? This may look different for each organization, but resiliency is key. Having weathered the past nearly two years, many employers — and their employees — are now in a stronger position to bounce back from difficult situations.
Many of the challenges businesses navigated at the onset of the pandemic continue to be essential factors to consider in the future:
Companies that embraced and adopted technology solutions to support the delivery of their products and services typically fared much better than those who did not have access or were unable to do so on a wide-scale basis. For many in the services industry, this meant arming employees with laptops and technical support in a home office environment. Considerations had to be given to ensure adequate bandwidth, security measures and software licenses for the newly relocated, remote workforce. Widespread adoption and use of such connective tools as Zoom, Webex and Microsoft Teams became part of the new business vernacular. And virtual meetings and webinars will likely continue to take the place of some onsite gatherings.
Office suites and cubicles were replaced by home offices and remote work locations as the COVID-19 pandemic hit its stride. Couches, kitchen tables and reading nooks became makeshift office set-ups as family members often competed for space to conduct business while home-schooling children. An interest in ergonomically-sound home office arrangements rapidly increased as weeks turned into months and extended time working from home. What were once considered jaw-dropping sounds of a barking dog, a ringing doorbell or the tussle of children became the new normal.
Successful businesses who fought their way through COVID-19 will agree that one of the most challenging aspects related to the pandemic was staying abreast of regulatory changes and updates. In some cases, new information and guidelines were released on what seemed to be a daily basis. Moreover, these regulatory rules and restrictions varied by state and geographical jurisdiction. Monitoring and interpreting newly released information became the full-time jobs of many corporate teams and departments. In the case of claims, some regulations became retroactive — meaning examiners had to revisit claims that had been previously closed.
Human resource departments were somewhat forced to redefine established practices and protocols as many workforces transitioned to remote work locations or home office set-ups. This also meant that managers needed additional training in terms of how they could best support their teams within this new environment. As cross training of staff increased in popularity, hiring became more challenging as in-office interviews became a practice of the past. New onboarding techniques had to be introduced and implemented for those who were hired.
As the pandemic lingered, there became growing talk and awareness of the Great Resignation. Many employees left the workforce — some on a temporary basis and others on a more permanent standing. Those who stayed often sought change or desired more purposeful work. Flexibility became non-negotiable in many cases as work from home arrangements became preferred for those who had previously battled heavy rush-hour traffic or extended commutes.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact almost every industry, including workers’ compensation. Having met these challenges head-on, organizations and professionals are cautiously optimistic — feeling stronger and more prepared than ever to deal with what the future may hold.