Transitioning to the “New Normal” After COVID-19

woman in waiting room wearing mask
Written by Greg Stanley Horn
Edited by Caitlin Feehan

Staff at many nonprofit and social service organizations are still dealing with the disruptions and changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, both in their work and personal lives. Despite the ongoing uncertainty of the situation, it’s crucial for them to start thinking about and planning for the transition back to working on-site and resuming face-to-face appointments.

So, what will this “new normal” look like? How can your organization navigate through the challenges ahead while keeping your staff safe and healthy and meeting the growing demand for services?

Keep reading to discover the key points your human services agency should consider when creating your organizational plans for the upcoming months.

Post-COVID Expectations

man using hand sanitizerWhile so much is still uncertain, one thing seems clear: there will likely not be a return to a pre-COVID state for many years, if at all. Once the pandemic is over, many aspects of our lives will remain changed for the foreseeable future. Here are some of the things you should expect to see:

  • A move toward remote or contactless transactions across all industries, from retail to food service to health care
  • Ongoing restrictions or limitations on travel and large gatherings like conferences, festivals, sporting events, and concerts
  • Higher prevalence of remote work and increased expectations around flex time
  • Damaged trust in hygiene of people, places, products, and services
  • Increased emphasis on technology that protects vulnerable groups while allowing them to stay independent, like e-health and remote biometric monitoring

There will be aftershocks and the road back to “normal” will not be short or easy, so your organization should consider all the decisions you’re making now as long-term or permanent in nature and planned for on that basis.

Mental Health and Change Management Concerns

There are a lot of factors that have affected people’s mental health during the pandemic—the economy has taken a huge hit, people are out of work, and we’ve been forced to stay isolated from our friends, family, and community for months on end. It’s no wonder people are feeling more depressed and anxious than usual, and this has created a surge in demand for mental health and community support services.

Your own staff and volunteers will have differing feelings about the degree of risk they are comfortable taking on when returning to work. It’s unlikely that every member of your team will be completely aligned when it comes to working conditions and operational expectations, and it will be a difficult management challenge to mitigate this and return to effective and productive operations once again. You should expect to see the same thing happen with your clients and their families, who will also land on different spots on the spectrum of risk tolerance and willingness to return to pre-COVID service operations.

Operational Considerations

Many not-for-profit organizations operate within very tight margins, so it’s crucial to ensure your processes enable staff to work as efficiently as possible. Is your organization structured in a way that will allow you to manage remote staff in the long term? Do you have the proper tools, controls, communication systems, and processes in place to effectively manage remote staff when it comes to things like performance management, supervision, onboarding, and professional development? Pivoting your organization to develop competencies in these vital areas, particularly in a time of crisis, will require a strategic mindset and a lot of focus.

Here are some of the aspects of service delivery that your organization should consider:

  • How will you conduct group services, and will your clients feel reluctant to participate in them in light of COVID-19 and its aftermath?
  • How will your clients respond to having to return to your office setting? Things like sitting in waiting rooms, speaking to administrative staff at the front desk, and allowing children to play in play areas will all present challenges for some clients.
  • What adjustments will need to be made to serve vulnerable populations such as the elderly or other groups at higher risk of contracting the virus?
  • What changes are necessary to provide remote services on an ongoing basis to keep staff and clients safe and healthy?
  • How will your organization ensure that legal documents and other files requiring a signature from a client or staff member continue to be processed and managed safely?
  • Will you need to make arrangements with your funding bodies around things like reporting backlogs and accounting for COVID-related anomalies?
  • If your revenue is mainly supported by self-paying client fees, how are you reorganizing your technological resources to manage these payments in the absence of cash transactions?

It’s clear that there is a lot to think about when it comes to preparing and planning for life after COVID-19. Social service and nonprofit organizations need to understand that the disruptions and changes they’re dealing with now will not be going away any time soon and that they need to adjust their perspectives, expectations, and plans accordingly.

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