RALEIGH – Workers, beware, You’d best be prepared for the “new normal” in a COVID-19 world with the prospects of more layoffs, buyouts and furloughs coming once some pandemic benefits and loans begin to run out.

Employees at all levels can expect many changes in the workplace as they return to jobs either in the office or by telecommuting, says human resources executive Molly Hegemen based on results of a survey conducted by Capital Associated Industries.

But Hegemen – CAI’s Vice President, Membership & HR Services – warns that changes made already are subject to further revision. She points out that companies are just at the “beginning stages of policy change” across many areas, from work-at-home policies to time and attendance.

In another survey, the American Institute of CPAs reports the importance of government relief in keeping workers onboard: “Sixty-one percent of survey respondents said their companies had kept their employment levels and pay structure intact, presumably in part due to the widespread use of PPP and related programs.”

So what happens when the money runs out and if business doesn’t return to pre-pandemic “normal”?

Here’s our exclusive Q&A about the survey and what is ahead for the workforce:

  • More than 1 million NC residents have lost their jobs – what are executives saying about layoffs, furloughs, buyouts and hiring people back? Did companies prefer furloughs over layoffs and if so why?

We have seen a combination of things happening. 34% of respondents in our survey indicated their overall business has decreased. 39% have experienced thriving areas within their business, while other areas remain steady or decreased significantly.

Rick Smith, WRAL TechWire’s editor and a cofounder, writes The Skinny.

In each of the situations where business is down, the impact to staff is either furlough or layoff.

More permanent decisions will be made as companies evaluate the financial impact and their ability to return to work.

  • In 2008-9, buyouts were a big means of reducing headcount. This appears to have changed. Do you concur? If so, why?

It’s too early to tell.  Given the additional unemployment benefits and PPP loans, employers were encouraged to think about changes as temporary.

More permanent decisions will be made as companies evaluate the financial impact and their ability to return to work.

Source: CAI

  • What do responses tell you about the most important ways the pandemic has changed the work environment? What are the big differences between now and 2008-9?

Prior to Covid-19, there were lots companies that did not offer wide-spread work-from-home options to employees.  Yet, as of the end of March, in order to stay in business, so many organizations proved they could operate remotely.

Ninety percent of our 647 survey respondents indicated that their workforce was working remote in some capacity; 21% transitioned to exclusively working from home while 68% indicated a combination of on-site and remote.

Survey: 61% of businesses have kept all workers, not cut pay – so far – in pandemic

There were no safety concerns nor stay at home orders from [North Carolina’s] Governor [Bev Perdue] in 2008-09, so that’s a big difference from the work environment perspective.

  • The survey found 70% of respondents reported having changed their remote work policies, 55% have incorporated modified or flexible work schedules and 41% have relaxed their attendance guidelines and policies – are these policies more “relaxed” to help workers and is this a means to try to keep workers on the payroll?

We’ve seen these policies, especially attendance more “relaxed” to help workers manage the demands on their personal lives given school closures, additional obligations to care for family members …

The remote work and flex scheduling policies changes are in response to where employees are working as well as when they get their work done.  Employers are being very flexible to accommodate additional family and/or personal obligations that must happen during the normal work day hours.

  • Are you surprised that there have not been greater changes in HR policies, particularly pay?
  1. 8% have eliminated bonuses for most or all employees
  2. Salaries for nearly 15% of employees have been cut
  3. More than 61% have kept compensation the same
  4. Only 11% have increased compensation for some or all employees
  5. Some 21% have made changes in sick leave and paid time off policies

I believe we are just at the beginning stages of policy change.  Companies have demonstrated an ability to work differently without necessarily being constrained by or guided by existing policies.

Now that we know these changes aren’t just temporary, I anticipate there will be more policy changes.  Yet, they made need to remain fluid since operations will continue to evolve during the phases of return-to-work.

  • Are you surprised more companies have not made changes in work from home/internet/phone reimbursements since so many firms have required employees to telework? Might this change going forward if telework continues to be a significant requirement?

Yes, especially as companies are slowly bringing employees back into their physical spaces.  It will be necessary to evaluate current business operations and adjust policies accordingly.

  • What did executives have to say about changes in their workplaces – more distancing? New or reshaped work areas?

Executives are partnering with Human Resources and Safety professionals to help guide decisions about their workplace.  Decisions are being made to keep employees safe, so at a minimum that includes distancing, reconfiguring work and break areas, cleaning protocols, and testing/screening practices.

Survey: NC employers adapt to COVID-19 – from pay cuts to flexible schedules, more