332. Re-opening Offices Will not be a Return to Normal

Over the past year the Covid-19 pandemic has altered work habits and arrangements in the market-place. Management and staff employed by non-profit Christian charities have experienced considerable dislocation in their work arrangements. These disruptions created many challenges, but human ingenuity, as well as the adoption of various technologies, have enabled most charitable agencies, including churches, to discover ways to cope. Yet many workers have not had positive work experiences, finding it difficult to work from home spaces that were never meant to accommodate such functions. Lacking the stimulus of usual contact and interaction with other employees (and in many cases the resulting friendships), some staff have lost motivation and vision for their work. For others, these new arrangements have increased stress and work hours. And in the case of some, depression has clouded their days.

We all, I am sure, look forward to a new day, offered by the relief from contagion that vaccination promises. However, as leaders we fool ourselves if we think the pre-pandemic office reality will suddenly and automatically revert to pre-Covid-19 operational status. Too much has changed and many employees enjoy the greater freedom the work-at-home opportunity has created, as well as the perk of no commuting with all of the time and costs saved. 

So as a church-board chairperson, how should you be working with your board and lead pastor to ensure that this transition goes well and in fact produces a better working environment and greater productivity than was the case before and during the pandemic? What is the role of a church board in this issue?

  1. The first thing that you might do is have a conversation with your lead pastor and discern how staff are thinking about and planning for this next transition. If they have not already had discussions about this, then you should prompt your lead pastor to begin the dialogue with staff.
  2. Prior to the pandemic many church staff worked with a kind of modified flex-time, i.e., so long as the staff person’s responsibilities were done well and in a timely way, the supervisor would be somewhat relaxed about how many hours or days of the week the staff person actually worked in the church offices. However, it would be wise to establish a clear employee policy around this issue, given that many employees during the pandemic were probably in the office even less. So what should the expectation be and how can the principle be applied fairly and consistently — both for management and staff? It is probable that some positions will require more in office time than others because of particular responsibilities. 
  3. This would be a good time to review all position descriptions. Perhaps the pandemic has revealed that some positions are not needed or perhaps require considerable modifications, given the emerging vision for the congregation’s future needs. I think many employees will be looking to change jobs as we transition out of the pandemic.
  4. What have the staff learned about the adequacy of the technology and equipment that they have had to use to fulfill their responsibilities? What needs to be upgraded or discarded? Is there re-training available? The same kind of evaluation probably needs to be done regarding the use of offices and other work spaces. What changes need to be made to support a safe workplace? Does the employee sick leave policy require an overhaul? What about cleaning and disinfecting the workplace — how often and by whom? What protocols will be necessary for meeting with clients?
  5. Some thought should be given to policy about employees and vaccinations. Is the expectation that all employees need to be vaccinated for the safety of other workers and clients? If an employee refuses to be vaccinated, how will that be handled?
  6. How will meetings operate? Will f2f interactions be the norm or will employees have the option to stream into meetings using video technology? And who decides? 
  7. How will changes and decisions be communicated so that every employee is working from the same page? 
  8. How has this period of work during the pandemic affected the corporate culture and what needs to be done to rebuild it?

As church-board chair you should consider what voice if any the board should have in such matters. Probably in larger church operations, most of these things will be handled by the lead or executive pastors, as staff-level matters. The board will want to know that there is a good plan for the transition and that employees are being treated fairly in the process.

Perhaps the place to start is for the board to ask the lead pastor to present a report about plans for this transition and identifying any policy questions that the board should engage. Leadership is all about dealing with change and adapting to change. The transition in the work culture following the pandemic will be significant and it is time to start preparing for it. 

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