The coronavirus pandemic has been disruptive for all and sadly, devastating and difficult for many.
In the pandemic’s early days, we saw a great deal of change and upheaval very swiftly — both for organizations and our communities. The way in which we live our lives day to day changed very quickly. And for many Canadian employers, the beginning of the pandemic created a flurry of activity, as organizations put business continuity plans into action and pivoted their businesses.
As it became apparent that doing business differently was going to last for a while, insurers, and subsequently employers, began to introduce new benefits or reframe benefits that were already part of their programs, emphasizing the availability of virtual tools and resources for employees as they navigate the crisis. Some elements of health-care access and delivery, benefits administration, claims submission and management have been altered “for now.” But how long is that?
The pandemic has created an opportunity for reflection, both for businesses and for individuals. Over time, many things will return to the way they were before the pandemic and many things will remain altered. As our economies gradually reopen, here are five changes made during the pandemic that I hope will stick around post-coronavirus:
1. An increased focus on wellness
Throughout the pandemic, there’s been a surge in resources for people to access on their own terms. Several provinces have offered their residents access to virtual mental-health resources like online cognitive behavioural therapy and a number of vendors have offered access to stress management supports for anyone who needs it.
At the same time, we have become much more aware of warning signs and are more adept at watching and listening for people in our lives that are struggling with their mental health. With the global economic uncertainty, financial wellness is also getting a spotlight. Early on, one insurer rolled out free access to credit counselling for plan members. And some employers are highlighting access to financial advisors as part of their benefits programs.
With gyms and other fitness facilities shut down, a wide spectrum of at-home physical wellness options have become available. And, as we stay home, people have found new ways to connect with their co-workers, family, friends and communities, understanding that social wellness is also a very important element of our well-being.
While we all work through our own situations in managing through these times, many people have also turned their attention toward their community, looking for ways to help and contribute. So while the free access to some resources will most certainly change post-coronavirus, I hope the options for access and focusing on well-being remains.
2. A shift in access to health care
With the health-care system focused on testing and treating the coronavirus, adaptations in care delivery were made quickly to connect with patients and provide multiples avenues for care access while it was unsafe or impossible for patients to come to clinical spaces. It’s now possible to have appointments with a family doctor by phone or video or to get test results digitally.
Provincial health-care systems mobilized quickly to allow physicians to bill for non face-to-face consults. At the same time, there’s been a rise in telemedicine and care delivery or health-care management apps, shifting the point of care away from a physical facility and toward the patient.
3. Enhanced communications practices
At the beginning of the crisis, there was rapid and frequent communications from employers and governments, with fulsome explanations of what was happening, the impact and the response. Insurers moved quickly to translate the effect of an evolving situation onto benefits and claims adjudication, pushing out information quickly to both plan sponsors and members.
As things calmed down into more of a rhythm, regular communications have continued. Across the board, the very best of these responses have been multi-channel approaches with transparency, empathy and proactivity, showing, without question, the values of an organization.
4. Absence programs as a health and safety consideration
While absence management programs like short- and long-term disability, sick time and salary continuance plans have long been an important consideration in benefits plan design, it’s become apparent that these programs are also key tools for occupational health and safety.
A comprehensive absence program with wage replacement when someone feels ill allows that person to stay home without financial repercussion, making it possible for people to do so rather than going to work sick. These programs can also support an organization’s overall disease prevention strategy, contributing to stopping the spread of infection among their workforce and creating a safer work environment. They can also create a mechanism for employers to ensure their employees are getting proper medical care or testing as their claims are managed.
5. Agile work environments
For those who have continued to work throughout the pandemic or have started a return to work as the economy reopens, we’ve all experienced some modifications to our workspaces.
Maybe your plant went to staggered shifts or altered workspaces to help reduce the number of people on the floor and create more distance between workers. Maybe your workplace became virtual and you worked (or are still working) from home. Or maybe your job, which required you to be on the road a lot, has adapted by using technology to deliver services to clients.
These adaptations have created an opportunity for organizations to reconsider where and how work happens and, when things return to “normal,” will hopefully result in more accommodation and choice for employees, as well as a more inclusive employee experience, contributing to better work-life balance.
The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are still unfolding. However, what we know is that crisis drives change. While it remains to be seen how permanent these changes and other changes will be, our experiences with them will instruct how we interact and connect with work and well-being in the days to come.