It’s not exactly a penetrating insight to point out that the COVID pandemic disrupted virtually everything. From businesses and bottom lines to individuals and institutions, the world is a very different place now than it was in early 2020.

What business leaders and C-suite executives might not appreciate, however, is the extent to which the risk landscape has shifted — sometimes in profound and consequential ways. As growing numbers of businesses begin to return to either full- or part-time in-office operations, understanding those risk shifts and new considerations (and how to address them effectively) is mission critical.

How the pandemic changed the risk environment

To understand how risk environments have shifted, we first have to appreciate just how deeply disruptive the pandemic has been — and how much things have changed in the last 18+ months. As employees return to the office, they are dealing with new routines, new team members, and new pressures, priorities and perspectives shaped by a year of turbulent and, in many cases, traumatic experiences. Frustration and tension are the default state for many in a fraught and fiercely confrontational political environment. Drama around debates about vaccines and masking inspires passionate feelings on all sides of these issues. And the stress and social isolation has left its scars on many who have spent some or all of the last year and half dealing with very challenging personal and family circumstances.

New challenges and priorities post-COVID

For decision-makers looking to understand their new risk profile, new challenges, and priorities abound:

  • Introducing and integrating your workforce back into the facility
  • Keeping conflict and disruptions to a minimum
  • Monitoring new virtual lines of communication for signs of tension or trouble
  • Understanding new social and community patterns, from operational and scheduling changes to behavioral and social shifts
  • Accounting for a new local/regional crime profile, including new and different seasonal trends and considerations
  • Evaluating the current and future impact of the Delta variant and other possible COVID variants

Strategies and tactics to manage new risks

Specific strategies and key areas to address include:

Understanding your space

Among the many changes employees and employers are adapting to as physical office begin to resume operation is the nature of the spaces themselves. There are lots of companies moving into entirely new spaces — or making significant modifications to their existing spaces. Even if you don’t have a new office, the way the space is used has likely changed. With new hours, new employee rotations, and newly empty or partly empty offices, there are myriad new factors that will impact a company’s overall risk profile.

Empowering HR

Given the historic challenges of the ongoing pandemic, it’s understandable that mental health issues and personal stressors have proliferated. People coming back to the office have been through a great deal. Some have lost loved ones, close friends, and coworkers. HR needs to be equipped and empowered to help those employees and handle what is almost certain to be a greater workload. Employee Assistance Programs may also need additional funding or resources.

Refreshing and renewing

After what has been an extended hiatus for many, refreshing workplace safety basics and retraining people on existing programs and protocols is enormously important. While new and modified security programs and safety policies may be needed, it’s a good idea to reemphasize the basics and remind people of health and safety basics that may have been forgotten in the last 12-18 months.

Talking the talk

One of the most common security blind spots is, as always, communication. Not being clear, consistent and direct in sharing with employees what you are doing and what your expectations are for them is one of the most significant liabilities for many brands and businesses. Poor communication is the root cause of many issues that could have been avoided or addressed more effectively. That communication goes both ways too. Now more than ever people want to feel heard and to have an avenue through which they can share feedback and concerns. Make sure those channels exist and team members feel comfortable using them.

Assessing and addressing

Finally, and most critically is the need to conduct a full and comprehensive new risk assessment. A true risk assessment is so much more than a “site assessment.” It takes a much deeper dive into the organization, the people, and the operational details and interpersonal relationships that impact everything from organizational objectives to customer engagement. When conducted by a proven and experienced security partner, a risk assessment goes well beyond physical security, evaluating a combination of the national and regional risk landscape, along with a granular local look at risk factors specific to individual markets, neighborhoods, and office locations.

A well-executed risk assessment allows you to design and implement any new or modified security policies and practices, enabling business leaders and C-suite execs to address the full spectrum of risk in a world that looks very different than it did 18 months ago. A quality risk assessment can help you determine the necessity and ROI of practical steps you can take to mitigate risk, as well as a better overall understanding of the big picture (and your place in it). With a better understanding of their updated risk profile, decision-makers can see how the overall risk landscape has shifted, and where future operational changes and security investments would best be directed to ensure a safer, healthier and more secure workplace for a long time to come.

Published August 10, 2021