The Great Opportunity of Return to Work

Posted On April 30, 2020

by Emily Newman, Camber Outdoors Executive Director

I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.  – Mother Teresa 

The Covid-19 crisis offers companies and corporate leaders a unique opportunity to reorient priorities and practices to create more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces as we move forward with hope for the future that lies beyond this difficult time. Across the active-outdoor industries, we must craft return-to-work strategies that thoughtfully reflect and accommodate the strikingly diverse ways in which employees from various communities have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The return-to-work (RTW) transition offers us all a prime opportunity to target the dual objectives of a) defining the future of workplace and b) creating authentic relationships across communities.

In planning the specific steps of the RTW process, those leaders who keep front of mind the different needs and challenges that various groups of stakeholders have faced through this crisis, will position themselves to build meaningful relationships that will last. We all now have the chance to live the values that we espouse through our companies’ guiding principles.

The active-outdoors industry is well-equipped to devise thoughtful return-to-work strategies that position the industry for strong post-COVID-19 recovery because of two key traits:

1.     Our industry’s ability to see the “big picture” issues of importance, i.e. the importance of preserving our environment. Return to work is an occasion to build upon our environmentally-focused perspective to further encompass a people-focused one

2.     Our willingness to collaborate across the industry in leading with our values to improve outcomes

Let’s take these two traits one at a time.

First, how does our industry’s “big picture” capability apply to the post-COVID-19 return to work?

Today, Covid-19 is impacting diverse communities from both a health perspective, as well as an economic one. In Los Angeles, working-class neighborhoods have more than 40 deaths per 100,000 people – four times higher than the rate in broader LA County. In New York City, according to the Center for New York City Affairs, people of color account for over 68 percent of job losses. Transit ridership has dropped dramatically across the country, mostly abandoned by white-collar workers leaving behind amended schedules and increased rider density for “essential” workers. Additionally, research shows that “neutral” layoffs disproportionately impact women and minorities, and that when companies cut positions rather than individual workers there is “an immediate 9%-22% drop in the proportion of white and Hispanic women, and black, Hispanic and Asian men on their management teams.” The effects of COVID-19 have shone a spotlight on our systems that reinforce economic inequality.

An inclusive return-to-work strategy must acknowledge the various negative effects of COVID-19 on a variety of communities and then provide the necessary support to help employees manage those effects. Recognizing that many among us never left work, we must consider go-forward questions that include regulation, customers, product, transportation, screening and equipment. However, we must also consider how to accommodate the needs of employees who are engaged in caring for sick relatives, homeschooling children, maintaining mental health, dealing with bias and stigma, and simultaneously trying to deliver results at work. When all of these considerations have been made, we will have successfully returned.

Second, why is return-to-work collaboration across the active-outdoors industry so important? Collaboration is vital because, as research has proven time and time again, it is through a diversity of perspectives that we achieve the best outcomes. The “novel coronavirus” is just that. Novel. New to all of us. So its impacts – and how to best respond to them – are new. By sharing best practices and hard-won lessons across companies of all sizes, from various industry segments, with varying operating philosophies, we can glean the key insights that we need as an industry to create and sustain inclusive, equitable, and diverse workplaces.

Our successful execution of thoughtful return-to-work plans will set the stage for authentic relationship-building among employees and consumers alike – fostering an organic connection to outdoor industry participants in a time where many are newly embracing the great benefits of recreating outside. This trust and meaningful, authentic engagement will support the broader industry for years to come.

We are proud at Camber Outdoors that our partners are committed to collaboration as competitors on issues of importance. On May 5th, leaders in the active-outdoors including REI, Ruffwear, LOGE Camps and VF Corporation will come together to share valuable behind-the-scenes insights into their evolving return-to-work strategies, as well as tools and resources to support partner companies across the industry in making a return that is conscious of realities across different employee and consumer groups.

We hope you will join us in taking this important step. As Timothy Ryan, CEO of PwC points out, “The business community can emerge from the crisis faster if we work together.” Together we can demonstrate not only best stakeholder practices but a firm belief in the resiliency of the entire community to reemerge even better than before.

Brian Shaughnessy

About Brian Shaughnessy