Navigating the New Normal

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic upended how and where work was done across the United States.

Almost overnight, many employers sent their teams home or implemented split shifts. Others dealt with supply chain disruptions or pivoted production to meet changing customer demands. They navigated this sea of change with little direction or knowledge of what was coming next.

As the country begins to emerge into a post-vaccine world, many employers are left unsure of what’s to come next and how to apply lessons learned over the past year. How do you determine when and how to bring employees back to the workplace? How do you meet changing employee expectations after a year of remote work? And even as the threat of the pandemic decreases, are cyber threats on the rise?

System Risk vs Systemic Uncertainty
Three experts from BOK Financial® shared how the company managed through the pandemic, balancing the need to protect employees with the need to provide vital financial services to clients. Their lessons learned during the pandemic will help employers of all sizes better navigate the next new normal.

paths to navigate

Business Continuity

Create the foundation for return to the workplace

Align company’s goals and priorities with response framework.

Determine the goals for your enterprise as you build your response framework. For BOK Financial, those goals from the beginning of the pandemic were to:

  • Protect the health and safety of employees
  • Continue serving the needs of clients

Use data-centric indicators

Understand the interplay of new cases, ICU capacity, testing, etc.

Fear and uncertainty around the coronavirus—or any crisis—necessitate a data-centric approach to guiding how and when employees return to the workplace.

  • To ensure a comprehensive view of the situation, use a variety of data points and data sources including state and local government as well as respected providers such as hospital systems.
  • Overlay the quantitative data with perspectives from leadership on the ground to inform decisions on the return to normal.
  • Don’t neglect the emotional concerns of employees returning to the workplace; empathize and emphasize your company’s commitment to safety.

Ensure plan types provide adequate protection

Determine whether protocols and protections reflect employee roles.

Develop plans based not only on employees’ work environment but also the criticality of their roles to your enterprise.

  • Develop special protocols—separate entrances and bathrooms, greater physical distancing, etc.—for those groups with mission-critical roles.
  • Ensure you have adequate protection for employees in client-facing roles, including barriers, enhanced cleaning and visible signage.

Build a readiness framework to return employees to the workplace

Existing data and vaccination rates help to drive RTW.

The same data that determined when employees needed to work from home can now guide how they can safely return. Continue using previously established indicators but layer in vaccination data—availability, percentage of population vaccinated and percentage of employees vaccinated.

    Prepare for emergency operations in advance

    Identify roles and responsibilities for your crisis response team.

    A centralized emergency operations team can help guide your company’s response to an emergency situation.

    • Utilize a crisis response team to make decisions and disseminate information across the organization.
    • Before a crisis occurs, identify group and build crisis response framework.

    Instill trust and confidence through education

    Consistent, transparent communications build employee understanding.

    Employee trust in the company’s response helps to increase compliance with practices on safeguards against erosion in morale.

    • Open and frequent communications on your company’s plans as well as the methodology and framework for developing those plans helps to build employee trust.
    • Consider using internal and external subject matter experts to educate employees and crisis causes and response.

    Provide education around the vaccine

    Leverage employees’ confidence in your organization to address concerns.

    Vaccinations are an important part of ending the pandemic and bringing employees back to the workplace.

    • Use educational articles and videos from experts or your leadership team to dispel myths about the vaccine and encourage employee adoption.
    • Provide resources on where and how employees can be vaccinated.

    Guide the return to the workplace

    Recognize that many aspects of work have changed over past year.

    Talk with leadership and employees about expectations and anxieties about returning to the workplace.

    • Frequently communicate agreed upon safety guide lines including masking and social distancing protocols.
    • Build in time employees need to make the shift back to the workplace, including child care and commuting options.
    • Apply lessons learned throughout the pandemic even in a post-vaccine world.

    Human Capital

    Embrace the work/home overlap

    Working from home has revealed new employee needs.

    With more employees working virtually, home life and work life have converged and created new stresses.

    • Consider expanding benefits to include mental health assistance, and resources for those caring for children or aging parents
    • Virtual work has blurred the lines between work and home; stress the importance of disconnecting to avoid burnout.

    Get used to virtual interactions

    Onscreen communication has become the norm—but may not feel normal for some.

    Virtual interactions are likely going to continue well after the pandemic ends; make sure your employees are ready.

    • From onscreen learning to virtual selling, employees will need training to ensure they’re ready for their close ups.
    • Continually assess the expectations of both employees and clients to make sure interactions—virtual or in-person—are meeting clients’ expectations.

    Increase crosstraining to build continuity

    Mission-critical roles should have adequate backup.

    Business continuity efforts are typically focused on talent succession, however, the pandemic revealed the need to build depth in client-facing front-line roles.

    • Consider whether you can continue to conduct business in the event that an entire team is quarantined.
    • Proactively develop pools of cross-trained employees to ensure critical functions will not be disrupted in future emergencies.

    Redeploy talent to build job skills

    Provide employees with an opportunity to learn new skills.

    Exposing employees to new departments and responsibilities not only helps ensure organizational resilience but can also increase employee retention.

    • Make sure your employees know that they can find their next career challenge without leaving the company.
    • Find opportunities to introduce employees to new roles as part of the career development process.

    Consider the benefits of the workplace

    WFH or RTO? Don’t rush to judgement on your approach.

    Flexible work arrangements are center stage right now, but don’t discount the benefits of having teams back in the workplace.

    • Many employees are missing the in-person benefits of collaboration and socialization which help to build company culture.
    • Understand what drives your culture and what constitutes a productive environment for all employees before revising work arrangements.

    Train on new skills

    Ensure employees are ready to navigate the new normal.

    The pandemic changed so many things about the workplace; new training and education may be needed to help ensure employees are adapting.

    • Assess whether your teams need training on topics like virtual selling or managing remote teams to ensure they’re able to be effective.
    • Consider what new skills your team might need as well as the most effective ways to deliver that training; ensure that your team is adapting to changing needs and opportunities.


    Assess the current threat landscape

    Cyber threat actors exploited pandemic chaos to attack.

    Uncertainty throughout the pandemic created an attractive operating environment for cybercriminals, with government stimulus programs as popular targets.

    • Pre-pandemic, cybercrime cost about $10.5 trillion annually and is increasing by 15% each year.
    • An estimated $100 billion was lost from pandemic relief programs—including stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits—due to fraud.

    Understand how hackers exploit

    Our need to be responsive can play into the hands of criminals.

    The most popular attack vector is currently phishing—fraudulent emails claiming to be from reputable companies that encourage recipients to share personal information including passwords or account numbers.

    • Complaints about job scams spiked along with the unemployment rate during the pandemic.
    • Applicants can be tricked into sharing Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and even cash purportedly to buy equipment from the company.

    Have a thorough vendor management review process

    Supply chain attacks increasingly impacting business and government agencies.

    As employers harden their defenses, criminals have begun mounting indirect attacks, seeking to enter your network through a less-protected vendor relationship. Decrease your risk by carefully vetting vendors, asking:

    • Are they financially viable or have a strong balance sheet?
    • What information from your company will be stored on their systems?
    • Have they had breaches in the past? How often?

    Weigh increased risks of employees working from home

    Each employee’s home network could provide an entry point for your network.

    Work from home is attractive to many employees but could mean additional risk to your network.

    • Employees using personal devices on company networks can introduce viruses or malware into your network.
    • The risk of employees working from home is similar to the risk of supply chain attacks—your organization’s network is only as secure your employees’ home network environment.

    Reduce your cybercrime risk

    Shifts in the work environment increase risks to your network.

    Efforts to protect business networks must shift to reflect the risks of remote access, ensure sensitive data has enhanced protection and engage employees as the front line against attacks.

    • Protect employee’s home networks. In an "internet of things" environment, encourage creation of a home "guest environment" for IoT devices and a more secure environment to connect to your company’s network.
    • Protect your endpoints. Limit non-company devices to less sensitive areas of your company’s network and emphasize importance of installing patches.
    • Protect your company network by giving careful consideration to employees working "from anywhere," limit remote access to customer data and restrict the number of collaboration tools to make sure they’re fully secure.
    • Protect your employees by limiting administrative privileges, teach best practices for cybersecurity and use multifactor authentication.

    About the Experts

    Teil Blackshare

    Director of Business Continuity
    More about Teil Blackshare
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    • Responsible for the overall condition of readiness for the company and leadership of the Emergency Operations Center which provides coordination and management of all crisis response and recovery activities for any major incident.

      Earned a bachelor’s degree in Management Science with Computer Systems from Oklahoma State University.

      Trained FEMA Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) leader.Board chair for the CompassKC Experience in Kansas City.

    Paul Tucker

    Chief Information Security Officer
    More about Paul Tucker
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    • Directs cybersecurity team responsible for BOK Financial’s efforts to protect information important to the company’s operations, while ensuring the company’s overall cyber resiliency and privacy.

      Served as president of the Tulsa ISSA (Information Systems Security Association); instructed network security classes at Oklahoma State University (OSU); and currently serves on several boards including OSU Institute of Technology, Oklahoma Infragard, Optiv Security and Green County Habitat for Humanity.

    Kelley Weil

    Chief Human Resources Officer
    More about Kelley Weil
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    • Manages human resources organization for BOK Financial, overseeing recruitment, diversity and inclusion, benefits, compensation, learning and development, and community engagement for 5,000 employees across 11 states.

      Earned a Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Business Administration summa cum laude from Texas Tech University.

      Serves on the board of directors for the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless.