With the barrage of COVID-19 information constantly filling our news feeds and conversations, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest announcements and procedures to mitigate the effects of the virus. My team, along with other executives and HR professionals around the world, have been working behind the scenes to navigate the procedures and mandates surrounding COVID-19, while also factoring in the professional and personal impacts on employees.
Now that we’re a few weeks into our current reality of operating with a predominantly remote workforce, we’ve had the chance to push through some technological difficulties, neatly arrange the most professional background for video conference calls and take stock of what our employees and organizations really need to be successful, productive and connected in the coming weeks and months.
With our current technological advancements, setting our employees up with the tools necessary to implement a remote work environment is the first step in ensuring HR teams are utilizing technology to their advantage during these mandatory lockdowns. The next steps lie in navigating the nuances of deploying a remote workforce, from adapting our recruitment efforts and scheduling virtual happy hours to communicating honestly and working through the realities of everyone’s living situation.
Make Your Recruitment Process Intentional and Deliberate
For companies currently recruiting, much of that training has moved online, so recruiters must lean on video conferencing and phone calls for all interviews. Take this as an opportunity to sharpen your recruiting efforts in spite of the inevitable technical difficulties (which, trust me, I’ve had). It’s not easy to impress candidates when you’re still working through problems, but recruiters need to learn how to master the technology available.
The challenges of onboarding new hires remotely mean organizations have to arm employees with laptops and offer digital training. HR teams are learning—along with the rest of the country—how to effectively complete an I-9, how to keep enough equipment available for new hires, and how to make a new colleague feel a part of the team when they can’t welcome them into a physical office.
We’re no longer able to go through the motions and cycle someone through a standard new hire orientation; we can now focus on connecting more effectively. Be sure to watch for a new hire’s network as well, connecting them with others on their team as resources since they aren’t physically sitting next to people in an office.
Flexibility and Overcommunication are Key
None of us were around in 1918, the last time the world experienced anything like what we’re going through now with COVID-19. In Florida, we’re used to natural disasters, like hurricanes, where we shut down for a few days and go through the process of rebuilding. This isn’t a hurricane; it’s an unprecedented global event, so organizations have the freedom to make their own rules and learn along the way. Most importantly, executives should use this experience as an opportunity to educate colleagues on the importance of balance and flexibility.
Leaders are responsible for ensuring every decision they make will allow their company to sustain and survive this pandemic, which might mean having difficult conversations with employees about expenses and adding extra invites to calendars. While providing a stocked communal kitchen and compensating commutes were previous company benefits, employees must understand that some expenses no longer make sense and leadership teams must remain firm when planning their economic forecasts.
You want to make sure your employees are engaged and motivated at a time when companies are announcing hiring freezes and the job market is slowing down. It’s one thing to have a disengaged employee leave your company and another to have them disengage and stay; their mood affects everyone else’s, even digitally.
Without the ability to check in face-to-face, organizations should aim to overcommunicate. Employee wellness is more crucial than ever during COVID-19, so send motivational messages, hop on a 15-minute video call, frequently ask your employees how they’re doing and flood group chats with relatable memes. Seeing people’s faces calms anxieties, and bonding over funny images will lighten the mood when everyone’s worried about their health and the economy.
Be Accommodating During COVID-19
HR teams have the opportunity to research which tools and resources will address the needs of employees across a variety of locations, generations and living situations. While it’s important to familiarize yourself with updates to your company’s health insurance plan and communicate with your 401(k) representatives, make sure you’re also looking into arming your employees with tools and resources to help reduce the added stressors that come from staying home 24/7.
Understand that many young people who have recently entered the workforce are doing so with large amounts of student loan debt, so the current uncertainties are taking a toll on their already-heightened anxieties. At the same time, you might have young parents looking for ways to balance the important needs of educating and entertaining their children. You might also have employees looking after aging parents and some who are reconsidering their retirement plans.
The realities of keeping workers home during COVID-19 means they’re also revealing more about their personal lives and overcoming barriers on a daily basis. One tool we’ve found useful for managing some of the anxiety people are feeling right now is Ginger.io, but the Internet is full of resources that fit your company’s needs. By showing empathy and taking the extra steps to understand what your employees are going through, your business will be more sustainable.
Try New Things
Rather than looking at the current situation as unpredictable, take it as an opportunity to learn, grow and challenge old habits. A few weeks ago, I was flying around the country to attend meetings I thought were impossible to handle remotely, yet we’re managing just that now. While it’s nice to meet face-to-face, we now know we can still conduct these crucial meetings virtually. Now is the time to stop saying, “This is how we've always done it,” and start embracing the possibilities afforded to us when we embrace technology and adapt to the benefits of a remote workforce.
Ask your employees to provide ideas for ways to stay connected and engaged. Discuss flexible working hours for those who need it. Explore fun online games and every chat tool available. Although we might feel contained by being at home, many of us are just now scratching the world of virtual experiences, so give your business the opportunity to explore.
Jen Locklear is Chief Talent Officer of ConnectWise.