There is nothing in our leadership or HR annals that could truly have prepared us for the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic. For the most part, we are all ‘flying blind’ right now, with our shared humanity as our True North and empathy our only guide.
Yet, amid all the uncertainty, fear and confusion, businesses continue to operate and the majority of the world’s workforce, continue to work – albeit remotely.
Right now, we might be feeling rudderless, but let’s not forget all that we have learned as business and HR leaders, especially during the last 15 to 20 years. Shortly before the dystopian reality created by this pandemic, we were collectively embracing and implementing concepts aimed at humanizing the workplace and truly putting people first.
We finally started seeing companies making the paradigm shift from being process-driven, to being experience-driven.
HR had been learning from our friends and allies in marketing, that we can apply principles of customer service to the workplace and we can significantly improve change management initiatives, communication, employee engagement and culture.
Leaders at all levels had been learning the importance of psychological safety and creating environments where individuals thrive, and people do their best work. All in all, things were looking up for ‘the future of work’.
So, what if things haven’t unfolded exactly as we had planned? We can use the lessons we have learned during the past two decades and we can acknowledge that we still have hardworking, loyal employees who are committed to their careers and to our organisations. We can continue to build and enhance employee experience (EX) during this global crisis – and any crisis in future, really – by focusing on the top three moments that matter to employees during a crisis:
- Access to help and support
Regardless of the nature of the crisis, everyone needs some form of help at one time or another.
In formulating your unique organisational response, be sure to consider the various factors and types of assistance and support that employees may require and be mindful of the fact that during a crisis, experiences vary and access to resources isn’t consistent.
Contrary to the popular saying, we are NOT all in the same boat during a crisis. We are all in the same storm – some are weathering the storm in a cruise liner or a superyacht and others are in a rubber dinghy that’s already started sinking.
Your people are going to need to know how and where to access financial assistance, healthcare, mental health and trauma services, childcare, education and possibly even the most basic of human needs such as warmth, shelter and food.
Be sure to formulate a strategy and plan that addresses all of these and employ various communication channels to spread the message throughout all levels and geographical locations in your organisation. Join forces with local non-profits and charities and make sure that your people know that you care about them and you are doing all you can to ensure that they have access to all the resources and support that they need and that their safety is paramount.
- Human connection
Humans remain ‘pack animals’ and our need to feel validated and heard and part of something bigger, doesn’t disappear simply because we are facing a crisis.
Don’t become so focused on the daily transactional tasks of navigating the crisis, that you forget to make time for real human connections. Team members are still having birthdays and celebrating career milestones. People are going above and beyond what was expected of them, despite extraordinary circumstances and they deserve a ‘thank you’ and some recognition for a job well done.
Schedule time every day in your diary to connect with at least one colleague as a human being and not in a work context. Whether it’s a virtual coffee or lunch date or a quick call to talk about the latest Netflix sensation, make time to connect in an authentic, human way as you would have if you were co-located in an office. Talk about families and your lives in general and make time for your team to have some fun – whether it’s playing virtual Cards Against Humanity or trying to keep up with Joe Wicks and his workouts designed for significantly more energetic kids than adults with dodgy knees and sore backs. Opportunities for fun and human connection are still all around us and these help build the culture and improve collaboration and communication.
- Returning to work
We seldom think or even speak about the fact that it’s not easy returning to the workplace after an absence of a few months. Anyone who returns from maternity leave, a secondment, sabbatical or long illness, has been through a period of personal change and upheaval and they need a little help settling into an environment that may also have changed.
Engage with individuals before they return to work and establish their needs and preferences.
Be sure to allow for plenty of flexibility around working hours and places of work and communicate any changes relating to health and safety regulations, security, ways of working, technology or leadership. After a crisis where you have many people returning to work, it’s important to have a comprehensive “re-boarding” plan in place, to ensure that the process is a positive, memorable experience.
It may feel like there isn’t much that we can control in our world right now and it may well be true that this pandemic caught us off-guard. Our people are feeling overwhelmed, anxious and afraid. They’re looking to their workplace leaders for guidance, assistance and support as they navigate this crisis and eventually return to the workplace. But we DO control how we respond during this time and how we show up for our people, so let’s make it memorable for all the right reasons.