April 2, 2020

COVID-19 Support: Perspectives from People Leaders

Written By

Stripes Team

Stripes HR Website

In response to the challenges many of our businesses are facing from COVID-19, Stripes has been hosting a series of virtual panel discussions led by subject matter experts from across our network to share lessons learned. You can also view summaries and key takeaways from our past panels here. We hope this information will provide some perspective on how others have approached these uncertain times. As the environment around us has been changing faster than ever, we expect to add or revisit topics and additional resources as they become pertinent and helpful.

This column focuses on addressing the people-related challenges posed by COVID-19. We’re grateful to draw insights from:

We thank our incredibly informed and insightful panelists for taking the time to participate, particularly while they are facing many of the issues we discussed during our session.

While each firm's response will be different, our panelists shared what's been working for their companies in response to COVID, including:

  • For communication, conduct daily check-ins, stress video communication wherever possible using tools like Loom, and communicate all COVID-related plans to both employees and any prospective job candidates; leadership at all levels, not just HR leaders, should play an active role, particularly with tough and honest conversations
  • For team morale, host virtual game nights with Jackbox Games and Houseparty, create work-from-home and at-home-workout Slack channels, and continue to host anniversary lunches
  • For employee support, award lunch stipends to make up for a lack of office snacks, provide entertainment and educational videos for kids to watch while their parents are working, and expand access to mental health resources like Headspace, Talkspace, and Teladoc

For more recommendations from our panelists, read below:

How To Manage A Remote Workforce

Maintain normalcy (as much as possible)

Despite the logistical challenges, companies should strive to keep as much consistent as possible. Specifically:

  • Continue holding events that you would hold in-person, like one-on-ones between employees and managers, anniversary lunches, and regular check-ins at the beginning and end of each workday
  • Give your employees the resources that they need to be successful at home. Our panelists have delivered bubble-wrapped monitors, put a lunch stipend into each employee’s paycheck to make up for the lack of office snacks, and sent personal wipes to employees’ homes so they wouldn’t need to worry about a toilet paper shortage

Encourage employees and managers to overcommunicate

Managers have many new challenges to confront as a result of the shift to working from home. Overcommunication is key for both managers and their employees, so everyone should know to:

  • Be transparent. You will not have all the answers, so be honest about what you do and do not know, particularly regarding when operations will return to normal
  • Be flexible. Many parents or employees with roommates will find it difficult to work normal hours given obligations such as homeschooling and childcare. Try to accommodate them by altering work and meeting schedules where possible
  • Keep a positive attitude. Don’t lose sight of wins and other things that are going well

Set goals and check in with employees regularly

Recognize that this is a tough time and many people may face challenges adjusting to ‘the new normal,’ so treat performance management in that context. That said, regular goal setting is more important now than ever before. Helping employees see through to the other side of this crisis with goals to strive for can ensure that they’re taking advantage of new personal growth opportunities, such as newly free online learning resources, and keep productivity and morale high. Our people leaders recommend to:

  • Stick to your planned formal performance review schedule, but conduct shorter check-ins more regularly. This can be reassuring for ‘on-track’ employees; conversely, robust documentation is particularly important now if you are forced to conduct layoffs of low performers
  • Check in with employees about their overall well-being, in addition to their work. The typical set of questions (i.e. what did you do yesterday, what will you do today) are not enough in this new environment. Your managers should also check-in on the health, both physical and mental, of their direct reports and their families. For example, encourage managers to take daily attendance and ask employees if they’ve been outside, are eating well, and communicating with their family members

How To Boost Team Morale

Create communities

With social distancing restricting social interaction, employees are looking to fill that need at their jobs. To delight your workforce, you can:

  • Create group activities. Virtual coffee/happy hours or lunches create something for employees to look forward to, especially as many are feeling isolated as a result of COVID. Our panelists also have successfully hosted virtual game nights, playing games from Jackbox Games and Houseparty
  • Leverage messaging platforms to build affinity groups. Channels or groups devoted to WFH suggestions or parenting amidst COVID have been popular so far. To go the extra mile, consider creating an at-home workouts group for employees to follow and build camaraderie

Show support for all employees

As with everything you do, keep an eye out for unseen groups and check in with them regularly. This is even more true for groups especially affected by working from home and COVID, such as single parents, folks affected by domestic violence, folks with mental health issues, or folks living with immunosuppressed or elderly persons. See below for a few specific tips:

  • Tell managers to be okay with flexible work hours. Personal circumstances at home, such as caring for a loved one, may make it more difficult for employees to work at regular hours. Managers can show empathy by accommodating employees’ varied schedules
  • Offer new benefits to support working parents. Many schools have closed due to COVID, often making it more difficult for employees to manage their work and familial responsibilities. Consider offering weekly video classes and concerts to distract kids while their parents are working, or expanding access to childcare for factory workers

Leverage new tech and benefits wherever possible

While many organizations are facing difficult cost-cutting decisions, those with the budget to spend or re-allocate should look to the following resources:

  • Technology. Many vendors have extended free trials or improved their free offerings to help businesses in need. Our panelists recommend Loom, which has removed several limits on its free plan to help businesses record and send video messages
  • Benefits. Overall, our panelists recommend being comfortable with employees working varying hours. To bolster mental health, our panelists have started expanding access to Headspace, Talkspace, and Teladoc for employees. A few other successful examples include offering online courses (i.e. LinkedIn Learning and Udemy) and supporting employees with kids as discussed above. Your employees may want different things, so consider creating a form or shared document where employees can contribute suggestions

How To Manage Headcount

Conduct any layoffs with empathy and honesty

Before conducting a COVID-driven reduction in force, contemplate alternatives such as furloughs and whether your business may qualify for support under the CARES Act. If layoffs are necessary, consider the following guidelines:

  • Be transparent. If the layoffs were directly caused by COVID-19, be transparent about the uncontrollable nature of the event, the impact on your business, and why you were forced to make the decision. If the layoffs were performance-related and not directly tied to COVID-19, be transparent about that as well
  • Be personal. If possible, every conversation should be 1-on-1, and the communication should come from the direct manager
  • Be compassionate. Recognize the significant impact this action will have and do not closely follow scripts or be robotic in your dialog. Spend the energy to treat people with personal care on their way out so they leave with a positive impression and remain ambassadors of your brand

Recruit with a candidate-first mindset

Candidates are anxious about recruiting during COVID. To put them at ease and bolster their perception of your company:

  • Meet with recruiters to share communication tips. Candidates are looking for understanding; fewer places are hiring, and there have been many involuntary layoffs. If a candidate has been recently fired, make sure your recruiters know how to approach that empathetically
  • Share your COVID plans with candidates. Share how you have adapted to show that you’re approaching this situation thoughtfully so the candidate doesn’t have to worry if they’ll be looking for a new job in a few months

Should you have any follow-up questions from the summary above, or if you have any other suggested topics or questions for us to cover, please submit them through this form.

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