There is nothing about the year 2020 that has been typical. The year started off with a global pandemic which was followed by extensive civil unrest both of which are fueling the most contentious and talked about political election in recent memory. Add to that we have hurricanes the Gulf with tidal surges the likes of which we have never seen and the most widespread California wildfires on record, burning nearly 2.2 million acres (as of September 8th). It’s enough to make you want to act like an Ostrich and stick your head in the sand. People are tired, sad, frustrated and exhausted just from the news. Add to that, they are homeschooling their children, caring for elderly parents, and some have lost loved ones, jobs, and homes. Sounds dire doesn’t it? Here is what is dire…these are your employees.
Let’s take a step back to March of this year. Feels like yesterday, feels like a million years ago, but that is when it all started. There was this virus and there was (and is) not treatment or cure and our at risk population was suddenly in grave danger. We had to shut down the country, something that had never been done. Restaurants closed, factories closed, hotels and airlines essentially shut down, schools closed and office buildings closed. Suddenly there was less traffic and only essential employees were on the road heading to work. Wherever and whenever possible, people were encouraged to work from home and they were happy to do it. They were happy to have a job and their employers were flexible and empathetic to what they were dealing with, multiple people working from home, home schooling your children, dogs barking in the background and Zoom after Zoom after Zoom (wait, did we really even know what zoom was before March?)
As employers we went immediately into business continuity mode. You were ensuring you had the bandwidth for an increased number of employees to be accessing systems remotely. You were re-routing phones, buying more remote software and ensuring communications channels were open and ready. You were checking in with employees, stopping non-essential work and communications were at an all time high. You were also surprised. This could work, even non-believers talked about the productivity of their workforce in unprecedented times.
This was all great news and there was an optimism in it all. There is an end, this won’t be forever, and things will go back to “normal”. Now, here we are in September, 6 months in and there is no end in sight. Kids are heading into a new school year, the weather is getting cooler, the nights are getting longer, and our employees are tired. They are stressed, they are talking about Zoom fatigue (which I think is today’s equivalent of meeting fatigue, but that’s a post for another day), and the slower pace of summer is coming to an end. They question if they can get back to pace they had in the Spring, there are too many unknowns, when will they have to go back to the office, how long will the kids be in school, how often will they be home… they are scared. They can’t afford to lose their jobs, but will their employers be as patient as they had been?
If you are an employer, you can no longer operate as if this is a temporary event. Your empathy for your employees has been amazing but it’s no longer enough. They need structure and certainty. So, what can we do as employers to transition into a more structured environment, rather than the uncertainty of today? We need to provide a sense of stability and clarity.
- Provide Certainty: Do employees know when/if they have to come back to work? Companies like Nationwide Insurance and Facebook plan on making remote work the new “normal”. Others, like Royal Bank of Canada, Google and Guardian Life have told employees they won’t have to return until 2021.
- Give them Structure: What about remote work? Do you have a policy or did you hand them a laptop and say hope for the best? Is it working? Is this your opportunity to expand your talent pool while reducing your real estate (and carbon) footprint. Now is the time to start thinking, planning and communicating what the future could look like.
- Provide Feedback: Were you one of those companies that put performance reviews on hold? Time to check in with employees, do they know how they are doing, do they know what their goals are or do they feel disconnected with no feedback. Use the information you get from them to inform how you move forward with performance management.
- Invest in them: Did you put learning programs on hold? They needed to be revisited and maybe reimagined. Employees still need development. Hubspot is an example of an organization that has made a commitment to training their leaders in supporting psychological safety, inclusive hiring and remote team building.
- Make connecting a priority: While I would recommend eliminating unnecessary meetings and shortening others, it is important to make connecting a point. Try a virtual cooking school like McKinsey did or an at home scavenger hunt. Others companies started book clubs and summer camps for kids. Invest in live communications technology like slack or skype for those quick questions and checking in to see how people are doing.
- Plan for the future: What about succession plans and talent management? Is it getting stale in a drawer, is it even relevant anymore? It’s a great time to take a fresh look at your talent. Did someone surprise you and step up during a crisis? Maybe you have some fresh new talent to add to your plans. Even if the plans have stayed the same, it’s a good time to check in with your successors. Do they still aspire to lead and grow? Are they still engaged and productive or have they begun to burn out? Now is the time to course correct.
Above all, remain empathetic and transparent. We have learned we can react quickly, adapt fully and still be productive and successful. So build on that trust and provide as much clarity and flexibility as you can. Remember, the more happy and engaged your employees are, the better your business will be.
#humanresources #humanresources consulting #workfromhome #learninginacrisis #performancemanagement #talentmanagement #remotework