Rising to the Challenges presented by COVID-19

By: Diane Stava

As cases of Covid-19 were beginning to be confirmed in the U.S. in late January, businesses were already preparing to handle worst case scenarios. We’d seen the staggering effect of the virus in other countries, so we knew what we needed to consider when it came to ensuring safety and offering flexible solutions for our employees, while maintaining business continuity with as little disruption as possible. Organizations like the CDC and SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) published, and continuously update, resource pages for employers which provide guidance around the multitude of workplace safety and employment law issues at play in a pandemic.

One of the first things we did was to communicate to our employees that their health, and that of their families, was of utmost importance to us. We wanted to reassure them that, in terms of our response to Covid-19, we are committed to being as flexible as possible with our policies, whenever needed. We also wanted them to know that regardless of decisions we may make as a company (regarding company-wide telecommuting, for example), we recognized that individual circumstances vary, and if at any time anyone wanted to make alternate arrangements they were empowered to do so. As CEO Mike Popovich explained, “Our culture and beliefs support employees first.”

We published overall guidance for our employees regarding how we intended to address pending scenarios, largely based on recommendations that were provided by the CDC and SHRM. We also created a Covid-19 Response page within our employee portal which can be used for reference at any time. We let everyone know that one of our most likely responses was going to be to ask everyone to work remotely in support of social distancing, so they would be aware that this was a very real possibility. We know communication is even more critical in times of uncertainty, and we’ve found that our employees have appreciated even simple status updates or information we provided regarding insurance benefits, telemedicine and various employee assistance program options.

When we made the decision to go 100% remote, the transition was relatively seamless for us because our employees already telecommute on a regular basis. 20% of our team works remotely full time in other states. The remaining 80% of us telecommute one to two days per week. We already had systems and protocols in place which allow us to securely access the programs we need to complete our work, to chat instantly, and to conduct meetings effectively.

One of our main focuses now is to keep our engagement levels high. It is a big shift for most of us to go from part-time telecommuting to full-time telecommuting – and with added distractions of many spouses and children who are also now at home – but we are embracing these challenges! Some of the ways we are doing this are:

Through active banter in Slack, our chat program, and email. Our employees are sharing pictures and stories about how they are dealing with random scenarios that come up, and those that are already 100% virtual have offered advice regarding what works best for them.

By providing encouragement to move and get active. From lunchtime family walks, to joining livestreaming dance or exercise classes together, to a virtual team walking challenge – open to family and friends, these breaks of physical activity not only benefit the body but can help reduce stress and support emotional well-being.

By encouraging healthy eating with sharing nutritional infographics, pictures and recipes. We hope to help our employees avoid slipping into a frequent snacking routine while in the comfort of their own homes.

By featuring various well-being resources, including our employee assistance program, meditation and mindfulness activities, sleep resources, and others in support of mental and emotional health.

Through daily recap emails where we share successes, challenges, client updates, works in progress, and humorous moments.

And by encouraging managers to check in with their team members individually through the week to help maintain connections and lessen feelings of isolation, especially for those who may not be as active in the chat channels.

With so much uncertainty and fear at this time, we are doing our best to provide as much clarity as possible for our employees. We are committed to continuing to offer flexible solutions as challenges arise, and will pull together to make sure everyone has the resources and support they need to perform at the high levels they are accustomed to.