Like many HR professionals, leading through COVID-19 has been one of the most difficult challenges I have seen in my 20-year career. As an Orlando, Fla.-based company, our team at PowerDMS has crisis plans for hurricanes and 100 percent remote work capabilities. In some ways, we had been preparing for a crisis for years, but like many companies, we never imagined it would serve as the framework for a pandemic response plan.
Responding to an ever-changing situation while working to keep employees informed, engaged, and business thriving, all in a new work environment, is no small feat. At PowerDMS, we have seen surprising results during this challenging time, including increased levels of engagement among our workforce.
Whether your organization has thrived during the pandemic or struggled to communicate and stay engaged, there are many lessons that we can reflect on and take away from this time as we move forward.
In the presence of silence, employees will form their own narrative. As HR leaders, how can we better own the conversation and find the right cadence of communication when information is rapidly changing?
Many companies use internal messaging systems like Slack or Microsoft Teams for both one-on-one and non-policy and procedure-related communication. Once COVID-19 hit, we realized our employees were using Slack exponentially more for one-on-one conversations than before, and we had no visibility into what they were saying.
As a leadership team, the last thing we wanted was for misinformation to spread or for our employees to start forming narratives about what was happening. We knew we had to take control of the conversation in a way that was visible and transparent to everyone.
The first thing we did was create a cadence of ongoing communication and posted everything in our cloud-based document management system. This included weekly memos from leadership, infection control policies, remote work policies, information regarding an Employee Assistance Program, COVID-19 Positive Protocol, and Return to Work Policies and Procedures.
Because information was changing so quickly, we made sure we only spoke about what we did know and were open and honest about the things we didn’t. As HR leaders, our tendency is not to talk until we know all the facts, but with something as impactful and fast-moving as COVID-19, silence was more dangerous. Being honest about what we didn’t know meant our employees didn’t need to go out and find answers, but they would receive them as soon as we had them.
How can HR leaders adapt communications during a crisis to meet the needs of a diverse, multi-generational workforce?
In today’s dynamic work environment, companies have many tools at their disposal to communicate with staff, including email, Slack, and oftentimes an Intranet or a document management system. While email and Slack are great communication tools, we realized quickly they weren’t the right tool for critical pandemic-related communications. We knew we needed visibility into whether or not our employees were reading what we disseminated. We also wanted a one-stop-shop for all things COVID-19, so there were no questions about where to find or reference information.
While we have always used our document management system for policy updates and dissemination, we quickly realized we needed to leverage it and create a COVID-19 folder to host new policies, hand-washing training, leadership updates, and more. This provided documentation and certainty that everyone received the same message because they were able to electronically sign off on COVID-19 content.
Another critical component we considered throughout this process was the frequency and format of our updates. With a predominately millennial workforce, more frequent, yet concise communication was far more effective than a lengthy memo. Consider the different generations represented in each level of your agency and how they best receive information before hitting send.
We also noticed that our employees were reading and signing off on policies before an announcement could be sent out. It was clear our employees were hungry for information and using the document management app to review the information as soon as it was posted. Mobile capabilities and push notifications are a must when communicating with younger generations, and most platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams now offer them.
Sometimes what is most important to us as leaders and HR professionals isn’t always what is most important to our employees. How can we better tap into what is important to employees during a crisis to help them learn and grow, and continue doing their jobs productively?
As leaders, we have to balance dozens of competing priorities each day. One thing that has been made clear during this crisis is that if our employees don’t feel safe, they can’t do their jobs.
Before communicating updates or making changes to our policies and procedures, keep employees’ safety and well-being at the forefront. Additionally, communicate how the crisis or the changes we make will impact them. While we may answer to investors or a Board of Directors, at the end of the day, we are people leading other people. If our communication doesn’t articulate how a change will impact our employees personally, it will not produce the desired results.
Maintaining company culture is also critical during uncertain times, and it is where PowerDMS as a company has seen a strong, positive response and engagement from employees during the pandemic. Tapping into the talents your employees have outside of work is a great way to do this to engage in new ways and improve morale overall. Think about an employee who is a musician in his free time. Could that employee offer a virtual concert series? Could an employee who is also an artist offer a “Drawing 101” course during lunch? Or an employee who enjoys cooking teaches how to create the perfect comfort food?
When employees move to a remote work environment, many times, that daily “watercooler” conversation is forgotten. If companies rely solely on typical Zoom meetings, they are missing out on vital “watercooler” moments to engage with employees and keep them motivated. Virtual happy hours and concerts, as well as lunch and learns, fill this gap, helping keep morale high and employees happy in a new work setting.
As HR professionals, how can we use these experiences to better engage our workforces and enhance morale now and moving forward?
COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed how we do business and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Each week brings new challenges and pushes us to grow and learn new things every day.
As a tech company, whenever we roll out a new software feature, our development team does a retro to reflect on what went well and what it can do better the next time. Learning from our developers, our pandemic response team will meet at least twice to retro on our pandemic response. We have already begun documenting what worked well and the things we can do better in the future. We will be creating new Standard Operating Procedures, including one for how our response team will operate moving forward. This evaluation process will put us in an even better position to respond swiftly and effectively if there is a second wave of infection.
Responding to an ever-changing situation while working to keep employees informed, engaged, and business thriving, all in a new work environment, is no small feat. As HR professionals, it is important that we reflect on this time in order to gain a keen understanding of what has worked and how to move forward in the future.
While none of us know what the future will bring, we can continue to assess and review our policies, procedures, technology, and communication platforms to move forward more successfully.