I was on a call last week with a group of chief HR officers, nearly 80% of whom indicated that they were spending at least six hours each day addressing issues related to COVID-19.
With economic indicators pointing in the direction of a significant global recession in the next few months, workforce issues (e.g., layoffs, staffing, etc.) will surely multiply in an accelerated fashion.
Amidst this all-consuming time of tumult, I implore you not to lose sight of four important elements:
1. An accurate and holistic skills inventory:
In the world of IT, redundancy in systems, networks, etc. is essential to prevent disruption and maintain business continuity.
What’s the equivalent in HR? I suggest it starts with an accurate and complete picture of the skills/capabilities of the entire workforce (e.g., exempt, non-exempt, contract, gig, etc.).
This in no way is to suggest the corporate version of Noah’s ark. Rather, think in terms of capability, capacity, and agility when your organization knows what it can leverage, where it can leverage it, and the gaps it needs to fill both short-term and in the longer-term.
Focus first on your own workforce. With that understanding, extend your efforts into your enterprise ecosystem (i.e., trusted partners). Organizations with this capability in place are much better positioned to:
- Upskill/reskill talent in ways that benefit both the organization and the individual.
- Cross-train people who have adjacent skills (i.e., key foundational skills) so they can provide additional capacity—or substitute for others with key skills who are unable to go to work.
- Borrow or leverage talent/capability from trusted partners.
2. The narrative of your workforce
How your firm and its leaders react and respond to this crisis will dictate how your workforce talks about the organization internally, externally, and across social media. And that narrative is what will shape your firm’s reputation as an employer.
As your organization continues to communicate its evolving policies related to important issues such as remote work, flexible work arrangements, child care, sick leave, etc., it's also essential to understand how—what it is you are communicating—is actually landing (being heard by) your workforce.
At its core, this is about your organization’s culture. Borrow a few tips from high-performance organizations that have been able to successfully renovate their cultures: Gather ongoing sentiment and related data from key stakeholders (e.g., your top suppliers and customers) as well as from influencers across your workforce (e.g., leaders of your employee/business resource groups, project team leaders, those designated high-potential, etc.). Not only will you glean helpful insights, but these people may also be (or may become) your next true culture carriers.
3. The isolation effect on workforce well-being
Don’t allow barriers to physical proximity among co-workers derail the well-being of your workforce.
New research from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Professor Rob Cross (Babson College) makes this very clear: The participation of your workforce in social activities, including volunteering/community programs, as well as its overall sense of belonging, are both positive indicators of your firm’s market performance and the overall level of workforce well-being.
Social distancing may seem like the new corporate buzzword. In reality, it simply presents a different way to describe the spatial barriers that are already present in your remote workforce to include those who work as part of cross-geography and/or virtual teams.
The key for employers is to ensure that barriers to physical proximity do not manifest into feelings of isolation, loneliness, or lack of belonging.
Make sure your people are equipped to lead others and operate in virtual environments.
Prioritize and find creative ways to help your workforce establish and nurture purposeful and meaningful connections across the enterprise (e.g., virtual hang-out meetings or virtual celebrations). Also, provide outlets for employees to express how they are feeling and share ideas (e.g., hotlines, focus groups, pulse surveys, etc.).
We are all parents, partners, and friends as well as leaders; many are looking to us for guidance, compassion, support, and confidence. Remember that it’s hard to be a positive influence if we are not first taking care of ourselves.