More than just a bump in the road, COVID-19 continues to force change for every organization. It alters the very fabric of how businesses operate, and these changes will not go away any time soon. HR departments everywhere have emerged as key players during this time as they implement the best practices that will get their employees and organizations through this pandemic.
Keeping employees safe means something different today than it did just a few months ago. As the highest priority for any HR department, this requires more than simply emailing out a poster from the CDC. Most areas are operating under a shelter in place order, but as these begin to be lifted, it’s necessary to have a strategy in place for providing a healthy work environment.
Bear in mind that no organization will immediately go back to normal operations once employees return to the office. The best HR departments will form a plan to maintain social distancing. These include things like creating a schedule where only half of the employees work from the office on certain days, alternating with the other half. In-person meetings will decrease in frequency, as will events like employee parties. Many will also close off communal areas like a break room or kitchen where workers congregate and touch the same surfaces.
Employees should be encouraged to protect themselves with the proper hygiene, and that means employers need to give them the means to do so. Get stocked up on hand sanitizer and soap. Follow continued guidance from SHRM, urging anyone who feels like they have symptoms to stay home while forming a plan for increased absences. Educate everyone on how the virus is transmitted and encourage the use of masks. Successful HR departments during coronavirus are the ones that become a go-to resource for their workers, with some even creating Chief COVID Officer roles to underscore HR’s role during the crisis.
With the majority of workforces entering yet another week of remote work, productivity can become a problem. How can HR ensure employees have the resources they need to do their job? Many are taking a page from Microsoft, who created a guide to help their employees work from home that covers the logistics of a home office, how to collaborate, best practices for online meetings, and more. They even shared a customizable version that any company can tailor to their own operations.
It may sound simple, but the strongest move here is to simply ask employees what they need to continue to work. While a company cannot fulfill every employee’s desire, creating a dialogue through one channel, the HR department, goes a long way. A workforce feels heard while a business discovers ways to improve. This level of communication empowers leadership to understand how to best motivate their employees.
An unprecedented crisis like the one we face today takes a great toll on mental health. There’s a fine balance between motivating employees to continue to do their job and pushing them too hard. After all, workers everywhere are concerned about their health. They might be sick themselves or caring for someone with coronavirus. Even the thought of that potential is taxing on anyone. While work can provide a form of escape, employees need more breaks during this time. Whether to simply calm their minds or to help their children with homeschooling, this extra time is critical to a healthy mind and improves work-life balance.
Unfortunately, HR departments may also be tasked with delivering bad news to employees right now. This is something to take extra care with as it’s such a delicate time for everyone. Conducting a virtual layoff is not easy and requires extra thought. It takes tact to deliver the news, provide clear information on unemployment benefits, and ideally give the employee a timeline and plan for returning.
Along with mental health, employee engagement can take a dip during this time. Everyone is separated, new channels of communication are still being formed, and people may feel like they have no idea what’s going to happen to their jobs. HR needs to be a safe space and outlet for an organization’s employees. Whether an employee needs to simply talk about their stress levels or wants to ask for extra time off, they need a place to turn to and feel a connection to their employer.
On top of all that, what does the recently passed legislation mean for a small or medium-sized business during coronavirus? With multiple acts and laws getting on the books, HR departments are the ones tasked with understanding what can be difficult documents. Emergency leave policies are changing based on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Employees have new options when dealing with this crisis, but it’s the responsibility of HR to relay these options appropriately. With laws being passed rapidly and companies struggling to make sense of them, the stage is set for compliance issues.
Other initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program or CARES Act provide opportunities for a business as a whole. What does a loan mean for a company right now? What about Social Security tax deferrals or refundable tax credits? Robust HR functions can play an impactful role in understanding what these mean for a company at a time when other leaders are focused on just keeping things running.
With HR in the spotlight, the responsibility to guide employees out of this crisis is not a light one. There’s no margin for error when employee health is at stake, so this is not the time to cut corners. Companies will be defined by how they respond to the ongoing pandemic. While some small and medium-sized organizations have gotten by without a strong HR function in the past, something this big requires deep experience. A PEO like Synergy is prepared to bolster any HR department, providing the support and expertise that businesses and employees need during this time.