CEO’s Letter – Unlocking the Lockdown: The Key is in HR’s Hands

By Elliot H. Clark

I hope that all of you reading this are safe and healthy, as are your loved ones. In the past two months, initial fears of the potential impact of COVID-19 have made way for the stunning realization of how a health crisis can wreak havoc on our culture, our workforces, and our economy. We went from concerns about how severe COVID-19 would be to a precipitous plunge into a new global reality.

To adapt to the crisis, HR first had to enable the workforce to work remotely while maintaining culture and connectedness, and then ultimately -for many companies -assist in significant layoffs, furloughs, or staff reductions. Through it all, HR has been a key part of the process.

There is some very positive data that should be a small comfort to this executive community in the midst of the pandemic pandemonium. In our most recent worker confidence survey with data from early April, we saw worker confidence plummet, as you would expect. However, the research also found that confidence in employers remains high. This is a tribute to the communication, transparency, and leadership of executive teams and HR. A study by Axios confirms our research finding showing that employees trust their companies more than the government in spite of the layoffs.

For coronavirus-related resources, we have a knowledge portal on our website with lots of great content from the HR community at large. We also released a nine-part podcast series, sponsored by Madison Performance Group and aptly named HR as the White Swan,” on how to impact culture and connectivity by using rewards and recognition. Our other podcasts include best practices to prepare for the downturn and eventual upswing, as well as great vignettes on policy options to consider or fun activities to undertake with the current remote workforce.

Clearly, this crisis is an unanticipated “black swan” event that no one could have fully prepared for. And the answer to the question of where countervailing positive energy will come from is simply: from HR. While this has been a few exhausting weeks as we moved into lockdown, the bad news is that it will fall on HR to get things running again. Politicians may develop state and federal plans for reopening, but that is on a macro level. HR and the C-suite will have to figure out how to reopen inside the buildings. Several questions will have to answered:

  • Should we take everyone’s temperature? If yes, be sure to check with counsel as there are OSHA guidelines and HIPAA issues to consider.
  • Should we continue to allow significant portions of the workforce to work from home to ensure more social distancing in the office?
  • Should everyone wear masks or gloves throughout the work day?
  • How should sick and leave policies be amended for those who have or have not been exposed? For example, a worker’s spouse tests positive, but that worker is asymptomatic. Should they be barred from entering a work location?
  • What will be the policy on cleanliness in a work location and who is responsible for the costs of masks, gloves, and enhanced sanitation products?

Each company will have to find its own way on resolving these questions based on their culture, their industry, and their workforce. However, as I write this in mid-April, in all probability, most companies will be faced with rolling relaxation of the social distancing guidelines over the next few weeks. So, planning needs to be in place for these eventualities. Operating departments will once again look to HR to answer all of these questions in the short term, and the biggest ones in the long term: What has permanently changed, and how must our operations, workforce policies, and technology infrastructure adapt to the “new normal”?

We will discuss a few of these questions at the April 30th virtual event, Culture and Connectivity During the Coronavirus Crisis. We hope these resources are useful to you. We know HR has done an incredible job thus far, and will meet the next challenges!

HRO Today applauds all of your efforts.

Tags: Leadership, Magazine Article, May-2020

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