CHRO Amber C. Kennelly shares how her organization pivoted due to the pandemicâand ways the business has changed for the better.
By The Editors
The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to beÂ more agile and flexible than ever as they responded toÂ unprecedented business disruption while maintainingÂ fluid operations. HR teams carried a heavy weight,Â taking on the burden of navigating the transition toÂ remote work and soothing employee anxieties in anÂ uncertain climate. Here, Amber C. Kennelly, CHRO ofÂ insurance brokerage HUB International, shares how herÂ organization managed the shift to remote work whileÂ maintaining employee engagement and well-being.
HRO Today: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affectedÂ your business operations, talent acquisition, and talentÂ management strategies?
Amber C. Kennelly: We were able to quickly shiftÂ our 13,000 North American, generally office-basedÂ employees to a virtual, remote setting in less than oneÂ week. With more than 450 offices of different sizes andÂ in many different geographies across North America, weÂ needed to quickly evaluate technology infrastructure,Â hardware deployments, system stability, video solutions,Â and telephony. These became some of the mostÂ critical to-do items, along with the creation of a cross-functionalÂ âPandemic Response Teamâ (PRT).
Comprised of risk services, legal, HR, IT, procurementÂ and real estate, communications, and claims teamÂ members, the PRT began building a COVID-19 toolkitÂ that would become so valuable to our leaders,Â employees, and clients. As the COVID-19 situationÂ evolved, the COVID-19 toolkit was deployed on ourÂ intranet for our local leaders and HR teams to provideÂ up-to-date information on our guidelines, training,Â communications, reintegration planning, and officeÂ assessments. Even now, weeks and months later, theÂ PRT is still updating tools and resources in the toolkitÂ for our employees and clients as regulatory bodiesÂ and governments update guidance, requirements, andÂ shelter-in-place guidelines.
Once we stabilized our virtual teams and completedÂ forecasts given what we were seeing with respectÂ to economic conditions, we felt better able to makeÂ decisions going forward. We virtually onboarded anyÂ new employees that were in process and held offÂ bringing on other new employees (except essentialÂ roles) for a period. In the early COVID-19 days and evenÂ now, we have utilized a common sense and flexibleÂ approach to problem-solving, focusing on employeeÂ safety and client support.
In areas we were hiring, talent acquisition involvedÂ virtual interviews, virtual onboarding, and virtualÂ training. While this was a new exercise for us, likeÂ with everything around us, we adapted to these newÂ circumstances.
Thankfully, we did not experience any major staffingÂ disruptions and were able to focus significant energyÂ on supporting our employees and clients in this veryÂ dynamic and uncertain environment. In a pulse surveyÂ conducted during COVID-19, we learned that 90 percentÂ of the employees who took the survey respondedÂ positively to âeven when working virtually, my teamÂ does a good job of staying connected on our work.â
HRO Today: Have you had to pivot your employeesâ jobÂ responsibilities to fit changing business needs? If so, howÂ did you manage the transition?
Kennelly: While the work that we do in serving clientsÂ and supporting our employees didnât change, the wayÂ that we are doing this work during COVID-19 has shiftedÂ significantly. Pre-COVID-19, our teams would regularlyÂ meet with clients and prospects in person to discuss andÂ consult on their needs and then work with the serviceÂ team in our offices. With COVID-19, we have shifted toÂ an entirely virtual workforce. Our teams have leveragedÂ Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and GoToMeeting to maintainÂ connections with clients and teams.
In addition to shifting the way we connected with ourÂ clients and with each other, we also quickly mobilizedÂ our internal experts and digital marketing team toÂ produce and make available resources and tools toÂ address any concerns.
HRO Today: What communication strategies are youÂ leveraging to keep employees up to dateÂ on changes?
Kennelly: We began a regular leadership communicationÂ cadence early in March. We created weekly corporateÂ communications, calls or emails, from either our CEO,Â myself, or a few of our other corporate function leads.Â Given our highly localized approach, we had not doneÂ regular company-wide calls with our employees beforeÂ this time. Weâve learned from employees that thisÂ steady, predictable flow of information has been muchÂ appreciated.
In addition to these corporate-wide communications,Â our local leadership also adopted a cadence of regularÂ communications with their teams to share criticalÂ updates. In fact, in a pulse survey conducted duringÂ COVID-19, 89 percent of employees who completed theÂ survey responded positively to âI am getting the rightÂ amount of communication from leadership at my localÂ HUB,â and 89 percent of employees agreed that âlocalÂ Hub leadership shares timely information when I needÂ it.â
Additionally, I have been leading weekly Zoom calls,Â one for our U.S. HR team leadership and one for ourÂ Canadian HR leadership, to share, update, connect, andÂ discuss any topics that this âfrontlineâ team needs. WeÂ also use these calls as opportunities for other leadersâIT, legal, or risk services, for exampleâto provideÂ updates to the HR team, which then shares with itsÂ local operations teams. And during the few calls whereÂ we did not have a full agenda of COVID-19 updates,Â the team members would catch up with each other,Â learn more about their families (and pets), and enjoyÂ each otherâs company. These calls have been incredibleÂ in building our HR community and keeping our teamÂ connected on the quickly evolving and changingÂ COVID-19 landscape. Some members of these teamsÂ have shared with me that they feel like they know eachÂ other better now than they did pre-COVID-19!
HRO Today: What are you doing to ensure employee well-beingÂ and retention during this uncertain time?
Kennelly: Employee safety and mental well-being haveÂ been very front of mind for us during COVID-19. WeÂ have created several ways to support our employees,Â including:
- created a regular and predictable communicationsÂ cadence, with a very transparent and authentic tone;
- curated mental, physical, and financial well-beingÂ materials for our employees on a custom PercipioÂ channel;
- worked with our employee benefit carriers to exploreÂ additional offerings, resources, or flexibility that mightÂ be valuable to our employees, including things likeÂ telehealth options, deadline extensions, carryoverÂ allowances, grace periods, or making additional advisorsÂ available;
- hosted webinars to support our employees on ourÂ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) journeys to createÂ room for and have safe conversations, learn more aboutÂ allyship, and engage in conversations with their childrenÂ on these topics;
- regularly communicated with our employees about theÂ employee assistance program and offerings available toÂ them; and
- equipped our HR teams with information on flexibleÂ work arrangements, so if an employee wants to discussÂ options, we are prepared to engage with and supportÂ them.
In addition to these well-being items, we also pilotedÂ a âHUB Summer Campâ program to develop and investÂ in our employees this summer. Many of the sessionsÂ of our camp are intended to be a bit lighter and fun,Â while some are focused on timely topics of interest. ForÂ example, sessions include mindfulness, yoga, sharingÂ sales stories and experiences, how to deliver feedback,Â financial wellness, allyship, leveraging your strengths,Â classic boardgames, and many others.
To retain our employees, we undertook a few carefullyÂ developed cost management efforts to get in front ofÂ economic uncertainty. By taking these steps, our goalÂ has been (and continues to be) to ensure we have noÂ corporate-led reductions in force or layoffs throughÂ COVID-19. By making relatively smaller adjustments, weÂ are working to ensure that we are able support all ourÂ employees through this tumultuous time.