It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged America’s businesses — and the people who work for them.
Employees are working from home (often while caring for young kids), they’re stressed, and they’re struggling with the new challenges that remote work has brought on. Many are also missing their colleagues and the social aspect of the workplace, especially as stay-at-home orders have them isolated from friends, family, and loved ones.
In short? Workers are having a hard time — and businesses are struggling with how to deal with that. Fortunately, the HR function is uniquely positioned to step in and help.
As Ana Flor, ATTOM Data Solutions’ Executive Vice President of People and Culture, puts it, “Right now, it’s so important to focus on the people.”
Tackling the challenge
ATTOM is no different than other businesses out there. We’ve transitioned our team to a fully remote environment, and we’re not expected to be back in the office until at least October.
Fortunately, our history of work-from-home days, as well as a good foundation of flexibility and technology, have helped to make the transition easier than expected. Still, workers struggle with the solitude of it all.
“The hardest part has been the social isolation,” Ana says. “We’ve done a couple of surveys and that’s probably been the hardest for people. They miss the coworker interaction. It’s not the same via Zoom.”
Those surveys have been a key part of the HR strategy during these trying times. Workers have a chance to voice their concerns and feelings, and ATTOM’s executive team can then address those concerns and make adjustments to policy and process accordingly. That — plus a big dose of empathy — is key to making employees feel seen and heard, particularly in times of crisis, Ana says.
“You’re working with humans and I think, by nature, humans want to feel heard,” she says. “With COVID and all this social unrest that’s going on now, feeling heard and understood is especially important.”
Strategies to put into action
Ana and her team have done a stellar job of supporting ATTOM’s workforce during this crisis. If you’re in your company’s HR department, a member of the C-suite, or just a manager of several employees, consider adopting some of Ana’s strategies below:
Provide an outlet for employees to voice their concerns.
Giving workers a voice is always important, but it’s especially crucial when dealing with new challenges (and working virtually, when picking up on social cues, moods, and other nuances is difficult).
At ATTOM, surveys have been the method of choice for soliciting feedback, but they’re not your only options. One-on-one Zoom or phone conversations, polls, or even a running Slack channel can all be great opportunities, too. As Ana says, “If we hadn’t been gathering feedback this whole time, it would have been really difficult for us to make this a positive adjustment for everyone.”
Lead with empathy.
“Empathy is a great way to have people feel seen, understood, and heard,” Ana says. “If you can provide someone empathy and support in their work environment, that’s huge.”
The key is to make sure employees can voice their concerns and share their struggles without fear of repercussions. Taking those conversations to heart and then adjusting policies and processes based on them are all key to ensuring workers feel respected and valued — especially during hard times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put immense stress on people, and there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding it. Some may even be struggling mentally as isolation, financial hardships, and health concerns set in.
“We’ve always checked in on mental health, but I think now we’ve kind of put it front and center,” Ana says. “We’ve been talking about it. I try to send out resources and remind people what we have available to them, because it is very stressful for people — especially the uncertainty of it all.”
These are unprecedented times, and no business will get its response to the pandemic perfect right off the bat. Be honest with employees, and make sure they understand your processes are in flux and that you welcome their input on bettering them.
Here’s how Ana explains it: “We tell our employees ‘We don’t know. This is new, just like it is for you guys, but we know we can get through it.’ We let them know we will make adjustments as necessary and that we value their feedback and are doing our best.”
Focus on output not hours.
Flexibility in production is important, too. With many employees now juggling childcare (or even homeschooling) while working remotely, the traditional 9-to-5 doesn’t always work. In these times, focusing on output and milestones — rather than a set schedule or number of hours — is often a more effective way to manage, “I think that gives them freedom to do the work when they feel they’re able to really focus on it,” Ana says.
Finally, establish a regular cadence with employees, and make sure they’re clear about what’s expected, the goals, and where the company is headed. Leaving people in the dark only adds to the uncertainty most are feeling during these difficult times.
“We are being very intentional about making sure we’re communicating,” Ana says. “ We started doing regular emails, and we try to make sure we’re in front of the employees at least once a week, updating them on what’s going on, what we’re thinking, and what our next steps will be.”
The bottom line
Empathy, grace, and flexibility will be critical as businesses address the challenges of COVID-19, but they’re not limited to times of crisis. As Ana puts it, “I hope that, going forward, people see the value in providing a work environment where people feel safe in expressing what they’re going through, and that employers will make adjustments based on those conversations. I think companies who do that today will come out of the COVID pandemic successfully.”