We’re learning to fly the plane while it’s in the air. That means lots of imposter syndrome for HR leaders: lots of scrambling, lots of hoping to do the right thing.

The only thing we can do now is try to keep calm and make decisions that we’ll be proud of in a year. We’re not alone, something that’s important to remember: every HR leader at every company all over the world is dealing with these struggles too.

To get a better idea of what others are doing and how we can create some best practices in these difficult times, we spoke with CHROs in our global network who had some great ideas for navigating the new normal and keeping our people healthy.

1. Ask for feedback

Companies are using data-driven employee engagement platforms to continually collect feedback about what employees are feeling and what resonates with them. They’ve collected millions of data points and are seeing big increases in wellbeing and how connected people feel. HR uses this information to build a structure that’s conducive to developing an honest culture.
Some companies are increasing their investment in employee networks. At a time when people feel increasingly isolated and quite uncertain what the future holds, both within business and in the wider economy, they’ve seen a boost in the number of people joining diversity and inclusion councils, and other networks that bring people together.

2. Encourage meetings

Fully-distributed companies need to make sure that important information is making its way to the right people, even from far apart. One of the most successful ways we’ve seen this done is with daily team meetings. These meetings pull teams together globally for a half-hour at the beginning or end of the day to track progress transparently and give teammates a chance to check in with each other.

3. Set employees up for success at home

For employees to be successful while working remotely, companies need to provide a good environment for work. It’s a little like Maslow’s Hierarchy—you need to start at the bottom and make sure all employees have a chair and a desk to work.

Young folks in particular tend to live in very small apartments and often lack space or equipment they need.

Then comes another layer: making sure there is flexibility. In many places education systems are shut down, and people who have kids are struggling. Other people might be caring for older parents, or just be juggling a heavy workload. It is important for companies to be flexible with working hours.

On top of that, morale can be boosted by helping employees focus by setting clear KPI, even during uncertain times. When a person has a clear task to do, and knows what is expected of them, sometimes things are easier. It’s not just about making employees work hard, it’s about giving them a sense of direction in an uncharted sea.

4. Address anxiety openly

Many employees are struggling with anxiety and stress right now. It is critical that HR leaders recognize and address that. Consider offering extra vacation days or leaves of absence, especially to folks who have children or family members who are more susceptible to COVID-19, or are more vulnerable to the virus themselves. 

If your organization offers no-cost assistance programs, like meditation apps or virtual counseling, make sure your people know about them. Make those programs worthwhile!

Clearly everyone will be looking at their hygiene practices and all the basics, but I think it’s much more about making sure that people feel comfortable and safe as they’re coming back in. So we’re also considering the safety practices of the various different jurisdictions. In Germany, for instance, you have to wear a mask when you go outside. For me, it’s all about an individual feeling safe, feeling that they can work from wherever they can be productive, and about allowing choices.

5. Build performance plans

Especially for those new to remote work, it can be hard to feel grounded while collaborating from a distance. To help employees feel more secure in their work, be sure to work closely with them on performance plans and reviews, as well as defining KPIs and OKRs.

6. Discuss plans for returning to the office

While returning to the office might seem like a fever dream, your employees might have questions. To help them feel more secure in this weird time warp of a life, be open with them about plans and procedures.

One CHRO we met with said, 

“We have global locations so plans depend on where and when regulations start to ease. Right now, we’re testing some of the parameters around how we would reintegrate people at offices located in countries that have already started to reopen. We’re limiting the number of people who can be in the office at one point in time. We’re allocating seating to maintain social distancing practices until the lockdowns ease. And we’re telling people to use their best judgment. They are not required to go into the office.”

Another, on the topic of building a hybrid model, said “We’re having discussions about splitting team members into A and B groups to allow our people to come into the office where and when restrictions start to lift. We have an added challenge of a truly global model in the sense that we relocate up to 300 people per year. Currently we have a number of individuals trapped in host countries, or home countries, and unable to switch back into their working office location. So we’re prioritizing travel needs for people who haven’t been able to move into a new role. We have approximately 60 people in that situation at the moment, and we’re stepping through line by line to establish the most streamlined way of activating them into their new roles. It’s a massive challenge. But I’m really proud of how personalized our strategy is. Even now, many of our key workers are still entering into our offices to handle IT equipment for teams, and in countries that are still more heavily paper-based, we’re making sure those workers feel safe and secure.”

Will “remote when possible” become the norm even after economies re-open?

Our CHROs believe that remote is becoming the new norm. One said, “I think when the return comes the new normal will just be completely different. This allows many organizations to throw out some myths and really test how they operate. Not everybody is as lucky as my organization because we’re small, we’re a tech business, and working remotely in a global format is more straightforward for us than for, say, a food manufacturer. But I think this will drive creativity in how people want to work, considering the different generations and different dynamics within the workforce.

For me this time has underlined the trust that we have in our teams, that fundamentally people want to do a good job, and that’s what we’ve been putting forward as one of our principles: we trust you, find a way that works, tell us what it is. As things come back together we will look at how we phase you in and what works for us as an organization.”

Another’s priority is to keep employees engaged and happy by being as flexible as possible. They told us,

“We decided that we want to keep things as flexible as possible. Even where we are located, where businesses can start returning to normal (with special regulations), the main consideration is safety. We need to try and test things carefully. Some employees may feel unsafe to come to the office, and that’s a very personal sense. We decided that in Israel we will allow up to 50 employees each day to come. We have enough space to keep social distancing and make sure they feel safe, but only a handful of employees want to utilize it. And I think that’s totally fine. It’s also fine if employees want to continue to work from home.”

Shayna Hodkin

From Shayna Hodkin

Shayna lives in south Tel Aviv with two dogs and a lot of plants. She writes poems and reads tarot.