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How Can HR Face the Challenge of COVID-19?

It’s clear that the Coronavirus pandemic, or COVID-19, is going to be around for a while and is already changing pretty much everything. It’s affecting not only how work gets done, but it’s also profoundly affecting your employees on a deeply personal level.

It’s critical that your teams feel safe, valued, and connected at such a critical time. So how can HR leaders help their business thrive? We think it boils down to one thing: empathy.

Empathy is powerful. If you can reset leadership to focus on listening, you can drive up trust, teamwork and resilience (something we all need now, more than ever).

There is an immense pressure on HR and so having an empathy-driven, people-first talent management strategy is no longer a nice to have, it’s business critical.

So how can HR leaders promote org-wide empathy? Here are our top tips and resources to get you thinking.

Promote engagement with senior leadership

Your senior leadership may normally be naturally circulating around the office, meeting with teams, and setting up all hands during regular working times, but how has that translated to your remote work setup?

According to Gallup, almost 60% of the US workforce previously hadn’t worked remotely in any capacity. Not surprisingly, most leaders have never led a remote team. Activating your leadership team to engage their newly remote employees is the first step towards engaging remote employees.

From giving people control over their decision to work from home, to leading with transparency, Forbes provides some excellent tips for new remote leaders that could easily be adapted to your workplace.

We also think that making your senior leadership visible to your frontline teams can set your organization apart. According to Gallup, your senior leadership can be key to setting the tone in a time of crisis and uncertainty.  Why? Because hearing from your boss helps teams define purpose behind their work – one of the most important factors in employee engagement.

Leadership communication can also reduce stress and anxiety — but keep in mind that your leaders need to be real and authentic to break through the corporate speak and really connect with their teams. Encourage leaders to blog on your company intranet, engage over chat, post authentic videos, or engage in an “ask me anything”. Maybe even setup a virtual lunch and learn. Get creative and embrace the new reality of work. The key is to make it informal, personal, and authentic.

Get creative about team building

Another barrier to empathy is human connection. According to State of Remote Work survey by Buffer, some of the top challenges remote teams face include loneliness and collaborating and communicating. So how can HR leaders help?

First, create a space for small talk. This may sound counter-intuitive, but there is some research that small breaks can boost productivity. To keep teamwork alive, designate a chat channel for #watercooler chat or #goodvibes to keep camaraderie alive. You may even want to create a #coronavirus channel to keep pandemic talk from creeping into work-related spaces and allow those who want to limit news intake to do so.

Don’t be afraid to set aside time to hang out – why stop having lunch or happy hour together? Setup a virtual happy hour and make it fun. At TalentGuard, we had our first virtual happy hour and charades game last week. You could even play remote Pictionary or trivia.

Help employees visualize life beyond the crisis

It’s far too easy to get distracted and discouraged, even in normal times. The feeling of being “stuck” plagues employees when they have a lack of engagement and don’t have a clear sense of purpose and belonging at your company. What better way to foster empathy and help teams see beyond the present than to help them engage with and drive their career path?

When done well, career pathing drives engagement and fosters empowerment. So what makes an effective career path program? First, successful programs require employees to think about their future goals and desires and how those translate to their future at your company. Second, they help provide a development framework that gives employees purpose. Finally, a successful career path program is built on data that can help your leadership team more effectively plan for future talent needs.

Showing employees that your company cares about them, their well-being, and their future at the company can be a tremendous relief – and can help them remain optimistic about their career and about your organization.

Look inwards and develop future skills

Coronavirus drastically changed the jobs market, almost overnight. With events being cancelled and entire sectors shut down, many companies are “hunkering down” and delaying hiring. So, what does that mean for your organization? Most likely, you are still facing the same skill shortages you had a month ago.

So why not focus your efforts inwards? Internal career mobility can help facilitate your workforce to move across your organization, learn new skills, and progress in their careers. As a result, employees will gain a greater sense of job satisfaction and you will see higher retention rates. Win-Win.

One way to enable career mobility is to focus on filling competency gaps in your workforce with upskilling and reskilling programs driven by your career path strategy. These programs can help you evaluate your bench strength and programmatically address gap to address future needs.

When your team sees you investing in their future, and actively listening and responding to their career goals, they will be more loyal and engaged.

In conclusion

As we are all learning on the fly and dealing with uncertainty, the role of HR leaders to lead and create a sense of trust and security at your organization is more important than ever. It’s important to slow down, accept the interruption for what it is, and take care of our people with empathy. We have to prioritize what’s most important: the mental and physical health of our teams, and that all starts with listening.

To learn more HR best practices, view content in our Learning Center.

Related: 5 Simple Ways Advisors Can Become Virtual During This Pandemic