How you respond to Covid-19 depends how seriously you take it. This is not a blip. It is not something to be dealt with using remedial measures. For some period of time, we have to get used to a new normal. Let’s go ahead and assume we’re in this for longer than we want to be. How to respond?
First, take some lessons from the tech industry. Anyone following tech and VC people on Twitter was aware of this issue weeks ahead of those who rely on the media. So, look to how they are responding as employers.
Second, stop equivocating about policy. The crisis is here. Go into full crisis management. No one is grateful that they have so far been behind the curve. Tell employees not to worry. Tracking employees right now would be a huge mistake. You might think it gives you the ability to maintain service as normal, but your employees are worried about getting ill. Their kids are running around the house. Some of them will be on quarantine right now and that number will rise. People might have to start watching their loved ones die from a distance.
At some point, people will start dropping offline at short notice. As they get ill, your employees need to know they can prioritise what they need to. Nobody wants to be the one who was responsible for employee monitoring at the end of this if it gets ugly.
Third, start with ethics. Most business these days have a set of values. Live them now. If you don’t, people will remember. Whenever I run focus groups for major organisations, someone has been treated inequitably. People coming back from maternity leave, people on sick leave, people just trying to get through their day. These are the same businesses who burnish their websites with proclamations of equality and integrity.
This means making an effort. Reach out to lonely employees. We have started a permanent Zoom meeting, open 24/7 that anyone can join if they are in need of some company. Circulate the contact details of Mental Health First Aiders. Ask people how they are before you ask them what they are doing.
If you want a hard-nosed reason to do all of this (and why shouldn’t you?), remember that more important than your careers site or your branding efforts is gossip. People rely more on their network than anything else when thinking about a potential employer. And right now, everyone is staying in touch digitally more than before. Expect to see unfortunate internal communications being circulated widely. People will be less forgiving of companies that misstep in this environment.
Then there’s the stuff you can do to build your brand. No one talks about gratitude in employer branding. Let’s start now. This is not the time for ‘recognition’. Email a colleague and tell them why you are grateful to work with them. Keep it short. Pick them at random. Do it daily, or as often as you remember.
Remember that remote working is a talent attraction opportunity. In the U.K. alone, more than 1 million workers in their 20s have left London since 2014. Use this opportunity to invest fully in making remote working possible. It makes the talent pool bigger, it will finally get people to learn how to use all that tech they have, and it means you can pay for talent without being bound by the market your office is in. Historically, trains brought clerks into the city. Telegraphs enabled global communication. Remote working could do something similar.
Finally, look for new ways of using people. People often thrive when they are dropped into new contexts. As we go through this disruption we should keep our eyes open for ways in which colleagues can prosper. New contexts will be all around us. It will become clear who is best suited to them. Some people will have been unintentionally preparing for this for years. Talent is the result of what we persistently do, not what persistently happens to us. Consider who might be best suited to the ambiguity of managing teams remotely.
Talent attraction and development is about to get the chance to take risks it isn’t always comfortable taking. Let’s make the most of it.
And do things for free. As you shift to video interviewing, offer potential candidates the chance to do a virtual meet-and-greet, to ask you questions, to have online hang-outs with your SMEs.
The Financial Times recently reported that, ‘Collaboration across supply chains and even between rivals could be one legacy of the outbreak. Companies have activated established networks of human resources managers, or joined informal discussions to reach a consensus about how to react.’
Be part of that collaboration. Share what you know. Share your learnings online. Invite outsiders to your webinars about it.
It’s the right thing to do – and it’s good for your employer brand.