Today Suzanne Campbell and I facilitated a zoom meeting for our HR Executive Forum members as a way of adapting to our new Covid-19 reality. And the topic was (not surprisingly): Covid-19, and how companies in the Seattle area are responding to our new reality. Our meeting today was a precursor for a more in-depth discussion scheduled for March 20 when we will bring in specific resources such as an emergency management leader that can speak to planning preparedness for pandemics, a legal perspective provided by Davis Wright Tremaine as well as a handful of HR leaders that can share best practices to date.
We covered a broad range of topics today such as:
- How do we deal with situations of cultural harassment and blaming? Covid-19 is not cultural.
- What if current video and conference capabilities such as Zoom become overtaxed (slowdowns are already felt, so anticipating system crashes may not be too far fetched?
- What happens when employees run out of PTO and sick leave? What will trigger request to bring them back to work?
- A lot of employees are encouraged to work from home for the next several weeks? What happens if things do not improve soon? How long can companies support these initiatives?
- What kinds of questions are employees asking and how can we respond with facts, yet keep a calm and collected approach? One HR leader sent a survey to employees asking them what their questions are to help keep them engaged and show that the company cares.
- Most companies appear to have initiated regular, often daily, meetings with senior management and/or an ad hoc task force.
- Most companies are trying to accommodate or requiring that telecommuting arrangements are made whenever possible.
- Some companies are locking their doors and not allowing any visitors on company premises.
- Most companies are discouraging or banning large meetings or non-essential travel.
- Childcare is becoming a big issue as many schools have shut down.
- Some employees who choose to do personal travel have been told they must quarantine for 14 days before being able to return to work (affected travel destinations are reviewed daily).
In general HR executives have taken a large role in the management of this crisis, but work to date has been mostly reactive in nature. “ I have not had time to do anything but Covid-19 this last week! “ is a common theme. HR leaders are wondering when senior management will have time to not only deal with the employee welfare aspect but also take a longer range view and start exploring business implications more fully. HR executives can add value by proactively raising issues the C-Suite team no doubt will have tackle soon. For example, what will be trigger point for telling employees it is ok to return to work? It is likely real business implications will be increasingly addressed in the next few weeks and companies whose supply chains are being disrupted will have to look at layoffs.
Everybody agreed that the current situation is not only a personal issue but a public health issue, and while we do not want to ignite a frenzy, we all need to be concerned about protecting others that are at risk (elderly, those with suppressed immune systems etc).
HR leaders have a unique opportunity to contribute both tactically and strategically to the conversation with the C-suite going forward. What are the implications of what is happening, not only from an employee welfare perspective but from a business perspective? Stay tuned for more thoughts after our meeting on March 20.