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6 ways HR can reinvent the employee experience during crisis

New approaches to collaboration and a heightened investment in employee wellness are among the strategies.
By: | December 11, 2020 • 5 min read
(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

The pandemic is testing leaders’ capacity to guide staff through rapid waves of change. Companies have explored various ways to keep employees connected and collaborating as remote work becomes an ongoing reality. Solving these challenges demands experimentation and empathy.

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Leaders are challenged as they navigate and strategize toward a big picture that is unfamiliar. Creating and fostering culture can seem abstract and intangible in this new paradigm—primarily when many aspects of employee experience are rooted in working together in the same office.

Still, employees must know that they can count on an inclusive culture that sees and serves them. The pandemic has many implications for employees as they manage illness, grief, isolation, anxiety, stress and caregiving demands. Wellness initiatives are vital now more than ever.

Tammy Perkins, chief people officer at PMI Worldwide

Instead of thinking about this time as a loss, it’s helpful to focus on what we are gaining. Based on lessons learned from months of remote work, here are the strategies to reinvent culture and strengthen the employee experience.

Connect to the pulse.

Creating evaluative feedback mechanisms during this time is critical. A data-driven approach helps HR gain a clearer understanding of employee sentiments. Finding ways to encourage engagement will become a key leadership trait that nurtures employee experience. Take a pulse survey as a basis for your assessment. Leveraging employee feedback to inform strategies signals that leadership is listening and holding itself accountable.

Deepen team connections.

The pandemic tests culture. When your team works remotely for weeks, periodic meetings and email may be enough to stay connected, but after months go by, the team can lose its rhythm. Those spontaneous office interactions that build relationships are gone. To refresh that connection, regular check-ins are critical to keeping your team focused and engaged.

My team’s weekly happy hours have been successful so far. As we meet, we learn about each other’s daily lives: a new recipe, a favorite show to binge watch, fitness goals or the progress of a home-makeover project. I’ve gotten to know my employees more personally as a result.

See also: How Tony Hsieh inspired a focus on workplace culture

Building culture is an authentic ambition; we welcome employees to speak authentically about who they are and what they need. We also recognize that their needs will change over this difficult duration. For instance, after so many months of remote work, an additional Zoom meeting, even when it’s agenda-free and employee-centric, may start to feel taxing, especially to the working parents who are now juggling homeschooling on top of their work.

We build a foundation of transparency, resilience and agility by staying one step ahead of what our employees need. To do this, we have to be aware of what they’re experiencing and remain creative and empathetic, always revisiting and revising our next generation of employee outreach.

Reinvent employee events.

Virtual events can be meaningful and inspiring to recognize employees and boost morale. The key is not to force-fit what you would do at a physical employee event. Instead, look for ways you can leverage technology to bring voices forward. This is an opportunity to reinvent employee events embracing the new paradigm.

An example is a global, virtual retirement party that my team recently organized. At first, we worried it wouldn’t be warm or celebratory enough as a physical event, but it ended up surpassing expectations. More global employees participated because of the virtual format. Employees who may not have felt comfortable sharing at a dinner party were more inclined to do so at a virtual event, and that rich storytelling was the best part.

Invest in employee wellness.

The length of COVID is wearing on people, especially to those who are overwhelmed or socially disconnected. Employees are experiencing various degrees of impact. Some have thrived; others have struggled.

It’s been a challenging year for minority professionals, shouldering the trauma of racial unrest in the U.S., coupled with the anxiety and grief that minority communities carry because COVID has disproportionately impacted them. This time has been challenging and exhausting for employees. Address employee mental health, wellness and overall safety with empathy, making resources available for employee support. While you can’t eliminate employee fears, you can ease them by creating a culture of belonging, which yields a positive employee experience

Related: Flex work becoming more permanent for employers

The blurred lines between home and work are also confusing to navigate, especially if expectations are unclear. Employees are facing burnout. Fear prompts behaviors that can diminish the effectiveness of a team. Through transparency, leaders can cut down on people’s anxiety.

Change the dynamics for working parents.

Parents are struggling to balance their workload and their kids’ needs. Many are working harder than ever but finding the dynamic difficult to manage. The pandemic has been challenging for working mothers, who often shoulder a disproportionate amount of responsibilities and emotional demands. The heavy lifting that many working parents, especially moms, are taking on can drain energy and focus, leading to burnout and retention issues.

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Being there for employees and creating a culture of empathy means giving them flexibility and support. Create resource groups to maintain an awareness of working parents’ needs. Ours has implemented a meeting blackout period during the business day (11 a.m.-1 p.m.). It’s a predictable, consistent time during which employees will not have scheduled meetings; this crunch time is especially helpful to our working parents.

Shape a winning culture.

The pandemic has been challenging. This crisis has given us the opportunity to strengthen the culture of the workplace. Culture is not random; it’s a sum, an outcome.

As we navigate this new employee experience, we must shape a productive and vibrant culture that empowers employees to do their best work.

Tammy Perkins is the chief people officer of PMI Worldwide, where she leads HR for PMI’s family of brands, including Stanley and Aladdin. Prior to joining PMI, Tammy worked with major brands and start-ups—including Amazon, Microsoft and Fjuri—leading HR and talent acquisition during periods of high growth and transformation. Find her on Twitter @TammyPerkinsHR and LinkedIn.

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