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Tackling COVID-19, together

bethanye McKinney Blount
Mar 20, 2020 9:05:30 AM

COVID-19 is spreading quickly, and is now in all 50 states. California has been one of the hardest hit, and the San Francisco Bay Area has been under Shelter in Place orders since Tuesday to curb the spread. Many businesses are closed. Many people are now working remotely full-time. Many others have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced for the foreseeable future. Schools are closed, and childcare facilities are only allowed to support essential workers. There is economic uncertainty. And, as of today, the entire state of California is under Shelter in Place orders. 

The situation we’re in is unprecedented and employees are looking to company leaders and HR for guidance. Here are a few ways I think we can support our teams during this pandemic.

Provide flexibility around how employees manage their time

Most of us are venturing in to managing fully-remote teams for the first time. Without the ability to see when everyone comes and goes, some companies are experimenting with measuring employee productivity through things like minutes worked or bugs fixed. This is a mistake. While you may not trust some people to use their time well, don’t make your entire team pay the price for that. Lean in and address those issues with specific people.

Overall, give your employees more flexibility and assume some reduced productivity at this time. Everyone is dealing with stress as they adjust to a “new normal.” This can help prevent burnout down the road.

Be flexible and generous with sick pay

Many people who catch COVID-19 will have mild symptoms, but even a mild infection can take over a week for recovery. Others will become very sick. Consider offering additional sick pay for employees to care for themselves or others in their households. 

Some companies are offering “crisis sick leave” that can be used through the pandemic. We are already hearing stories about companies making good decisions on this front. One company is providing all employees with 15 days to use between now and May. Another is offering an additional 7 days to all employees with the opportunity for more, as approved by HR. There are many different ways you could structure this benefit to fit both your company’s and your employees’ needs.

Let people expense things you wouldn’t normally

Your employees will need to procure equipment to make their home offices work better, so they can be more comfortable and productive. This might include a desk, monitor stand, or chair. It might also include a faster home internet connection or a different mobile phone plan. 

If you want people to be as productive as possible, invest in that productivity. Allow your employees to expense a greater range of productivity tools than is in your standard policy. 

Tip: GitLab has great resources for creating a productive home office and guidelines for spending company money.

Stick to your focal cycles – in some way or another

When executed well under normal circumstances, focal cycles are an important time for reflection and review of goals and progress. Those exercises are still valuable, even in times of great uncertainty. Now, the way you run focal cycles might be different. You may have a smaller budget than anticipated, or your organization may forgo raises and bonuses so you can mitigate potential layoffs. Or following the lead of other companies like Google, you may forego the review process altogether and give employees a flat adjustment. 

Regardless of the outcome, regular focal cycles are important to align employees with company goals and targets. Use the budget you have to prioritize strategic initiatives, whether that’s correcting pay inequities or rewarding top performers. Even if you can’t recognize top performers monetarily, let them know they’re killing it and that you appreciate them. 

Final thoughts

Your employees probably have a million questions about how COVID-19, Shelter in Place orders, and the economic situation are going to impact their jobs. Communicate early, communicate often, and communicate in multiple formats. If you haven’t already had a (virtual) all-hands meeting on the topic, now is the time. Try to answer as many of the basic questions as you can, and let employees know where to go with questions. It’s helpful to have a single source of truth, like your HR team, so managers aren’t scrambling to come up with answers on the spot—which can create inconsistencies throughout your organization. Ask your managers to provide feedback and questions from their teams so you can understand employee concerns and address them. Companies that handle this situation well will be rewarded with dedicated, productive employees and strong reputations as an employer of choice.

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