For human resources professionals around the world, the workday now begins with a laptop at the dining table instead of a “good morning” in the office. Working parents are now homeschooling their children on their lunch break. On top of that, many people are dealing with fear and uncertainty about the future.
With these sudden and dramatic changes to how we live and work, how should we approach HR during the coronavirus pandemic?
Here are 10 tips for maintaining remote work efficiency, helping employees deal with stress, and successfully preparing for the inevitable transformation of the HR profession.
1. Offer paid sick & emergency leave
One of the simplest ways you can care for your employees is by offering paid emergency and sick leave. In fact, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), employers are now required to provide paid sick leave and expanded family medical leave for reasons related to COVID-19.
The U.S. will reimburse companies with tax credits for the cost of providing employees with paid leave taken for reasons related to COVID-19. If you are an employee of either a private employer with fewer than 500 employees or a covered public sector employee, here’s how much paid leave you can take.
These provisions will apply from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.
2. Ensure health insurance covers COVID-19 testing
Many insurance providers are waiving co-pays for COVID-19 testing. In fact, states like Washington and New York have ordered state-regulated health insurers to waive co-pays and deductibles for patients who need COVID-19 testing.
If your company offers health insurance benefits to employees, does that insurance cover testing for the coronavirus?
3. Encourage telehealth
Educate your employees about options for getting care and advice via telecommunication technologies, rather than seeing a practitioner in person. This could simply mean calling or emailing a primary care provider, or it could mean setting up a video consultation with a specialist.
You can further encourage telehealth by making sure your insurance covers long-distance care options whenever possible.
4. Invest in remote working
As of mid-March, 88% of organizations had encouraged or required workers to work from home. However, as social distancing requirements grow stricter, companies will either have to accommodate those requirements, provide teleworking for their employees, or close their doors until state mandates are relaxed.
Many experts believe the coronavirus outbreak is a catalyst for some major workplace changes that will stick around long term. One of those changes is the move toward more remote working, a trend that had already been gaining steam for a while. Even before the outbreak, 69% of organizations were already offering remote work options on an as-needed basis for at least some employees.
Investing in flexible working arrangements is a crucial safety precaution right now, and it’s also a smart move for the future.
5. Train your workers for the new way you operate
Remote work is nothing new for many people, but it’s uncharted territory for others. Consider having a virtual training session for employees who need help adjusting to working from home. Training might include:
- Instructions on how to use new tools and programs to keep teams connected
- IT help for setting up an at-home workstation with multiple monitors and good internet
- A remote work policy with clear expectations for work hours and communication
- Instructions on how to safely handle sensitive data when working from home
- Advice on good professional etiquette during video meetings (especially for people who might be video chatting with clients or customers)
6. Provide additional resources to help employees transition
What kinds of resources will your employees need to help them successfully adjust to a new work location and routine? A recent Forbes article showcased Microsoft’s Guide to Working From Home During COVID-19. It’s an editable PowerPoint presentation that you can customize to suit your company’s needs. Here’s the link to download the PowerPoint: http://www.aka.ms/WFHguide-Customer
What else will your employees need? Every company and every person is different, but here are some possibilities:
- Information on how to set up an ergonomic workstation to prevent strain, discomfort, and injury
- Mentors who already have experience working from home (or hold a virtual Q&A session)
- Time-management advice for anyone who wants it
7. Virtual hiring can be quick and effective
What should you do if you need to hire new talent while nearly everyone is working remotely? Set up a virtual hiring process! The interview process for hiring remote workers is different from in-person. Here’s an example of what yours might look like:
- Initial phone interview with each of the most promising candidates
- Video chat interviews with the candidates who impressed you most on the phone
- Virtual orientation session over video chat for your new hire
8. Still using your office? Keep it safe and clean
Does your company employ workers who still need to commute to the workplace at least some of the time? Protect these people and their families as much as possible by making sure the workplace is as safe and clean as it can be.
Designate a person to establish and enforce cleaning and safety procedures at work. Most importantly, this will involve disinfecting work areas frequently, teaching proper hygiene practices, providing PPE (if necessary), and implementing social distancing policies that are consistent with your local health authority’s rules and guidelines.
9. Focus on employee support and engagement
Being isolated at home can be lonely for many people, especially those directly affected by the coronavirus outbreak. If there’s any time your employees need extra support, it’s now.
- Make sure employees still have clear, achievable team goals to help them stay connected and motivated.
- Continue to recognize individual contributions and achievements.
- Encourage productive dialogue between managers and employees to address sensitive issues like job security and difficulties adjusting to new ways of working.
- Use wellness programs to help employees cope with stress and assist them in finding the right work/life balance.
- Facilitate virtual therapy sessions for people who want them.
10. Be cautious but don’t panic — communication is key
There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has created an atmosphere of uncertainty for businesses, families, and individuals. One of the most important things any business can do right now is practice good communication, providing a reassuring voice and creating a culture of togetherness during a time when so many of us feel separated from each other.
This is also an opportunity to innovate and prepare for the future of HR during the coronavirus outbreak and beyond.