How Companies Are Taking Care of Employees During COVID-19

Two companies share concrete steps they’ve taken to help their employees live and work during a pandemic.

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Coronavirus has taken a toll on employees across the world. Here are ways to lead your staff with empathy, flexibility, and compassion

From the early announcements in March about COVID-19 leading into today, employers around the world have had to make tough decisions for their business and people.

In these difficult times, strong leadership teams are playing their part to help their employees, without having previous experience in pandemic response. They are relying on their head, hearts, and information available from governments to make the right decisions.

We spoke with 2 companies to learn more about how they have been helping their employees through these challenging times.

Responding to COVID-19

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Raven Lee, Director of Talent Management from Kapsch TrafficCom North America said they let employees who could work from home do so early on, before shelter-in-place orders came.

“We also made sure to have the proper cleaning supplies and PPE for our employees in the field and those who remained in offices, if they could not work from home,” Lee said.

Similarly, Tucows sent all employees to work from home well before most tech organizations had put those orders in place. Leaders have been working closely with each of their individual teams to accommodate flex scheduling.

“The health and safety of our employees and their families is always first and foremost in our minds,” said Jess Johannson, Chief People Officer at Tucows. “There is truly nothing more important.”

In response to the new self-distancing orders, Tucows has also quickly piloted new and safe processes for their fiber internet installations. Teams from across the organization banded together to come up with a method to install their internet into homes without jeopardizing the health and welfare of employees, according to Johannson.

“This was all done in 3 weeks, from thought conception to implementation. We couldn’t be prouder.”

Promoting mental and physical well-being

Promoting mental health has been at the forefront of conversations for executives who are doing their best to take care of their people.

Mindfulness meditations, counseling

At Tucows, their in-house meditation and leadership coach, Isabel Duarte runs daily mindfulness meditations which are run virtually so everyone in the company can attend.

“In early March, as the company went fully remote and we all dealt with the changes caused by this pandemic, the executive team and myself decided to start offering these daily mindfulness sessions,” Duarte said. “They’re designed to provide not only a well-earned pause during the day, but also to empower everyone with new tools for resilience, gratitude, and skillful presence.”

There is no playbook here, and definitely no one-size-fits all approach to how one deals with this experience and therefore, we want to provide as many options and resources as possible.

Beyond this, employees have access to free online virtual counseling, a free employee assistance program, as well as several different mental health and lifestyle spending funds to take advantage of during this time. They also have free access to LifeSpeak, a tool used to provide education around wellness.

“Mental wellness is a priority for us at Tucows and our efforts in this area become even more key during times like this,” Johannson said. “There is no playbook here, and definitely no one-size-fits all approach to how one deals with this experience and therefore, we want to provide as many options and resources as possible to our employees.”

Wellness check-ins and seminars

For Lee and her team, keeping the lines of communication around mental health open is especially important.

“The HR team has implemented wellness check-ins by reaching out to randomly-selected employees just to see how they are doing,” she said “We also partnered with our benefits provider, CIGNA, to host a wellness seminar to help employees learn techniques to help them cope with stress. Beyond this, our response has been to provide individual support and help people make decisions that are right for their families and their unique situations.”

Both companies have been encouraging employees to take time off, even if it’s just to stay home.

“We created a new policy that allows employees to take 2 weeks of PTO if they or a close family member is impacted by COVID-19,” Lee said. “This PTO is separate from what is regularly allotted to them for personal or vacation days.”

Encouraging connectivity between employees

Many leadership teams have stepped up their game in terms of connectivity by increasing the frequency of town halls and their ability to communicate with employees.

“We made the decision to overcommunicate and solicit feedback. We had employee meetings to announce major developments and get real-time discussion and input from our staff.”

“We made the decision to overcommunicate and solicit feedback,” Lee said. “We had employee meetings to announce major developments and get real-time discussion and input from our staff. We wanted to provide an outlet for them to weigh their concerns, and we wanted them to feel heard.”

Tucows has taken a similar approach.

“What we are acutely aware of as a leadership team at Tucows is the notion of connectedness and emphasizing the message that ‘you are not alone,’” Johannson said. “All teams have stepped up their communications, our CEO delivers biweekly town halls, there are random check-ins with employees, and encouragement to use vacation/personal days when needed.”

Connecting to the human side

While happy hours and corporate events are out of the picture for the time being, companies are finding creative ways to appeal to the human and social side of their employees.

Like many companies, Lee and her teams have been running “weekly trivia games during lunch that bring employees together to just connect, have fun, and engage with their colleagues across the organization.”

At Tucows, several initiatives have stemmed from both the corporate and grassroots level. For employees with families, volunteers sign up twice a day to read story books over video conference to other employees and their children. They have also started a virtual talent show to showcase their unique skills and have some fun throughout the day. Virtual coffee chats are a regular part of their culture, where employees randomly pair with each other to have virtual coffee and get to know one another.

What all companies can learn from this situation is the importance of leading your people with empathy, flexibility, and compassion. While this situation is net negative for everyone around the world, it provides leaders the opportunity to demonstrate what it means to take a human-centered approach to leadership and business.

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