Making It Through the COVID-19 Crisis Together: Lessons From Our Recent Webinars

 Making It Through the COVID-19 Crisis Together: Lessons From Our Recent Webinars

The COVID-19 crisis amounts to a once-in-a-lifetime challenge to business leaders.

During a set of webinars last week, Great Place To Work® executives outlined this challenge and created a forum for leaders at Best WorkplacesTM and CertifiedTM companies to come together to make sense of the pandemic and its related economic impacts.

“It’s a defining moment,” said Tony Bond, Chief Diversity and Innovation Officer at Great Place To Work. “It’s the ultimate test for leaders.”

It’s also a shared test. One that calls for a shared, collective response. That’s why we have launched “Together,” an ongoing weekly webinar conversation to support leaders who are working through the uncertainty and complexity caused by the novel coronavirus. Register to join us now.

Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place To Work, told attendees at the initial webinars that the data we have gathered from 98 countries reveals that this is a time for business leaders to bring people together, to share resources and information, and to listen.

One of the new remote work ground rules is that partners, children and pets don’t interrupt a video call—they are a welcome part of it, Michael said. That’s because it’s crucial now to demonstrate our shared humanity, and to create a sense of emotional and psychological safety.

“We want our employees to hug that child, to pet that pet, to pick up that cat,” Michael said. “The employees’ mental health and the mental health of the child or the pet come first right now. To ignore this fact will erode trust at the time you need it most.” 

Great Place To Work’s research based on millions of employee surveys across the world, and our conversations with CEOs of U.S. and global businesses, has shown that leaders today should prioritize several things, Michael said.

  • Recognize that employees are concerned about their physical, mental and financial well-being. They also are worried about family members, their friends and our wider society. Leaders should share stories about their personal experiences with partners, children, pets and parents.
  • Put money in the hands of employees—at the same time that leaders take steps to safeguard the fiscal health of the organization.
  • Share information transparently and frequently.
  • Involve people in solving the organization’s problems.

In particular, Michael said, CEOs ought to send out a video message to all staff a minimum of once a week. Leaders ought to discuss issues including how they’re staying abreast of the COVID-19 situation as well as how they’re making decisions.

CEOs shouldn’t shy away from talking about potential restructurings, applications for government relief and other complex issues, Michael said. Trust employees with this information, even if it is sensitive and complicated. “They can handle it,” he said. “Their lives are very complex.”

When it comes to money, distributing even small amounts of cash can be crucial for employees as they care for family members and support their communities. Organizations might turn to travel budgets to free up money for small bonuses or gift cards that employees can spend in their local community where they need to stay connected.

Finally, Michael said, ask employees to pitch in with ideas and creativity. Listen to their ideas about how to provide support to people who are working at home and people who are still “on the job” delivering products and services. This builds an “Innovation By All” culture.

Michael called on leaders to pay particular attention to Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) supporting historically marginalized groups. At the same time, leaders need to make sure all employees participate in this innovation opportunity.

ERGs can help to quantify the “differences that have been valued” over the last decade so they are tangibly valued when restructuring occurs. Our research shows that diversity and inclusion efforts are central to financial success during a recession. The organizations that most consistently created a great workplace experience for all their people outperformed peers in the last recession.

Marcus Erb, Great Place To Work’s Vice President of Data Science & Innovation, spoke about his experience working at home while caring for his two young daughters—who normally attend school. Marcus said his formula includes daily meditation, taking breaks outdoors, and “random dance parties with the kids.”

The conversations will continue during "Together," our weekly online gathering, beginning this Friday, April 3.

Join us every Friday at 9:30 a.m. PDT/12:30 p.m. EDT to learn from our data and our community of Certified companies. You can also share what you are experiencing and get advice from others overcoming similar worries. We hope to see you there.

Photo: Michael talking to our team during his weekly company-wide video call.

Ed Frauenheim