Tales of Resiliency from the HR Roundtable 2

August 09, 2020

HR and payroll professionals are back to share how they’re keeping employees safe and working differently in today’s environment.

Blog Post

There is no question that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted businesses across industries around the world. But how each company is handling operations and welcoming employees and customers back is unique. And though businesses that may have closed temporarily are reopening and returning to work in more “normal” operations, infection rates continue to climb, which means they have much to consider when it comes to making people feel and be safe in their facilities.

Whether your doors have been open all along as an essential business or you’re slowly welcoming employees back, HR professionals everywhere are working hard to stay aware and agile in this current environment. We asked our PCTY Advocates to share their experiences and insight from the past few months and the impact the pandemic has had on their roles. (Watch the recording of our roundtable discussion below.)


Employee Health and Safety First

Regardless of the type of work, a sanitized and well-equipped workplace is where companies are starting. From additional supplies to new procedures, employers are prioritizing employee wellness by taking serious measures to provide a safe environment where contamination is minimized while allowing workers to do their jobs. Michael Lesch, Human Resources Manager, says TruCut Incorporated (an out-of-production service parts manufacturer based in Sebring, OH) implemented a progressive cleaning schedule to ensure individual and common areas are cleaned every two hours and helped employees to alternate breaks to minimal people in keep common areas. These efforts have gone a long way to give employees peace-of-mind and they “respect and value the fact that we’ve done everything to make sure that they can continue to work.”

Staggered scheduling is a key way many employers are keeping office and facility occupancies low. This started with alternating periods of furlough at Beacon Credit Union (operating throughout Indiana), says Heather Christle, Human Resources Generalist. “We have gone to drive-up only [operations] at our branches. We have created an A and a B team. Team A works two weeks, while Team B receives furlough pay. Team B is aware and prepared to come in at any time that team A falls ill. After the two weeks, Team B comes in for two weeks. As with Team B, Team A is aware and prepared to come in anytime Team B could fall ill. We are preparing to reopen by installing protective boundaries for staff and membership.”

And when employees do come in to work, they’re met with new procedures that help to maintain as safe of a workplace as possible. Terri White, Vice President of Human Resources at Graphic Solutions Group (a screen, embroidery, and digital press company in Dallas, TX), implemented Paylocity’s Surveys after receiving a shocking bill from her previous provider for their weekly pulse surveys. “The [daily COVID survey] automatically sends every morning at 5 am, and it asks six questions related to COVID. Are you running a fever? Have you been around anybody who tested positive? Are you associated with anyone with a respiratory illness? They’re the CDC questions. There are six of them. If somebody answers “yes” to any of them, they’re to call their manager immediately and not go to the branch.” From there, they follow CDC guidelines for next steps, whether a free telemedicine appointment or obtaining a COVID test. They’re required to quarantine for 14 days and paid through emergency sick leave, or wait until they’re symptom-free for three days or for a total of 7 from the onset of symptoms, whichever is longer. Terri explains, “Each manager gets a dashboard with all their direct reports on it. It lets them know quickly who has answered ‘yes’ to a question, so they can manage their workforce for the day.”

Amanda Kreutzer, Human Resources Manager, explains a similar process at GT Midwest (an industrial manufacturer and distributor operating in Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri). “We have implemented Daily Health Checks. [...] The employee has their temperature taken every morning and are asked if they have had any of a list of symptoms in the last 24 hours or currently. If so, then they are sent home and contacted by me. This is allowing us to stop the spread within our workforce and community and any customers or vendors we come in contact with.”

Workers are coming together in a variety of efforts, big and small, to help keep one another safe and employed. Jenniffer Meiring, Director of Human Resources at American Packaging (a flexible packaging converter operating across the US), says “We have increased the availability and locations of products that can be used to sanitize hands and equipment. We have posted instructions and guidelines highlighting the importance of washing and sanitizing your hands, not touching your face and reporting symptoms.” Environmental measures partnered with individual measures like surveys, attestation prompts, and workstation cleaning help to create a mutual trust between employers and employees.

A New Way of Working

Operations are impacted at every level in today’s environment, and many organizations that weren’t remote-friendly before have been forced to find a way to make remote work possible (for those positions that could effectively do so). And because the pandemic isn’t contained within a specific geography or time frame, companies are trying to find a way to keep their culture intact by engaging and connecting employees as they work in this new way.

Amanda at GT Midwest explains how this was a big shift. “We were not an employer that promoted working from home [...] We wanted everybody in the office. We felt like you’re more productive in the office than working from home.” But, like everyone, they had to adjust, and they did so utilizing social collaboration tools, even utilizing video. When GT Midwest first started working from home, they happened to be in the middle of open enrollment for benefits, and new tools for communicating with her teams helped to relieve the challenge of the new environment amidst such a typically busy time of year. “I decided this is the perfect time for me to utilize Community. I recorded a video of the changes of benefit enrollment, the medical rates increasing, or anything like that, and just did a very personal video. I posted it on Community, and I informed my employees that this is the way I was going to communicate to them. There was an uproar of everyone saying, ‘It’s so nice to see a friendly face.” (Learn more about how GT Midwest gained confidence through reliable, valuable data.)

Companies are also moving toward a trend of seeking out more feedback from employees on how they’re comfortable working, not just new business initiatives and company events. Marne Davies, Vice President Human Resources of Kapnick Insurance (an independent insurance brokerage), says they’ve also used Paylocity Surveys to ask their employees to share their comfort levels when thinking about coming back to work and the different options available to them. “We surveyed our employees to get the pulse on what they’re thinking. As we’re talking about what happens when we come back to work [...] We surveyed our workforce and asked ‘What happens when we get told we can go back to the office? Do you want a combination of part time in the office and part time at home, or do you not want to come back at all and remain remote? We also used it to find out how the productivity is while we’re at home.”

Flexibility and agility in general are a common thread in how HR professionals are approaching the way of working. Michael at TruCut explains how they’ve reimagined everything to stay ahead and prepared to keep the business healthy and running rather than caught off guard. “We’re still talking about spacing in the workforce. We’re talking about re-laying out our manufacturing facilities, because we don’t see this going anywhere.”

Keep Calm and Be Resourceful

Again and again, HR and payroll leaders across industries stress the importance of planning ahead and keeping cool. Resourcefulness has always been a common trait among HR professionals, from managing large workforces with impossibly small teams or rolling out major company-wide changes and new initiatives on shrinking budgets. The current environment calls on those very same skills that these leaders have spent years honing.

Amanda at GT Midwest, as an HR department of one, says your best bet in figuring out a new way forward is to look at the tools you already have available. “I was stressing, but I utilized my resources. [...] Utilize your leadership team. They are going through the same thing that you are. They might not be doing the same tasks that you’re doing, but they understand the frustration because they’re dealing with it at a different level.”

Michael from TruCut shared similar advice about slowing down and finding different ways to look at situations. “Rather than respond, take a step back. Take a deep breath. Try to look at it from all angles. When situations arise, not to be quick to jump. Take a step back.” That’s not to say anyone should expect perfection or ease in times like these, but it’s also not a reason to stop moving forward. He says, “I think the fear is we’re going to fall down. We’re going to scrape our knees. And I think as long as you’re always trying to do the right thing, I think this is all going to work out. Just try to do the right thing, and more times than not, you’re going to be okay.”

With so many legislative changes and new company procedures and policies, it’s safe to assume everyone needs time to adjust and learn as we go. Heather from Beacon Credit Union advises that, especially for people who are so used to being at the ready with answers and solutions, slowing down may be the best approach. “Stay calm. Don’t over-rush it. We’re very much an organization where, when there’s a problem, we know an answer immediately and we like to solve problems immediately. [...] Having an answer for something right away may not be the best answer.”

“For me, it’s just been one day at time, and stay calm. Take that deep breath. Eventually, this too shall pass, and we’ll learn some new things from it,” echoes Marne from Kapnick Insurance. Because things are changing so rapidly yet without a definitive end date, HR professionals are constantly having to learn and adjust, within their own personal lives as well as in their professional lives. And the tried and true skills of knowing how to stay the course and investigate answers are some of the greatest tools in your toolbelt.

Your Partner Forward

The current environment is changing the workplace in major ways, from the ways employees connect and get their information to the things that attract and retain top talent. How HR leaders approach the changes will help to set the tone for workforces and the industry in the years to come. The PCTY Advocates are a network of HR champions who share their experiences and insights, which can be hard to come by in times like these. Learn more about the program and get a peek at our roster of Advocates.

Don’t miss Part 1 of this series, where our Advocates shared their experiences of the pandemic’s impact, shifting to remote work, and keeping their cultures alive.

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