Tales of Resiliency from the HR Roundtable: Part 1

June 03, 2020

HR and payroll professionals share their stories in our blog series on resilience during the coronavirus pandemic.

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No matter your industry, your business has been impacted in some way by the coronavirus pandemic, even if employees are still on site. HR and payroll professionals are in a uniquely challenging position, where you’re looking for new and innovative ways to support employees and adapt operations, even beyond enabling remote work.

We asked our PCTY Advocates to share their experiences over the past few months and the impact the pandemic has had on their roles. (Watch the recording of our roundtable discussion below.)

The Impact on Businesses

Though Graphic Solutions Group (GSG; a screen, embroidery, and digital press company in Dallas, TX) never had to close the business entirely, Vice President of Human Resources Terri White says they had to make some hard decisions quickly that they had never faced before. For the first time in GSG’s 70-year history, they had to furlough employees, with two waves representing a total of 18% of their workforce. Not only was this a tough decision to make, managing the added administrative workload and the “avalanche of phone calls” during that period was especially challenging.

“Our day jobs went out the window as we have had to respond to hundreds of employee questions regarding our 2 furloughs, unemployment, safety, etc.”

With nearly 36 million unemployment claims being filed in the past two months, employees everywhere are on edge. The unstable environment combined with major changes in staffing and operations at each business mean HR staff are dealing with a lot of nerves and confusion. Heather Christle, Human Resources Generalist at Beacon Credit Union (throughout Indiana), said taking a pause to thoughtfully and effectively help staff adjust was critical. “We have had to remain calm for our staff while working frantically to figure out new procedures and making sure we are following guidelines appropriately.”

For those in HR and payroll, just keeping up with all the changing regulations was tough in itself. Michael Lesch, Human Resources Manager at TruCut Incorporated (an out-of-production service parts manufacturer based in Sebring, OH), said, “There has been an incredible amount of additional time spent reading all of the updates and legal requirements that are needed for this terrible situation we are all experiencing.” (Learn how TruCut connected employees to culture using technology.)

“Being in the middle of benefit enrollment when you’re used to presenting open enrollment in an in-person setting and going to each of your divisions and traveling, it’s been an odd adjustment, especially for my employees,” said Amanda Kreutzer, Human Resources Manager at GT Midwest (an industrial manufacturer and distributor operating in Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri). “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 how GT Midwest gained confidence through reliable, valuable data.)

Shift to Remote Work

Despite the general shift toward more remote work options, many companies had been hesitant to allow employees to regularly work remotely. Concerns about the ability to maintain culture and productivity were prevalent, but shelter-in-place orders around the country forced businesses to adapt quickly.

“One of our challenges has been trying to figure out how we can best and fairly support our employees that have to be out of the office, whether it's just working remotely or if they are in self-quarantine due to symptoms or exposure,” said Jennifer Meiring, Director of Human Resources at American Packaging Corporation. Weekly communications in a variety of formats helps Jennifer and the rest of leadership to make sure employees are getting the important updates even if they’re not regularly accessing their email.

With 90% of its workforce remote, GT Midwest was finding out that employees were having to learn new ways to complete tasks as well as collaborate. Giving them new tools for communication and training gave them the flexibility to meet a variety of needs. “They don’t have their peers to just get up out of their office and go and speak with. They’re having to find different avenues and different ways to communicate with each other -- and different styles,” said Amanda at GT Midwest.

Learning new skills didn’t come at the expense of productivity, though, according to Brittany Mills, Payroll Administrator at Avadian Credit Union (Birmingham, AL). “We have seen a lot more productivity and efficiency from some people, too. I, personally, cannot work with distractions [...] so processing payroll from home has been a blessing for me.”

Another positive consequence of a newly remote workforce has been the development of new competencies, especially in relation to technology, according to Marne Davies, Vice President Human Resources at Kapnick Insurance. “We have found that they’re getting better at utilizing our technology.”

Keeping the Culture Alive

Tools for meeting and working virtually have been used for engagement opportunities, too. Marne discussed the way Kapnick was pivoting its company-wide “Spring It On” meeting, usually held in spring, to a virtual event for its 160 employees, including breakout meetings and raffle drawings. “Our employees can either choose trivia, Jackbox games, a scavenger hunt with their families or an adult scavenger hunt where they find ingredients to make themselves a drink.”

After Kapnick’s entire workforce began working remotely in late March, they also began to use Community to maintain the positive culture they built. “Community has been very good for us from the standpoint of keeping our culture on track. We’re very proud of our culture and what we do for our people in keeping everybody connected,” said Marne.

“Community was a great play for those different interests for our employees to stay engaged with each other. And to, quite honestly, learn a little bit more about each other from a personal standpoint.”

Your Partner Forward

HR and payroll professionals across industries are facing the sometimes impossible task of managing the impact of this crisis in their personal lives while also caring for their employees, sometimes even as a team of one. We’ve been honored to be part of the support team for so many who are tackling the challenges of these past few months on behalf of businesses and employees.

“Honestly, I got so overwhelmed reading everything because I am a one-person payroll department who is also taking care of a 3-year-old at the same time [...] The account managers and customer service team are the greatest tool you guys have, and I am beyond grateful for them during this crazy time!” said Brittany at Avadian Credit Union.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where our Advocates will share the steps they’re taking to help employees stay safe and productive as operations ramp up, including how they’re addressing concerns about returning to work.


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