As the coronavirus pandemic continues to change the workplace, HR leaders are making moves, embracing new strategies and learning valuable lessons along the way.
Kristin Johnson, CHRO at financial services firm Edward Jones, is no exception. And she predicts that many of the new practices she is adopting will live on long after the pandemic.
Johnson spoke to HRE about how she’s handling the coronavirus pandemic and what steps the firm is taking to help employees. Here are five of the most important lessons she’s learned so far.
Be clear about the company’s strategy for returning to the office. “We’ve been transparent along the way [about our plans about working in the office],” Johnson says. “We told [employees] the guiding principles that we’re focused on.” She says the company’s No. 1 priority is the health and safety of its workers, so a return to the workplace won’t be rushed. The firm’s plan for returning to the office is gradual and will likely last all summer, she says, but she’s been clear about telling employees what will happen, when it will and what to expect.
Be empathic. Empathy and understanding are key for helping employees during this uncertain time, she says. “[It’s really about] empathy, communicating with clarity and making sure it’s not all about business.”
Don’t be afraid of remote work. Edward Jones was in a good position for remote work before the pandemic forced it to move the vast majority of its employees home. About 20% of the company’s workforce was already working from home before the outbreak. And when most workers joined them because of COVID-19, technology and frequent connection helped employees handle it with ease, Johnson says. “We’ve proven a lot of work can be done from home. And I would imagine it will grow,” she says.
Focus on wellness offerings. “Everyone has processed this environment differently, so it’s about making sure we have expanded on our wellness programs, providing resources for emotional health and physical health and honing in there to make sure we’re taking care of everyone,” Johnson says. Edward Jones already had a robust wellness program in place—focusing on components of wellbeing including financial, physical, mental and emotional wellbeing—that has been helpful for employees, especially during the pandemic. The company also recently added mindfulness tools—a resource employees jumped at as a result of the pandemic. Use of those benefits has increased 40% since the start of the year, she says.
Be intentional about personal connections. With remote work and social distancing and quarantining becoming the norm, Edward Jones noticed many of its workers felt lonely and isolated. As a result, the company embraced virtual meetings, coffee chats and casual ways of connecting with employees. Those conversations often include being more personal and not just focusing on the work at hand. It’s a strategy she says will continue after the pandemic. “[One of the big lessons] has been being more intentional and not taking personal connection for granted,” she says. “And that’s a good thing.”