Here’s How HR Leaders Are Keeping a Pulse on Remote Teams

April 7, 2020
A stock photo of a person working
PHOTO VIA SHUTTERSTOCK

Transitioning an entire company to remote work during a pandemic is about more than ensuring everyone has a laptop and a stable home internet connection.

In addition to updating their communication structures, companies also need to ensure they have policies in place that provide employees peace of mind and a sense of stability in a world that is anything but right now. They also need to ensure employees stay engaged and connected to one another, which is difficult enough when everyone is in the office.

Chicago tech’s HR teams have been busy the past few weeks, issuing surveys and experimenting with new software in an effort to both stay connected with their teams and learn what specific support they need. We caught up with three local HR leaders to learn how COVID-19 has impacted their teams and learned more about the tools they’re using to stay connected.

 

What is your HR team doing differently in light of the COVID-19 crisis, and why?

NCSA has always been a family first organization, but now more than ever, we have encouraged our teammates to prioritize their health and their family’s health and safety above all else. In order to protect our teammates and their families, we proactively closed our offices and went remote well before it was locally mandated. Our HR team and senior leadership have increased our internal communications, sending regular updates via email or video several times a week. These communications include a combination of business and operations updates, timely resources to help teammates adjust to and manage new challenges —like working remotely with kids at home — and words of encouragement and tremendous thanks. We continue to tell our teammates to put their mental and physical health first and have made an effort to provide as many tools and resources as possible.

Shortly after our team went fully remote, NCSA initiated a new relief program to support those who have been directly or indirectly impacted by COVID-19. This program provides up to two additional weeks off to teammates who contract COVID-19 or are a caregiver to someone who has contracted the virus. This allows our teammates to focus on what is truly important.

 

What HR tools or culture surveys are you using right now to keep a pulse on how your team is doing? Why did you decide on these tools specifically?

NCSA has leveraged our learning management system to offer timely training content, including courses on COVID-19, remote work, time management, managing stress and anxiety, and more. In an effort to better understand our teammates’ most urgent needs and how we can better support them, NCSA also launched a companywide survey on communications and HR support during COVID-19.

We feel it is important that our team remain connected and that teammates with the same challenges and concerns, like parents, have a place to offer helpful resources and support one another. We’ve created a variety of “digital support groups” on topics ranging from parenting to wellness and have even launched a book club, all through Microsoft Teams, where teammates can connect and share tips and resources. 

 

How are you leveraging the information you collect from these tools to inform decision-making or drive new HR initiatives?

Through our survey, we have found that the majority of our teammates appreciate NCSA’s response to COVID-19 and the consistency of our internal communications. While the survey results are still rolling in, we plan to incorporate new suggestions to further support our team and reinforce our unique and engaging culture outside of the office. As an example, in lieu of the usual “March Madness” office excitement, we created a “cats vs. dogs” bracket to provide some friendly competition and fun.

 

Tenia Davis
Chief Talent and Administrative Services Officer

What is your HR team doing differently in light of the COVID-19 crisis, and why?

Our main focus has been employee engagement, executive team transparency and communications, and maintaining productivity while providing top-level services to all of our clients. We have continuously referred to this time as “physical distancing” as we are committed to keeping the social aspect of our vibrant office space alive during this remote working period. While we are leveraging a number of leading tools and practices, our employees are guiding what we are finding to be most effective. We are doing as much listening and gathering of feedback as possible.

Specific examples of what we’ve implemented include calls with senior leadership that are forward facing and include all employees, daily individual team check-ins, virtual happy hours and karaoke sessions, and guest hosted meetups focusing on techniques for working from home while also juggling home and family life. We are also sending weekly communications with helpful hints on how to reduce anxiety, ways to connect virtually with the community and wellness-related activities that may help alleviate stress.

 

What HR tools or culture surveys are you using right now to keep a pulse on how your team is doing? Why did you decide on these tools specifically?

We are utilizing Zoom for our virtual meetings, and all calls have a chat feature that lets any participant pose a question or leave a comment. We also utilize the Poll Everywhere app within our connections. The app provides a platform for people to contribute anonymously and provides real-time feedback, which we use to frame our path forward and respond to the needs and concerns of our employees. We have created a COVID-19 email box where employees can voice concerns, contribute articles they have found helpful and share what they are hearing from clients as to how this is impacting them and their businesses.

Being able to see the faces of those you are interacting with makes the communication feel more genuine. Our talent team also continues to maintain traditional means of communication by checking in with individuals one on one. This allows for a more personal, human connection and provides an outlet for those who don’t always feel comfortable taking the initiative in larger group settings. Our talent team strives to be in tune with the holistic needs of our employee base and really shines in this aspect.

 

How are you leveraging the information you collect from these tools to inform decision-making or drive new HR initiatives?

The feedback we have received in the COVID-19 mailbox directly correlates to the additional offerings we have shared companywide in the past few weeks. Specifically, requests were made to provide activities employees could do with their children, so we launched a family friendly cooking class on Wednesdays during lunch. To help with stress relief and maintaining connections, we created a virtual happy hour where employees have the option to sing or perform with a musical instrument. We were asked for tips on how to navigate working from home in a solitary environment and responded with helpful links about ways to engage, whether it’s virtual museum tours or gyms offering free workout livestreams. We are continuously shaping our weekly COVID email communications in response to employee requests.

 

Katherine Laggo
VP of People Ops

What is your HR team doing differently in light of the COVID-19 crisis, and why?

Raise’s people operations team has shifted the focus and medium of our employee engagement activities. We’re a very food-oriented group, so previously we focused more on in-person activities like pizza parties, potlucks and happy hours. Now, we have shifted our focus to activities that provide opportunities to socialize and manage stress. We use Slack to share pictures of our new coworkers, which are typically of the canine and feline variety; host yoga and meditation classes, with some hip-hop classes thrown in; group bingo games; and individual activities to get the competitive juices flowing. Online Pacman and Tetris competitions have been big hits.

 

What HR tools or culture surveys are you using right now to keep a pulse on how your team is doing? Why did you decide on these tools specifically?

In normal times, we conduct a quarterly pulse survey to keep on top of employee satisfaction. This week, we conducted a quick COVID-related version to check in on employees and understand their feelings regarding a variety of topics: working from home, concerns surrounding the virus, concerns surrounding the economic impact of the virus on the company and the employee engagement activities that were resonating the most. We wanted to see how employees were coping and where we should focus our communication efforts.

 

How are you leveraging the information you collect from these tools to inform decision-making or drive new HR initiatives?

We’re using this information to determine how often to communicate with employees, what type of topics they want more information on — whether it’s financial or health and wellness — and addressing what they are worried about most. We also incorporated their feedback on the engagement activities we had already conducted into our future calendar of events, eliminating the activities that weren’t popular while incorporating more of what was. But mostly, we conducted this survey because we want our employees to know that we’re here for them and are trying to provide the resources and support they need to survive in these unprecedented circumstances.

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