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Three things HR must get right in its COVID-19 response
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The 451 Take

In the initial aftermath and ongoing challenges of the novel coronavirus outbreak, HR practitioners must craft and follow a compelling response plan that helps keep employees engaged and supported, assists LOB managers in efficiently using their workforce and provides a partner to IT in an effort to collaborate on productivity initiatives that stem from a large-scale movement to remote work. With these pillars in place, HR can help its organization weather the initial friction brought by COVID-19, while helping prepare it for a new work future as well.

Keep employees engaged

Employee engagement emerged as a key metric for the employee experience a long time before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Essentially, employee engagement refers to measuring and analyzing employee sentiment and level of engagement with their work, their team, their manager and the company itself. High levels of engagement can translate into better productivity and retention.

Understandably, issues like the COVID-19 crisis can have a dramatic impact on employee engagement. It is HR's responsibility to understand that impact, mitigate its negative aspects and leverage its positive ones. Let's look at how employees feel that the crisis has affected their engagement. According to our Voice of the Enterprise: Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Employee Lifecycle and HR survey from early 2020, roughly 55% of respondents said they were somewhat or very disengaged at work as an impact of the coronavirus outbreak. However, about 30% said they were somewhat more engaged or much more engaged at work in the wake of the outbreak.

This is interesting because it shows that the impact can be positive, meaning that there are aspects of the new work paradigm that can be leveraged to improve engagement for some people. So, one of the first practical steps that HR should do in light of the coronavirus is to measure engagement using tools like pulse surveys offered by companies like Culture Amp, Peakon, tinyPulse, Glint or Qualtrics. Without a formal tool in place, or if you need to measure sentiment quickly, a standard survey tool like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey could also be used.

If possible, try to go beyond yes or no questions to determine the main factors driving either a positive or negative impact on your employee experience. Bear in mind that these factors might not improve engagement for all employees. When we broke down the data on COVID -19's impact on employee engagement based on different demographic segments, we found that in general, managers and administrators were more engaged following the outbreak, while general staff and non-managers had higher levels of disengagement. It was also telling that companies with poor recognition strategies and low opportunities for promotion also had a high level of disengagement among their employees during the outbreak, according to our data. To get more contextual factors for your own organization, another option is to leverage crowd-sourced answers through a voting tool like Waggl to determine the lowest common denominator in the factors and use that to triage your responses.

If you need a good baseline for how to improve your overall engagement, let's take a look at that same 451 Research Voice of the Enterprise: Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Employee Lifecycle and HR survey from 2020. 

Figure 1: Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Employee Lifecycle and HR survey from 2020
Source: 451 Research, Voice of the Enterprise Workforce Productivity & Collaboration: Employee Lifecycle and HR 2020
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