COVID-19 Roundtable Discussions
This summary covers two recent iterations of Executive Networks’ COVID-19 virtual roundtable series. Thank you to the members who participated. This document summarizes calls from June 17th and 18th. Some approaches may have since changed.
Remote Work vs. In Office Experience
- Many employees would like to see flexible working arrangements continue: A majority of those on the calls said they are listening closely to their employees as they plan who should return to offices and at what frequency. Multiple members reported survey results demonstrating a strong preference for continued flexible work arrangements post-COVID, leading several member companies to begin reevaluating what type of work actually needs to be done in an office environment. Even those companies that have begun welcoming employees back to office sites are doing so in limited phases, with nearly all offering most employees the flexibility to manage their own returns. “The default option is work from home,” as one member put it. “We’re not forcing anyone to come back who isn’t ready.”
- Productivity up for some, but it’s not universal: One member said his company surveyed 50,000 employees working from home, with questions on productivity and home office situations (i.e. whether an employee lives alone, takes care of children and/or parents, etc.). The majority of respondents self-reported higher productivity despite the challenges of working from home. Another member conducted global pulse surveys on productivity, communications, and health and safety. While scores improved across all categories for those working from home, the 30% of the company’s population that has been working in manufacturing sites throughout the pandemic scored much lower across all dimensions. “It is concerning for us to see this ‘haves and have nots’ trend,” she said.
- A glimpse at a potential ‘new normal’: A member company with a 5,000 headcount business in New Zealand has embarked on a social experiment of sorts—giving 80% of those employees the complete freedom to choose how often they work from home or in the office over the course of the next three months. New Zealand has declared ‘victory’ over the pandemic, having recently re-opened without any restrictions in the face of a single-digit national caseload. “For three months we’ll look, listen and learn in New Zealand,” the member said. “We plan to apply our learnings across the company.”
- Extras for those who must be on site: One member reported “much higher levels of support for those who must be on site.” This includes on-site childcare (or a stipend for home childcare) and free meals, but not additional pay. “In our industry, we view this as ‘our time to shine,’ so premium pay does not align with our purpose,” she said. Leaders and managers have been among those who are now frequently on site, in a show of solidarity with those who cannot work from home. Another member company that has been providing a 20% pay premium to its essential office workers and is now struggling with how to reduce that premium. “It’s easier to start these kind of things than it is to stop them,” he said. Multiple members reported that their employee recognition programs have helped boost the morale of essential on-site workers.
Rethinking Incentive Plans for Sales Teams
- Stabilizing the salesforce: Several members raised questions about how others are adjusting reward for their sales teams. One member shared that his company made the expensive decision to immediately underwrite 90% of the normal sales targets for the first two months of the pandemic in order to stabilize its salesforce. “Now, we’ve revised targets based on those first two months,” he explained. “We’ve done the same thing with our executives. We did a whole set of interventions—we took the risk off the table and communicated why.” The member noted that this approach was well-received by most, but not by all. “Some people are very much married to incentive plans,” he said.
- Localized decision making: Another member explained that her company took a more localized approach to stabilizing sales teams, leaving decisions on incentive plan adjustments to country-level leaders. “We already had a natural floor in our bonus scheme,” she said. “There was already appropriate flexibility in our system, which is tied to individual KPIs and group level performance.” Another member said his company has taken a more conservative “wait and see” approach to lost incentivized comp, with local business units empowered to ultimately make some of those decisions.
Well-being and Safety
- Missing human interaction: Members continue to encourage virtual culture-building activities, with many reporting crowd-sourced successes, like employee-led mindfulness sessions, Zoom yoga, virtual happy hours and the like. One company said its HQ cafeteria chef has been leading a highly-popular ‘easy delicious pantry recipes’ cooking class via Teams. However, members universally recognize the limits of these approaches. As one member put it, “The number one complaint we’re getting is that people are missing their colleagues.”
- Monitoring dangerous home-working situations: One member reported an uptick in domestic violence, something she and her HR peers are taking seriously. “We had 35 people in our last global well-being survey report that they felt unsafe in their homes,” she explained. Compared to the overall population, it remains a very small number, but the company has gone so far as to physically help endangered employees move out of their homes and into safe and secure lodging amid the pandemic.
- New guidelines focused on health: One member shared that her sales teams in some markets have begun making in-person appointments. The day before any such meeting, employees are required to send an email to their client/prospect including company-provided boilerplate language asking the other party to postpone the meeting if he/she is presenting any COVID-19 symptoms. A number of member companies are requiring their employees to self-report temperatures and health status daily. “It’s been quite a big cultural shift for us,” a member said.
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