What do you do when everything about how you run a business goes out the window?
Software company Red Hat is regularly recognized as one of the best places to work, in part because of its strong community and culture. But when the COVID-19 pandemic forced employees around the world to work from home, the company had to find new ways to support its employees.
DeLisa Alexander, Red Hat’s Chief People Officer, is leading efforts to stay connected to remote employees and support them to become their best selves, even in times of stress and uncertainty.
Here are six ways to support employees during COVID-19 and how Red Hat has turned a crisis situation into an opportunity to continue to build its strong culture.
- Start with yourself. Alexander says that leaders and managers have to breathe before they can help others breathe. If a manager is stressed with their own life, they won’t be able to connect with employees and help them work through their stress. Leaders at all levels need to build their resilience and take time to re-energize themselves so they can best lead others. Alexander regularly reminds herself and other leaders that it isn’t selfish to take time to do what you need to do to generate energy to lead your team.
- Let them grieve. Not everyone has lost loved ones, but the seismic changes to everyday life because of the pandemic have caused people to lose other things, including trips, family time and expected experiences. Employees are grieving for missed opportunities and the loss of their normal lives. Leaders need to acknowledge that it is fine to grieve and to work together to overcome those feelings. Red Hat hired a chaplain to create a grief framework to provide its employees with the best emotional outlets to handle these major changes to their lives.
- Give them time to recharge. With most people working from home, employees around the world are working more than ever and feel the need to be constantly available. Red Hat realized its employees needed more time to themselves but weren’t actually taking their available paid time off. Red Hat instituted Recharge Days when the company is shut down for one day a quarter and no one is allowed to work. Alexander says the two Recharge Days so far have worked wonders with employees and brought everyone back feeling refreshed and ready to jump back into work without feeling burnt out.
- Allow for flexibility. With so much of the world in flux, leaders and organizations must be flexible to meet their employees’ needs. Managers need to lead teams in a way that people can be open and honest about their challenges. If someone needs to cut back on their work, someone else steps in, no questions asked. Teams work together to get the work done in whatever way that entails. Flexibility allows for employees to feel supported at work and that they can be their whole selves. Instead of feeling they must always be performing at peak levels, even amidst their many trials, employees know they can have an honest conversation with their manager to get help when needed.
- Build community. Even though employees aren’t together physically, they still crave human connections and community. Soon after everyone started working from home, a group of Red Hat associates volunteered to curate content for regular newsletters. The weekly employee newsletter provides updates and resources for everything from childcare to remote work. Red Hat also moved the viewing of its internal video program “The Show” online and had thousands of employees from around the world sign on to watch together and chat. Community improves productivity and is a huge boost to employee morale.
- Involve employees. Even as employees have settled into some sort of rhythm of working remotely over the last six months, there is still plenty of uncertainty for the future. As Red Hat works to solidify future plans, it regularly updates employees and requests their feedback. A team of employees is looking at the future openly and transparently with employees to think through the best options for the company. Alexander and her team are upfront with people that things have changed and include everyone in creating meaningful experiences that engage employees, no matter where they are working.
No matter the global situation, Red Hat believes employees should always feel supported and empowered to bring their whole selves to work. COVID-19 has changed how that happens, but staying flexible and finding new ways to support employees has helped the company continue to grow its culture.
Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, keynote speaker and author of the bestselling book The Customer Of The Future. Sign up for her new course here. For regular updates on customer experience, sign up for her weekly newsletter here.