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  • Andrea Fielding

COVID-19: What are the HR priorities for Top Employers?

The original copy of the article below was published on the website of Top Employers, a World Employer Branding Day 2020 International Platinum Partner.

By Benoit Montet, International HR Expert, Top Employers Institute

Undoubtedly, 2020 will be a year that stands out in history. All industries, all levels of society, and almost all countries, have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that we have to rethink the way we do things, our perceptions will have to change in many ways – the way we approach our work and how we see the future. We have affirmed that digitalisation was not a trend but a necessity to ensure online collaboration and business continuation. Organisations have been forced to accelerate the change to trusting leadership styles and remote working conditions. The very definition of what a job entails will be set to change, due to the steady growth in freelancing, but also contract work, outsourcing, and more flexible employment-contract models. This will influence the way leaders and employees engage and perform.

This new start unleashes vast opportunities for HR to be at the forefront of innovation and change The examples set out below show a heartening and overwhelming dedication by HR departments in Top Employers across the world to safeguarding excellence for their employees, as they go about their everyday working lives.

DHL Freight (France): Anticipation, protection and communication The key HR priority for DHL Freight France has been the well-being and protection of all their employees and loved ones as they carry on with their work. This priority has been delivered via plan divided into three threads:

  • Anticipation: DHL Freight Management, has been continuously monitoring the development of COVID-19. Employees have been asked to apply "barrier measures" to prevent the spread of a virus. Travel guidelines have been issued to limit risk. IT teams have anticipated the introduction of teleworking for all "at-risk" employees by. In addition, an emergency unit made up of all members of Executive Management met daily to adopt the necessary measures.

  • Protection: teleworking has been systematically introduced to protect employees. For employees who could not telework due to their duties, DHL Freight implemented additional hygiene measures to guarantee safety.

  • Communication: a communication plan dedicated to COVID-19 has been set up, with all useful and updated information distributed to employees. An email address dedicated to employee questions was set up to ensure that every concern was answered.

Coca-Cola: Information, support and aid The COVID-19 outbreak has had a significant impact on how employees at The Coca-Cola Company balance their work and life in a very new situation. The HR team’s priorities have focused on the following areas for action:

  • Keeping employees well informed and aligned from the business standpoint through regular conversations with managers, virtual team meetings, “Town Hall” meetings and Q&A sessions with leaders. It has shared special videos, newsletters and dedicated content in an intranet and actively used internal communications and social media and guided employees on how to use them.

  • Help in difficult times. The Coca-Cola Employee Disaster Relief Fund was created several years ago, so employees could help other employees who are suffering from the pandemic. This fund is another way for employees to help each other through individual donations.

Infosys (Switzerland): Wellbeing, continuity and community action Infosys’ HR response to COVID-19 has been to focus first and foremost on the safety of its employees worldwide and the communities they live and work in. Their action plan has included:

  • Employee well-being, including a restriction of all non-essential travel, with nearly 70% of employees enabled to work from home and maintain their social distance.

  • Specific business continuity plans, including steps to ensure operational readiness, taking guidance from local governments, monitoring the evolving situation 24/7 and giving a daily briefing to the CEO.

  • Extending support to communities through the Infosys Foundation, for example in the way they have opened up learning platforms in the US for teachers to continue school for students at home. In India, they also partnered with the Government to help set up a medical facility

Covestro (China): Timeliness, agility and empowerment The HR priorities of Covestro China have been all around timeliness, agility and empowerment. A full set of crisis management procedures are in place and these have enabled the company to take good decisions in a difficult situation. As early as mid-January, Covestro:

  • Had been providing timely updates about the virus and self-prevention measures for their employees and ahead of the Chinese New Year.

  • Set up the China Crisis Management Team that had the agility to adjust continuous methods of collaboration for higher efficiency and reaction speed.

  • Has empowered their employees, by collecting their views via short questionnaires on WeChat Corporate Channel. These cover topics such as health conditions and possible contact with patients. These analytics will provide solid support for assessment of the right time for the safe resumption of work.

Takeda (Brazil): Understanding productivity, limiting stress The HR team at Takeda’s offices in Brazil has been prioritising the mental health of its workforce, as well as supporting leaders to interact effectively with their teams during social isolation. To do this means:

  • Engaging employees to understand how to be productive in their home setup, in terms of routine, breaks, organisation and how to handle virtual meetings.

  • Enabling well-being when working from home, by providing tips on how employees can take care of themselves. This includes encouraging employees to use a Desk Yogi. This platform was provided by Takeda and links to online training related to well-being, how to deal with stress and so on.

BAT (France): Communicating early, often, and informally BAT France’s HR team has focused on both early and regular communication with employees.

  • A communication plan was set up in January, well before the arrival of the virus in France. As the epidemic came to Europe, BAT France promptly relayed health messages and government announcements to employees.

  • Shortly after France experienced the first cases on its territory, BAT France strongly advised its employees to work from home as much as possible from the beginning of March. A weekly videoconference slot was also introduced, bringing together management and all employees.

  • The HR team continues to provide employees with daily internal communications as the crisis evolves. Managers were asked to help in less formal ways. This means getting closer to their teams and being flexible in managing working hours, especially for employees with young children.

Conclusion It is evident that those best able to adapt to the massive new challenges of COVID-19 were already demonstrating great HR practices in everything they did prior to the pandemic. Over the years ahead, organisations are set to extend their priorities on how they have addressed the challenges of this crisis. We have seen in the way Top Employers are extending their people strategies beyond career development. Addressing career and professional issues for their people remains a core HR focus but is not enough. Connecting to each individual's needs in moments that matter, such as family needs, health and mental support, are just as important. Caring for society at large is also a priority, and this covers not only the employee but also contractors, clients, suppliers, shareholders and the broader community. COVID-19 has accelerated the path of change for HR. There has been a massively impressive response by Top Employers across the world in attempts to safeguard employees as they go about their everyday working lives. These best practices demonstrate their willingness to share those ideals to all in solidarity and to serve society.


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