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What COVID-19 Has Taught Us About ‘Business As Usual’

Over the past few months, COVID-19 has changed almost every aspect of business. Furloughs, layoffs, and mandatory work-from-home orders have forced corporations to reassess “business as usual.” The overarching lesson adaptable companies have embodied is that the way things have always been done need not be the way things always have to be.

Related: Why Supplier Diversity Programs Are Essential

Below are a few lessons the global pandemic has taught corporate America:

1. Empathize.

With everyone working from home and trying to balance personal and professional obligations, we’ve seen people taking to social media to tell funny stories of Zoom call faux pas and other anecdotes involving the intersection of workers’ personal and professional lives. COVID-19 has blurred the lines of personal and professional obligations.

Leaders have found that empathizing with their teams and focusing on unity during the new normal has been a good start.

“Demonstrate compassion,” said Mike Fenlon, chief people officer at PwC (DiversityInc Hall of Fame). “We’re all in this together, from leadership to interns. This is a fundamentally different way of working. We are not just working from home — we are working through a global crisis.”

2. Prioritize support and wellness.

Corporations have grown more outspoken about mental and physical health during this time. They’ve encouraged employees to come forward if they’re struggling to meet expectations for personal reasons and have offered accommodations.

Humana has had an established focus on wellness as part of its company culture. It published its 2019 employee well-being report in May in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Between 2018 and 2019, 44.6% of employees reported wellness improvement in the past year, and the company has set a goal of having 90% of employees reporting better health by 2022. Nearly three quarters of employees said they felt they could be “open and honest” with leaders at the company. Humana also offers access to the Go365 app, which helps employees record information about their mental and physical health.

In May, Kaiser Permanente (DiversityInc Hall of Fame) launched its partnership with the Calm app, a self-care resource that’s available to help all Kaiser members and employees with their wellness and health goals. Although its launch was pre-planned, it came as an important resource for individuals during the pandemic.

“As we all continue to grapple with the uncertainty, stress, and sometimes fear brought on by COVID-19, it’s essential that we tend to our physical and mental health,” said Dr. Don Mordecai, a psychiatrist and national leader for mental health and wellness at Kaiser Permanente, in a May interview with DiversityInc.

The necessity of practices and resources like these have become apparent as a result of the pandemic, and the lessons gleaned from conversations about wellness during COVID-19 will aid organizations in addressing it moving forward.

“We will continue to focus on health and safety, and will continue to find new and flexible ways for our people to do their jobs,” PwC’s Fenlon said.

3. Be flexible.

Due to the shift to remote work, most professionals have found that the traditional strict 9–to-5 schedule where people sit in an office isn’t necessary for most positions. For those who have had to take care of family members or help children with school, companies’ flexible work arrangements have become more necessary than ever.

EY (DiversityInc Hall of Fame) has been offering flexibility benefits to employees since before the pandemic. “Making the distinction between how EY people work, not where they sit, is a key component of our flexible working environment,” EY’s website says.

4. Rethink what “essential” means and empower all workers.

Society has often looked down on the grocery store workers and other similar workers “unskilled laborers,” but they have kept us afloat during this crisis. Retail giants like Walmart (No. 32) have had to balance the needs of their corporate team with the needs of those who are on the frontlines. While people around the country were losing their jobs, companies like Walmart were hiring frontline associates.

Walmart also announced cash bonuses to frontline workers. These bonuses amounted to $550 million across the company. Keeping these employees safe has been essential too. In April, Target (No. 13invested more than $300 million to support guests and employees’ safety. Associates also received $2 per hour raises. Target also offered paid leave for associates whose age and/or health conditions put them at an increased risk of experiencing severe effects of the virus.

“Unskilled laborers” became “essential workers” and “frontline heroes,” which taught an important lesson about the importance of valuing everyone’s work equally. Similarly, the pandemic has further proven the fact that diversity is not just “nice to have.” It is critical.

With the virus disproportionately affecting communities of color and those of lower socio-economic status, the working world — and especially the healthcare community — has learned the importance of the workforce reflecting the communities it serves.

5. Utilize and experiment with technology.

With workforces being mostly remote, we’ve learned we can hold meetings, collaborate on projects, and even host major events online. Even the Democratic National Convention took place virtually — a feat that truly demonstrates the capabilities of technology.

Important conversations have taken place over video chat, and employees have been encouraged to engage with one another using apps and other programs. For example, when Abbott (No. 8) decided to make its summer internship program completely remote, it added more capabilities to its internship portal app to help interns connect, learn and have access to leadership all though their screens.

6. Prioritize corporate responsibility.

Banks like Wells Fargo (No. 11) have been working to help small businesses stay afloat and ensuring people have housing security during the crisis. HP Inc. (No. 43) has helped underserved students obtain access to materials and information to help them learn from home.

Comcast (No. 7), AT&T (Hall of Fame), and Cox Communications (No. 17) have each offered affordable internet plans to low-income households during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has revealed the power of these companies’ influence as part of communities that need them to use that influence for good.

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