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How did the HR team tackle the COVID-19 period at Pickyourtrail

By Arishya Banu - August 14, 2020

The secret of change is to accept the things we cannot change & direct our energy where we can make a difference! You might have seen and read a lot of articles on how COVID-19 has impacted business, jobs, economy, remote working, and more. People have become mentally tired and exhausted due to the negativity that COVID-19 has bestowed upon us. I’m not going to delve deeper on how to manage a team during this situation – because the organisations and the senior management is doing a fantastic job keeping the morality of their teams up and running. Well, then what does HR do? How do you interact with the employees? How do you engage them? How do you motivate them? This article will help you with answers to all those unsettled questions. 

Yes, we’re now hearing rumours that – remote working or working from home is the ‘new normal’. Can be called the ‘Blessing in Disguise’ – but this situation has also taught the HR teams to be prepared, have contingency plans to ensure a smooth transition for employees, and for the business to continue. Now let’s take a look at the top 5 challenges that my team and I faced during this new normal, shall we?

  • Setting the expectations
  • Overcoming workplace isolation
  • Employee engagement
  • Maintaining work-life balance
  • Recognition of work 

1. Setting the expectations

Office scenario: In a usual office set up, you pretty much do not need a manager to follow up with you for every single task as there are daily team huddles happening in person and you cannot hide from it. Also while at the office you end up working no matter what since you know people will notice if you don’t. You know who is doing what and it’s easy to measure the productivity of individuals and their performance. Then comes the communication gaps, which are inevitable. While you have multiple teams working cross-functionally for a project, you can imagine the gaps that might occur. But one big advantage was we were still easily reachable – folks were just 2 feet away from a desk to get things clarified again. There are always updates happening in and out from top to bottom. So communication gaps would have hardly lasted for a few seconds. 

WFH scenario: In a new normal set up, the above-mentioned scenarios became a challenge. Proactive communication was seen missing big time. The availability of people is always a challenge. Ownership & accountability for the projects was cloudy. Trusting the team was an issue. 

What we did: We anticipated all the challenges the team would face before the lockdown and rolled out a clear work from home policy to the entire org. This document gave complete clarity on factors such as the time of availability, ETA for mail replies, messages, calls, leave policy, and so on. This pandemic helped us build the habit of over-communication within and across teams. Calendarized meetings with a clear agenda helped save a lot of time and avoided randomization. We also ensured that all teams had 2 team meetings every day: One in the morning to set up the work expectation from each team member and the second one in the evening to get an update on the assigned tasks. Doing this, people were held accountable for the assigned work. Last but not least, ensuring that trust is built around each of them and ensuring everyone had each other’s back during tough times was always our priority. This phase is still a learning experience for all of us

2. Overcoming workplace isolation

Office scenario: Upset? Feeling blue during the day? Wearing your headphones to isolate yourself? Well, at work – your colleagues and managers were always there to cheer you up and make things a bit tolerable! A hot cup of joe or a peaceful walk for a minute or two would make you feel okay in a jiffy!

You have successfully launched a product or achieved a target. You get to go out and celebrate with the entire team or even have a small internal celebration in the organization. Nostalgic much?

WFH scenario: What?! Human touch?! No! Well yes, it’s the same rule for the entire world but not being able to see your folks in person and asking ‘How you doin, bro?’ – we all do miss it. Human connection is the key to personal & career success. Yes, there is no possibility to feel your teammates’ energy in person. You are all alone. You feel far away from each other. And yes, we hear you!

What we did: We had our managers do their magic! Feeling low or high, our folks had the managers by their side 🙂 Every day, before their morning catch up, every team plays a small game to start the day on a lighter note. This did bring in a lot of energy and inclusivity within the team before going ahead with the meeting. And as HRs, we catch up with the folks monthly once on a casual basis to understand the juggle and struggle between personal & professional life, challenges they face, and gauge their overall morale. We also connect with the managers to understand if there was any moral dip in the team and whether there were any expectations from their side to make things better. 

3. Employee engagement 

Office scenario: This is highly important in any organization to keep morale and positivity high. The biggest challenge that we’ve always had was bringing in all the teams together and making them participate in a group task or activity. It’s understandable, right? I mean, you have all your teams swarmed with a lot of work most of the time.

WFH scenario: It was not just about attending meetings but also ensuring things at home functioned normally! From taking care of kids to helping mom to help cut the vegetables – work from home was quite taxing!

“Man, when will the HR team engage with us!” – This was the common sentiment circulating within the org. People were desperate to take a break from their routine and their long working hours. 

What did we do: Every Friday we started with ‘Virtual Fun Fridays’ where games are published beforehand and teams are asked to register for the same. This has ranged from a variety of quizzes from travel to cricket to playing connections and singing antakshari virtually with the entire org. 

Do people badly want to go on a vacation? 

Solution: Laughter is an instant vacation! We had a standup comedian come and address our folks for an hour which was out of the box and our folks enjoyed it 🙂 

Every year, we used to have sports day and couldn’t get ourselves to give up on the ritual. So, we had 2 versions of a virtual online gaming tournament that created competitiveness and brought the team members across the org to win the virtual cup of ‘PYT virtual gaming 1.0 & 2.0’ 

There is a reason why engagement rhymes with entertainment, attachment & improvement!

4. Maintaining work-life balance: 

Office scenario: You have less distraction and more focus since you have only one work, that is your job. You know your office timings are from 9 AM to 7 PM or 10 AM to 8 PM and when you leave the office you sign off from your office life. It was always ‘work while you work’ and ‘home is home’. 

WFH scenario: I should say this has been quite a challenge for a few of us. Having kids to take care of, elderly in-laws, parents, other relatives (in case of a joint family), and household chores – setting boundaries on when to start and when to finish was a huge challenge. Since we are all working from home we either end up working 24*7 or not work at all.

What did we do: We did give people the flexibility to work according to their feasibility, after getting it approved by their respective managers. Some people work from 2 PM to 11 PM and some people work from 6 PM to 4 AM. This also comes along with people’s credibility & trust that they have established over the years at work. When people are under emotional pressure, we’ve asked them to take the day off without deducting any leaves. We’ve understood that only when an employee’s mind is at ease personally, they’ll give their best at work.

5. Recognition of work: 

Office or WFH scenario: Be it office or home, employees work so hard to get the much-needed recognition for the efforts they put in. Back at the office, we identified & recognized our top performers every single month. Every employee’s performance was made visible and measured against the metrics of each team. Now, everything has become virtual, identifying top performers across the org has its challenge. 

What did we do: We have our superhero managers who came up with daily scorecards for their respective teams. This scorecard tracks each employee’s performance on a daily/weekly basis against the work assigned. Their managers would credit them with scores for their performance, post which the ranking of team members is determined. This created clear visibility and transparency of the individual’s work & the team’s work as well. After the top performers are identified, we celebrate! Recognized as MVTs (Most Valuable Trooper of the month), we assigned badges to their profile picture on our internal communication channel. Along with this, their names & achievements were also published on the company’s LinkedIn page. This gave employees a lot of motivation as well! This made things very clear that we always keep the performance standards high be it from home or office!

Since work from home has now become inevitable, we continue to think of creative ways to approach the challenges that come with the “new normal” and work towards overcoming them. If you look at it, it’s not as complicated as we might think. The equation is very simple:

Happy employees = Happy customers = A successful company 🙂 

Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below!

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