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Reimagining HR and Company Culture During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Arnnon Geshuri

05.20.20

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With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting nearly every aspect of our lives, Human Resources (HR) professionals have quickly realized that there is no playbook on managing the current world health crisis and its new challenges. The pandemic has transformed traditional rules of employee engagement, and HR and People leaders are forced to develop, adapt, and improve remote work policies and programs, rethinking fundamental people operations that support company culture.

As companies scrambled to forge a path forward, a few key truths became evident. First, now more than ever, people are looking to their employers as an emotional anchor and a source of information. Second, company leadership is leaning on their People teams to preserve employee safety and happiness, while also maintaining key business objectives. With these heightened demands, both seasoned and untested HR professionals alike are thrust into responding to this complex crisis. People teams are now the stabilizing force at their respective companies.

HR professionals realized the challenges of dealing with these developments in siloes soon after shelter in place orders were implemented. Without an existing plan in place, even the most experienced HR leaders began leveraging the collective knowledge and wisdom of the HR ecosystem, and as the situation evolves, we continue to search for ways to best serve our organizations.

In the spirit of universal collaboration, I want to share a few creative practices Livongo has implemented to care for our employees during the era of COVID-19. Rather than simply telling you, my goal is to create a two-way dialogue. If you are inspired by any of Livongo’s practices, we ask that you share them with hr@livongo.com. We hope our lessons can serve as an inspiration to others, and we look forward to hearing about your unique practices.

Reimagining Remote Work

Before COVID-19, many companies did not allow employees to work from home due to the belief that it discouraged innovation and collaboration. There is a notion that our best ideas come from bumping into each other at coffee stations or through opportunistic hallway conversations. Due to COVID-19, these luxuries quickly dissipated as many organizations implemented work from home mandates, while redefining and reconfiguring how people connect and collaborate. Some companies are still struggling with the shift.

Fortunately, due to the fact that more than one-third of Livongo’s employees worked from home before the pandemic, we had a very smooth transition implementing a fully remote workforce. When Livongo enacted immediate office closures, all Livongans (what we call our employees) became part of our remote workforce (which we call Remotie Nation). Livongo has a robust Remotie culture and an existing library of resources sharing tips on staying productive and remaining focused while working from home. After office closures, we sent everyone a document including ten tips on working from home. You can access those tips here and we hope that you can use some of these ideas as a resource for your own employees.

Reimagining Virtual Health and Care

At Livongo, our mission is personal. More than one-third of our employees live with a chronic condition and a significant portion of our employees have loved ones living with chronic conditions. Due to these personal experiences, our team is extremely passionate about what we do. It is what makes the company special.

As HR professionals, we must take extra precautions when caring for our most vulnerable populations. People with chronic conditions are at a significantly higher risk of complications due to COVID-19, and we must take every measure to keep our employees healthy, at-home, and out of harm’s way. Nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of our employees, especially those who are at-risk.

In the past, when our employees had health challenges, we could simply recommend they see a doctor. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that is not always possible. With many health systems overburdened, the CDC recommends that people stay away from the hospital.

Soon after the pandemic, Livongo’s benefits team bolstered our virtual care program and began actively promoting these benefits to employees. All Livongo employees have access to our chronic condition management solutions, enabling them to use our remote monitoring capabilities from home. We recommend they leverage Livongo’s scheduled coaching program. During the pandemic, we have seen a significant uptick in coaching sessions across our Member population, and by encouraging our own employees to schedule coaching sessions, we can conveniently offer time with empathetic healthcare professionals while keeping them at home.

The Livongo People team also took the opportunity to promote the telehealth services covered by our health plans. Livongo has been effective in keeping our employees healthy by combining our remote monitoring, 24/7 access to digital and telephonic coaching, and access to telehealth providers when needed. Virtual care is crucial during this time and it is important that employees are informed of their benefits.

Reimagining What it Means to be a Great Manager

With many teams forced to collaborate virtually for the first time, managers may feel like they have a lack of control. As HR professionals, it is our responsibility to provide the tools and resources our teams need to stay connected and productive while working remotely. Common challenges include the inability to unplug and set boundaries, experiencing the feeling of isolation, and greater difficulty communicating with colleagues.

A manager’s job is to create a work environment that is inclusive, engaging, consistent, and connective, and managers should remain focused on creating a positive workforce as they learn how to manage a remote team. By intentionally and deliberately using technology to keep teams together and on task, virtual team meetings, one-on-ones, and coffee breaks can take place of traditional in-office schedules and conversations. When implemented correctly, technology can help us remotely manage a team just as we would in an office environment.

COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented layer of complexity with the closure of schools, day care centers, camps, and after school activities. With children spending all of their time at home, working parents are now balancing childcare and their professional lives. It is important to support employees in finding productive ways to engage their kids, communicate creative ways to use time off and leaves, encouraging flexibility, and simply acknowledging the fact that children might make appearances in our virtual meetings.

Reimaging Employee Programs

Although we have outlined some of the challenges in managing a remote workforce, our current situation also opens doors for People teams to redesign our existing employee programs to keep teams invested and productive while having some fun along the way. After office closures, Livongo’s People team overhauled our employee programming, and we continue to evaluate and evolve these programs on a daily basis. I copied some of the most popular programs below, and you can use this link to see more of our initiatives. It is important to note that company programs will not resonate with every employee, but by creating a variety of options and marketing programs in different ways, you can ensure everyone has an opportunity to get involved and feel connected.

  • Volunteer Tutoring: We quickly recognized that many Livongo families needed support facilitating remote learning and created the Livongo Tutoring Program. The Livongo Tutoring Program organizes employees from across the company who have a passion for helping students in their academic pursuits. Tutors can sign up for subjects or areas of interest, ranging from astronomy to arts and crafts. From there, families can review the tutoring resource list and reach out to tutors that best match their needs. After two months, we have received incredibly positive feedback from both our families and volunteers.
  • Remote Office Furniture Reimbursement: Reimbursement for ergonomic and job essential furniture was extended to the entire team during the mandatory remote work period to help employees make their home offices more efficient. Taking the time to set up a workplace that is safe, comfortable, and limited from distractions is important for employees to help manage their time and well-being.
  • Livongo Spirit Weeks: We rolled out several themed events (e.g. Tropical Tuesday and Throwback Thursday), including contests for the best and the most creative home workstations, and shared photos of Livongans and their family members in company branded swag. A few creative employees even included their pets. This was a great way to bring everyone together.

Reimagining Internal Communications

It is vital for People teams to intentionally encourage connection and engagement through thoughtful internal communications. Company-wide communications have become increasingly important during a time of crisis because employees are searching for guidance. What you communicate holds weight.

As such, it is important to be intentional, not only in what you say, but in who says it. Take time thinking about who from your organization should send each message. You might have one leader send the spiritual messages, another who communicates practical information, and someone else who is focused on keeping everyone connected. As part of this effort to engage employees and keep everyone connected during a time of crisis, conventional wisdom guides us to:

  • Identify and leverage the communication channels your employees utilize most often.
  • Communicate with employees multiple times a week. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers. Do your best in sharing what you do know.
  • Decide who the message comes from – it is important to recognize which voices will bring the greatest level of comfort or credibility on a particular topic.

Final Thoughts

There is no playbook on managing a crisis to this magnitude, but we are writing one together as HR leaders. Every day, People teams around the world have a unique opportunity to lead and make a decisive and lasting impact. As we continue developing innovative approaches to care for our employees, please continue to share your ideas and help us learn from each other. HR is serving as an anchor during this pandemic and we must remind our companies and our communities of the many reasons to stay connected and remain hopeful.

We look forward to opening up this dialogue and encourage you to share your thoughts with hr@livongo.com.

Further reading

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“No Going Back”: Seizing Remote Monitoring’s Moment to Build Long-Term Resilience

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