Even though their size and their missions are different, our first three HR experts all work in traditional industries that needed to make swift changes to manage COVID-19 shutdowns.
Today, in Part 4 of our series, Helping Your HR Staff Survive COVID-19, we look at a small tech company. Unlike so many employers, Social Intelligence already had a work-from-home structure in place. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t facing their fair share of HR hurdles.
Bianca Lager is the President of Social Intelligence. The Santa Barbara based Consumer Reporting Agency helps employers legally screen job applicants social media accounts to help protect workplace culture and prevent harassment.
Bianca also mentors students, teaching them that their online reputation is much more than likes and followers.
EBI: What kinds of challenges has your organization faced during COVID-19?
Bianca: The biggest challenge for our team has been working within the changes to our client base. Some of our clients are fully non-operational and others have had to increase their activities.
This has resulted in sudden and abrupt workflow changes for us like executing new product types which required more training or employees taking on new roles. The changes have been challenging but have resulted in a lot of positives such as promotions and developing new skills sets.
We have avoided furloughs or layoffs luckily so when the workflow changed, we had to adapt our existing team to a variety of projects that now support the business in new ways. It's been a lot of juggling and learning new things but has really opened our eyes to the potential of our existing team and how well positioned we have been as a remote company.
EBI: How much of an additional strain has been put on your HR department?
Bianca: As a super small team with an HR department of one, Covid related issues have been very time monopolizing. Mostly, the heaviest lift is handling emotions and worries of the rest of the staff while trying to understand time off requirements and the like.
EBI: When it comes to return-to-work plans – how much of this falls on the HR department and how has that been going?
Bianca: We have always been a remote team, so the remote work shift was very easy for us. Our small headquarters only houses a few people who have always worked from home periodically.
For us, seeing more and more teams adopt remote work has been helpful as we have learned a lot more about how to communicate better and be more connected than ever.
Return to work is not an issue for us logistically at all, and if anything, we have really leaned into how great that strategy has worked for us and will continue to.
EBI: Have you seen a shift in how people are behaving online since the pandemic started?
Bianca: We have seen a shift in online behavior play out in a more emotional way. Not only are the platforms seeing huge increases in user numbers (stats below) but we are also seeing some shifts in flagged behavior we find. In the months pre-COVID, we were finding about 1 in 15 people had some sort of red flagged online content. Currently our numbers are about 1 in 9. Also surprising to me, our results on violent behavior have climbed. Pre-COVID we would find about 1 in 60 people posted something violent, now we are finding 1 in 33. The categories we have seen climb are aggressive verbiage as well as a display/use of force or violence. It's pretty eye opening and my conclusion is that social media is simply more emotional than ever.
EBI: What has it been like for you personally to deal with all of this? How do you care for the people whose job it is to care for everyone else?
Bianca: In the early days of the pandemic (March), I was having a really hard time managing my emotions. I was worried about my team’s jobs. Luckily, we have been able to keep all staff fully employed and we have connected and bonded more than ever.
We have created bi-weekly roundtables where the entire team gets together on Zoom and we talk about either our work week or a non-work-related prompt that is usually based on getting to know each other better. This seemed burdensome and time consuming at first but now, I truly look forward to these get-togethers.
As a person who has always managed a remote team, I thought I was pretty good at it but now I realize how much more can be utilized and how much deeper connections you are really able to make. These days, I feel really good about our team dynamic and though my workload is insane, it helps to connect with everyone in a very positive way regularly.
EBI: What advice can you offer to other HR managers, or even HR teams of one?
Bianca: Keep wine close by! In all seriousness, I would say be vulnerable with your team. Let them know if you do not know and be as human as possible.
The pandemic has really level set all roles and work - we’re truly all in this together. Don’t be worried about looking incompetent if you share your struggles also. Being empathetic is usually something HR managers are good at so be empathetic with yourself as well!
Vulnerability, empathy, and authenticity are the true qualities of great leadership!
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