By Tina Riner, Pearson VUE
From virtual happy hours to employee pulse surveys and everything in between, organizations have been utilizing a number of tools and resources to address the new normal of a largely digital workplace. Tina Riner, a member of the I.C.E. Publications and Editorial Committee, recently talked to individuals from HRCI and her own organization, Pearson VUE, to see how they are working to maintain their organizational culture as most companies remain to operate within a remote environment.
Dr. Amy Dufrane, EdD, SPHR, CAE, is the CEO of the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI®). She stated that prior to the pandemic, nearly 20% of the organization’s employees were working from home full-time. “With so many employees working remotely, the HRCI Culture Club worked on best practices to ensure remote workers remained engaged in our daily virtual work. Examples include technology solutions, such as developing internal subject matter channels, buddy outreach programs and providing free food delivery service cards for remote lunch events.
“Additionally, we hosted virtual happy hours, encouraging the team to unwind,” says Dufrane. “We also participated in a virtual tour of a rescue animal farm with employees and their families. For Hispanic Heritage Month, we invited external speakers, including world-renowned opera singer, Cecilia Violetta Lopez. During Pride Month, HRCI hosted a public live webinar featuring several keynote speakers, including Monte Durham of ‘Say Yes to the Dress.’”
Dufrane continues, “Internally, we increased the frequency of our town halls and implemented an open recognition segment where employees give a ‘shout-out’ to their colleagues. As CEO, I have expanded my weekly updates to the team on upcoming events and happenings — over communicating is key.”
The HRCI offices remain closed for now. Only a few team members are sporadically in the office to maintain administrative responsibilities (deliveries, mail, etc.). Prior to the pandemic, HRCI held regular team and company-wide meetings. Remote employees were encouraged to attend in-person whenever possible.
Pearson also had a traditional working model prior to the pandemic, mentions Scott Chabot, the company’s director of human resources. This working model featured open office designs at many locations. Annual regional meetings would be held in large event spaces where executives and business leaders, including the CEO, would come together to share business goals and field questions from employees.
At the beginning of the pandemic, both organizations were suddenly thrust into the world of almost exclusively remote work and had to find new ways to virtually socialize to keep employees in touch with each other. In addition to encouraging everyone to be on camera for meetings, HRCI also implemented an internal channel, “Thriving While Socially Distancing,” to share anything from recipes, jokes and ideas to stay healthy and offer moral support. HR also paired up two employees from different teams each week and promoted a “buddy system” that engaged colleagues in virtual watercooler exchanges.
“Over the summer, each HRCI unit sponsored an interactive, themed happy hour game night, such as Jeopardy, Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit and Concentration. Our favorite HRCI holiday party ritual, white elephant, was also digitized. It was not only entertaining, my team’s exuberance closely resembled an in-person engagement,” says Dufrane.
Like HRCI, Pearson has adapted to a virtual environment. To continue with employee education, learning weeks with virtual presentations on a wide variety of topics, as well as a virtual diversity and inclusion week, were held throughout the year. Many teams are holding virtual happy hours and managers are hosting employee meetings virtually, to keep connected with their teams. “Our Pearson leadership has regularly reached out with pulse surveys to ensure we know how employees are doing and are holding ourselves accountable,” Chabot says. “We have reminded our employees regularly of available mental health support through our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and additional family resources through LifeCare.”
Pearson employees across all offices, outside of those deemed as essential, are currently working remotely until at least July of 2021. As a result of the pulse surveys that Pearson has done, the company implemented a paid shutdown for Dec. 24, 2020, through Jan. 3, 2021, for employees to recharge.
HRCI and Pearson have also empowered their managers to be more proactive with their employees. This ranges from weekly check-ins monitoring their employees’ well-being to finding out if the organization can support their employees more. Both organizations also offer an EAP and remind employees to reach out to it for resources and help. The organizations are working with their employees by providing flexible hours to accommodate the multiple roles they might need to fill (distance learning, caring for sick family members, etc.). Each company appears to be doing its best to keep their employees happy and healthy during this challenging time and pivoting as necessary to ensure that both employee and company needs are still being met.
Dufrane stated, “We are all in this together. I am choosing to support my team in these most unprecedented times by deploying innovative approaches.”
In the end, each organization has taken care to be very aware of their employees and maintaining an open line of communication. While the interactions within each company have switched to virtual, organizations are making a concerted effort to stay connected with employees and by keeping activities happening virtually, that would otherwise happen in person.