Coffee, Chaos and COVID-19

We’re all in this together, but we’re not in the same boat.

On Wednesday, April 22, I participated in a Virtual Coffee Hour panel discussion group for Human Resources leaders in the tech industry hosted by SmartSearch vendor partner Verified First, a leading background screening provider. Throughout the month of April, Verified First has hosted this webinar series for human resources and recruiting professionals as a forum for talking about the chaos spread since the onset of  COVID-19.

At a time when many of us are now working from home, it’s easy to feel isolated. This virtual event helped bring people together for an insightful conversation about how we are adapting to the rapidly changing workplace.

Participants came with their coffee and a lot of questions. While there were not a lot of answers, the provocative discussion got everyone thinking about creative ways that each organization and individual can better cope and adjust to the new not-so-normal. Highlights of the conversation touched on the impact of COVID-19 on the tech industry, how it’s changed the hiring process, and how it may affect the future of work.

 Attendees represented a cross-section of global technical industries where different parts of the world at different stages of the pandemic, are experiencing various levels of impact from the nominal to the severe. One international recruiter supports locations from New York to Europe and China; her perspective was quite different from my home state of Hawaii, where the economic impact has been catastrophic for workers while the number of deaths has been mercifully low.

A few attendees mentioned struggles with the downturn in business that led to layoffs or furloughs. One employer had to furlough all new hires since several projects had been put on hold. HR service providers are supporting clients with deferred billing or installment payments to ease the burden on cash-strapped companies.

Many of the panelists spoke about difficulties adjusting to and managing a home-based workforce, or dealing with personal challenges of working from home. Successful working from home requires a reliable technology infrastructure; almost everyone offered suggestions for using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or other virtual conference platform, tools such as SmartSheet for project management, and even Apps for monitoring remote workers activity.

One of the most significant issues mentioned is how to effectively onboard new hires and provide orientation as well as training support. One employer uses a “buddy system” where a long-time employee is assigned as a peer to look after a new team member; this methodology was not easy to bring online, making it harder to engage new hires.

Several participants shared strategies for online team-building via virtual “happy hour” and online chats for bonding with coworkers during the crisis. If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that being able to communicate remotely is extremely important.

Overall, the tone of the HR (Virtual) Coffee Hour was positive and hopeful. It was encouraging to see how HR is finding new ways to help people do their best work — some of this may forever change the way we work — and more importantly, the way organizations treat employees. One comment that resonated with me the most is about how what goes on at home impacts the workplace even when you don’t work from home: “I hope we emerge from this with more empathy for each other.”


Photo courtesy of Unsplash.