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

During this unprecedented time, there are still moments of sanity and community. I participated in one such opportunity on April 22. SmartSearch vendor partner Verified First, a leading background screening provider hosted a Virtual Coffee Hour panel discussion group for Human Resources leaders in the tech industry. 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 beverage of choice and a lot of questions. While there were not a lot of answers, the open 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 and 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 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 solid 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 biggest 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.

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.” 

The overall tone of the HR (Virtual) Coffee Hour was upbeat and hopeful. I felt encouraged to hear how HR leaders are finding new ways to help people adapt to the rapidly changing workplace and do their best work -- and share ideas that may forever change the way we work -- and more importantly, the way organizations treat employees.

At a time when many us are now working from home, it’s easy to feel isolated; just know you are not alone and there are resources online, via phone and an array of other options available to you.

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