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Ask the Expert Interview Series – COVID-19 & Human Resources

With 16 years of senior-level Human Resources experience in high-profile positions, Patricia Sharkey is an expert on all things Human Resources. She is a member of Forbes Human Resources Council, Society of Human Resources (SHRM), and is a certified mental illness first aid instructor by the National Council on Behavioral Health. 

We are proud to have Patty as our Director of HR here at Rhonda.ai. She is a thoughtful, hardworking, team leader that has done a fabulous job facing the challenges COVID-19 has presented to the organization.  

I sat down with Patty to ask various questions related to COVID and Human Resources. I presumed that her expert insight may be of great value to not only our internal staff but to you as well. Continue reading for Patty’s professional advice on employee mental health, remote work, and the perplexing future of returning to the office. 

As an expert on mental health, what are your top 3 tips to those working remotely to keep a positive and stable mental health during these uncertain times? 

  1. Shift Your Mindset 

Instead of thinking of the negatives, focus on the positives. Because of these unusual circumstances, what are you able to do now that you weren’t able to do previously? This helps me shift my mindset to a more grateful, positive one. Perhaps you are spending more time with your family, saving on gas money or can take up a new hobby such as gardening or cooking.  

  1. Join an Online Group 

It’s important to find time to separate yourself from work. By joining an online group that supports your hobbies and interests you can quickly escape from work with a remarkable discussion on how to bake the very best sourdough loaf.  

  1. Separate Work from Home 

Designate a specific area in your home for work. That way, when your workday is done you can “leave” work for the day and hop back into your home routine. 

Remember, ‘this too shall pass’. 

What do employers need to consider when implementing mandatory work from home arrangements? Or, if implementing mandatory work arrangements in the future to cut back on costs now that they know remote work is productive. 

From a business standpoint, organizations shifting to permanent remote work have various arrangements to consider. Switching from brick-and-mortar to one-click-order is possible for some businesses but not all. A restaurant, for example, will never work remotely.  

While overhead costs lessen from rental agreements many other financial factors will now be introduced. Do my employees have the necessary tools at home? Do they have the broadband they need? It is important to understand if working remotely will legitimately optimize your business.  

Other factors to consider are:  

  • How are you going to motivate your employees who are used to going into the office? 
  • How are you going to support the transition to remote work? 
  • How are you going to provide the necessary supplies? 

Once again, we are very fortunate to have Rhonda at our fingertips to engage, communicate, and collect feedback from our people regarding these considerations.  

What are the most frequently asked questions you are receiving from employees?  

These are the types of questions I am consistently hearing:  

– What are you doing specifically to keep me safe? 
– When can I go back to the office?
– How are you going to keep me safe? 

How are you responding to these questions? 

We are currently experiencing unprecedented times, therefore responding to these questions can be difficult for my team. We make sure to listen carefully and follow up with a helpful resource.  

We are willing to help in any way possible. Whether that’s helping to find a testing center or referring to our EAP (Employee Assistance Program). We have an empathetic and compassionate HR department that is concerned and care. 

As offices are slowly starting to reopen what kind of things do employers need to consider before bringing employees back into the office? What precautions do you see necessary/ recommend?  

First and foremost, it is important to gauge how your employees are feeling about returning to the office. We are fortunate to have Rhonda.ai check in with our people to ask this question regularly, and therefore are equipped with striking data.   

Secondly, employers will need to spend time building a “re-boarding” plan. As we are facing unprecedented times things are not all going to go as planned, and because of this, it is important to be as transparent and practical as possible. Good faith on behalf of both the employee and the employer will be required to return to work as seamlessly as possible.  

What can employers do to support the mental health of their employees right now?  

A LOT! It’s important to remember that most of your employees are currently facing more stress and confusion than they have ever experienced in a lifetime. It is also important to understand the individual personalities of your team. Introverts will most likely be doing better during this time whereas extroverts may be feeling slight depression 

Here are a few tips to support the mental health of your employees: 

  • Recognize that we are all going through this together 
  • Reiterate that it is okay to feel scared or uncertain about the future 
  • Celebrate every single win (even if it’s a walk to the mailbox) 
  • Laugh over the phone 
  • Remind them about the EAP 
  • Give small tasks to your team so things don’t seem overwhelming 
  • Be flexible, allow your employees to disconnect for an hour or two if they are having an emotional day 
  • Reiterate that there is no stigma to having COVID 

3 out of 4 employees think their organization is responding effectively to the pandemic. How do you suggest employers continue to improve their responses?  

Well firstly, I would love to talk to those 1 out of 4 and see what they aren’t happy with.  

Currently, our CEO is conducting a weekly town hall meeting where he celebrates the wins, debriefs the week from a business angle, and checks-in with the team. I believe this is an excellent method to remain connected and responsive. 

I suggest continuing to listen, collecting feedback, and responding genuinely. Continue asking for feedback and most of all celebrate the small successes.  

What is your favorite and least favorite part of “quarantine”?   

As an introvert by nature, I am (secretly) enjoying the fact that I don’t have to make up any excuses to cancel plans. Don’t get me wrong, I do miss my friends but am relishing this time at home. I have been taking this time to do my ‘nerdy’ things; read, binge-watch television, paint, puzzle, and appreciate some quality time with my husband.  

From a work standpoint, I have seen so many people pull together and forge a team mentality. Rather than focusing on what specific department they are in; the team is working as one family. It’s fascinating to witness and gives me hope.  

My least favorite part about ‘quarantine’ is knowing that employees are scared. I want to have the answers to everything, and unfortunately, sometimes it’s not possible.  

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