How many hats does HR have to wear during Covid-19?

by | Aug 17, 2020 | Uncategorized

Several weeks ago, I participated in the monthly video meeting with Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s Talent Attraction & Retention Advisory Committee. When DCA formed this group a few years back, the primary goal was to gather feedback from those working in HR, recruitment or relocation for companies based in downtown Cleveland, so DCA was hearing insights from those living and working in downtown to be able to serve them better.
With only 15 employees at Executive Arrangements, I represent one of the smallest companies on this committee, but our work with more than 150 candidates a year considering a move to NE Ohio (some who will work in downtown, some who are open to urban living options) provides additional insights.
As I listened to what the others on the committee had on their plates as they contemplate what amounts to an 8-layer chess board for how to bring their employees back to the corporate offices when it’s safe to do so, I am amazed at their calm demeanor, their patience, their analytical skills being called into action, their kindness when it comes to considering what their staff members want and need with all of the uncertainty in the air.
So I’m shining the spotlight on one of these members, who also happens to be an Executive Arrangements client: Medical Mutual. Lydia Shinn sits on this committee with me, but she graciously passed me over to two people doing more of the heavy lifting on this issue than she is: Jennifer Collister, Vice President, Human Resources and Susan Edwards, Director, People and Organizational Development and here is their story (answers combined into one voice for brevity).

Jennifer Collister


Susan Edwards


Q. Being responsible for how to bring employees back to your offices must add quite a few extra layers to your job these days. Can you tell me about that?
A. About 97% of our employees have been working from home since March (that number was about 25% pre-Covid-19). As we began to think about when and how we bring employees back to the offices, it raised a lot of questions. What criteria will we use to make this decision? What protocols will we require employees to follow? What additional precautions will we put in place? To help answer this, we engaged a cross-functional committee, on which we both participate. It’s a priority and it’s leading us to look at things in a brand new way.
Q. When you think about your downtown headquarters, The Rose Building, what are you hearing from employees?
A. Since we first sent people to work from home in March, our employees have been exceptional in keeping up operations and serving our members. They have appreciated the company’s careful response to the COVID-19 situation. There is a desire to return to the offices, when the time is right. I think a lot of employees miss the downtown atmosphere.
Q. What about your other locations in Cleveland?
A. When shelter-in-place began in March, we were just days away from moving employees in our IT, operations and customer service functions to our new facility in Brooklyn. This space was designed to be very collaborative, with each floor having a central square with sofas, lounge chairs and hi-top tables. Given the new physical distancing needs, we recently walked through the space to look for adjustments thhat will be necessary to accommodate our new normal. But, it will be exciting for employees to make Brooklyn their new home, again, when the time is right.
Q. What other things do you have to consider?
A . We are fully on board with the directives established by our public health officials. Every employee in our buildings will have to have a face covering at all times, other than when they are sitting at their own workstations. We went through all the shared spaces (elevators, meeting and conference rooms, kitchen) to determine the maximum capacity for those areas. For example, rooms that formerly accommodated 12 for a meeting are now limited to 4 and of course we have stepped up our cleaning routines.
Q. How are your employees handling all these changes?
A. We are being as transparent as we can with our employees, but it’s truly a moving target. With that said, making sure our members understand their benefits is important now more than it has ever been. Our employees are being incredibly productive at home. We set dates for when we think we can have employees return to the office, then those dates keep getting pushed back. We feel the uncertainty in the air, so we are working hard to stay in touch with them.
Q. How has the pandemic affected you personally? 
A. We’ve both had a mix of working from home and in the office. In April, downtown was like a ghost town, but it’s improved a bit every month since then. Often it seems hit or miss on what is open and many of the restaurants haven’t re-opened as the density of people is just not here right now. We both had tickets to see Hamilton at Playhouse Square and are disappointed that the theaters are closed.  And it is stressful being responsible for all our employees’ well being. We know our decisions have impacts and we are both trying to stay on top of the ever-changing guidelines. We get text messages daily from cleveland.com that summarize Governor DeWine’s press conferences and other Covid-19 related items and that is helpful. We also check in regularly with Ohio’s website dedicated to COVID-19.
Q. Have either of you had the opportunity to work with candidates or new hires who have worked with Executive Arrangements? Any feedback you can offer?
A. You provide such a great resource for the people that Medical Mutual is moving to Cleveland and they are so appreciative of how EA helps them navigate their new city.
EA is proud of what our clients are doing in the face of overwhelming new protocols related to the sudden onset of remote employees and the need to insure their culture is kept alive and well. If you have a story to share, let us know: [email protected]