The COVID-19 Experience: An Entrepreneur’s (Positive) View
By Jared Pope, Founder & CEO of Work Shield
There’s no doubt we are all trying to make lemonade out of the lemons that COVID-19 has brought to our employees and companies — whether big or small. Many of us are experiencing the joys of working from home, while also learning to adapt to the same remote environment. Below is how one entrepreneur and his company, Work Shield, are adapting to make lemonade out of lemons.
What’s Your Story?
While practicing law and running a firm focused on human resources, ERISA, benefits and employment matters, we discovered a broken process of how workplace harassment and discrimination incidents are reported and managed. It wasn’t working for employees and it wasn’t working for organizations.
We figured out that by creating an impartial third-party to effectively and efficiently manage incidents from start to finish, we can remove employees’ fear of retaliation and empower them to speak up, while also reducing incident rates and mitigating legal risk for organizations. All at the same time.
When organizations partner with Work Shield, employees feel valued and respected, and know that should an issue arise, their voice will be heard and the incident will be handled quickly. In addition, employers have peace of mind that their companies are protected in the process.
In Response to COVID-19, How Did You Share Your Message and Make Lemonade?
As it became apparent our country would quickly follow suit to so many others already impacted by COVID-19, we began to shift our communications efforts to have a heavier focus on the disease and its pending impact for our clients and business partners.
To start, I conducted an interview with Leader’s Edge Magazine with a focus on effective leadership and how to manage new discrimination and unconscious bias issues we were starting to see.
I also conducted a webinar for around 400 attendees on behalf of a risk management consulting firm. The webinar was designed to give employers a better understanding of how the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and paid Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) were likely to impact them in the coming weeks.
Since the beginning of the diseases’ outbreak in America, we have consistently communicated with our clients and business partners via email, the Work Shield blog and LinkedIn updates. From education on new EEOC compliance regulations to dealing with unconscious bias and creating safe workplaces in a remote environment, our content is varied, but focuses on helping employers and employees better manage, navigate and respond to the pandemic.
What Were Your Lemonade Results?
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s been our ability to help our clients and business partners adapt to the new rules of engagement, so to speak. Our clients represent companies of all shapes and sizes — but they have many of the same issues and questions. We’ve spent early mornings and late nights on the phone and video chats helping answer questions related to the implications of COVID-19 for employee relations, workplace guidance and best practices. It’s been very rewarding and created more meaningful relationships with many of our clients and distribution partners. If we had written down all these conversations, we could probably put together a pretty thorough “Pandemic How-To” guide!
What Communications Lessons Did You Learn Along the Way?
When we are faced with a crisis of this magnitude, companies that don’t (or can’t) react quickly from a communications standpoint can appear insensitive and even callous. Companies that wait too long to re-shape their messaging from business-as-usual (even in small ways) seem out of touch and irrelevant.
That being said, there’s a fine line between responding appropriately and in a timely manner versus merely reacting to a situation. A quick response that is inadequate is just that — inadequate. It’s important to take some time to make sure your message is on target — to know what’s relevant to your customers and their relationship with your company in light of a particular situation.
There is an influx of information coming at us from so many different directions right now. If there’s an opportunity to condense, or simplify something for our clients, we will do it. For instance, the EEOC posted a 45-minute long, pre-recorded webinar discussing Coronavirus-specific regulations. Most of our clients are overloaded as it is and don’t have an hour to spare, but the information is still very important. So, we pared it down and sent the key take-aways to our clients and business partners.
Providing useful resources to make clients’ jobs a little easier is always a good idea! For example, you could create a resource hub on your website with new industry-relevant information and downloadable infographics so users can access the most up-to-date information in one place. In an effort to help our clients effectively communicate with their employees, we sent our clients an email that included reminders about digital harassment and unconscious/conscious bias as it relates to COVID-19 in a copy-and-paste format for them to send directly to their employees.
How Will You Start Getting Back to Business?
The coming months are going to be interesting for sure. We don’t know exactly how long we will be working from home or what the states of our current and prospective clients’ businesses will be when things are back to normal. For now, we are communicating with sensitivity and relevance to COVID-19 in a way that highlights the benefits of our services in relation to the current situation.
However, as employers and lawmakers make decisions on returning to the workplace and resuming normal activities, one of their main priorities will be “feeling safe.” While people and employees will need to feel safe from a health perspective, they will also need to feel safe from a discrimination perspective.
At the end of the day, as a business leader and partner to so many clients that represent thousands of employees on our platform, it is important to be empathetic to the situation at hand, while also cognizant of the upcoming challenges.
Every company will proceed with a different cadence on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis. Some companies will experience rapid growth, while others will grow slowly, if at all. Certainly, challenges await with the closing of businesses, massive layoffs we’ve already seen and what is sure to be a slow, tiered reentry of furloughed workforces.
As companies evolve and adapt in the wake of COVID-19, employees who did not get the promotion they were expecting, or who were chosen to be laid off or repurposed as a result of the pandemic, will want to have their voices heard if they feel they have been discriminated against. And employers will want to be protected in these scenarios that are likely out of their control.
Our partners will know and trust that as business starts to return to normal, Work Shield will be there to help lower their risk and maintain their companies’ cultures — ensuring that every employees’ voice is heard and that we will provide a clear path to resolution should an issue of workplace harassment or discrimination occur. Peace of mind is one of the best services we can provide!