Best practices during COVID-19: What can we learn from the tech giants
by Andrew Upah
Technology is a lifeline during quarantine, enabling many of us to work seamlessly from home. From video platforms to collaboration tools, tech has helped businesses around the world remain operational while making it easy for friends and families to stay connected. But what can we learn from the tech sector’s response to COVID-19 — and how can its approaches help make other industries more resilient?
- Progressive remote work programs
As the crisis unfolded, every organization rushed to protect employees.
- For Big Tech, with its defined remote cultures, infrastructure, and technology, the switch to distributed teams en-mass was relatively straightforward. And we’re talking about a lot of employees. Twitter, for example, asked its 5000-strong workforce to go remote worldwide. The abrupt shift to remote work during the pandemic has demonstrated that it can be done successfully at scale. As a result, we’ll likely see greater investment in progressive remote work programs for the long term. That will include ensuring that employees have the tools they need to enable connection, but also establish clearly defined rules about encouraging behaviors that build rapport.
- Microsoft, Google, LogMeIn, Cisco, and Zoom have also made virtual communication tools free to enable people everywhere to work remotely during the pandemic.
- People-first policies
In a move to protect employees, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, and Google’s parent company Alphabet were quick to implement remote working nationwide and ban non-essential travel. Unlike most industries, tech is hiring with fervor as the world moves online. For example, Amazon opened up 100,000 new jobs to help fulfill a surge in online orders during the crisis. In California alone, companies including Apple, Lyft, Uber, Adobe, and Twitch were looking to fill nearly 16,000 jobs in the middle of March. As a result, many companies have switched to screening potential hires via video conferencing.
- Sick leave and additional support pay
Google and Twitter are compensating hourly employees for hours they’re unable to work due to the disruption. Google has also created a fund to provide sick pay to non-full-time and contract staff without the benefit affected by the virus. Meanwhile, Twitter is reimbursing parents for additional daycare costs, and home office set up expenses. Amazon invested $350 million globally to increase pay by $2 per hour in the US (C$2 in Canada, £2/hr in the UK, and approximately €2/hr in many EU countries). Amazon, which has been embroiled in controversy over workers’ safety in recent weeks has added quarantine leave and overtime at double pay.
- Frequent and clear communication
Access to colleagues and clients is different now we’re all remote. One crisis-drive change in the tech sector was to ratchet up communications. For many, that now means lengthy video calls with clients as their focus shifts from growth and innovation to cash preservation and expense management. In addition, leaders are under pressure to ramp up internal communications. As a result, we’re seeing regular all-hands or ‘town hall’ meetings and greater emphasis on interpersonal exchanges with employees. At Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg holds weekly open Q&As where he updates the entire company and takes questions from employees. The overall message? Make it focused and frequent.
- Online conferences
Social distancing restrictions put a swift end to tech’s anticipated conference season. Undeterred, some scrambled to reorchestrate complex live events into focused virtual presentations at incredible speed. Microsoft Build, for example, will now be an entirely digital experience. For some smaller tech companies streaming events have actually increased attendance. And even if revenue generation falls short, it’s worth remembering that online conferences are cheaper to put together.
- Impact for good
The community has been quick to embrace its role as a digital-first responder. OutSystems created a program to sponsor ideas to help local communities navigate the crisis. Then in partnership with Deloitte, it launched a logistics system to manage medical supplies across multiple municipalities. Cisco made its video platform free during the crisis, and individuals from across tech have pitched in to help combat issues like cybersecurity now that most of the world is working from home. Tech companies, with intellectual property and specialist manufacturing capabilities, are uniquely positioned to play a key role in the fight against COVID-19. The Open COVID Pledge is a call to action to share critical intellectual property in a bid to speed innovation and research. Major tech players, including Microsoft, Intel, Facebook have recently joined or endorsed the pledge.
As COVID-19 took hold around the globe, Big Tech was quick to prepare for the worst. The steps it took — including the swift transition to remote — were future-focused and acted as a shock absorber for employees and operations. Now, millions of people worldwide are adapting to distributed work. As leaders across industries rethink ‘business as usual’, tech has shown that taking care of people and contributing to the fight against COVID-19 aren’t just the smart things to do — they’re the right things to do.