I am an optimist. I gravitate toward stories that are heartwarming and inspirational. If you’re like me, then you likely experienced COVID news as an assault on your state of mind.

 

For months, there was a dearth of positive news as devastating COVID stories dominated the headlines. As an optimist and business leader, I responded to this crisis in the only way I could: find and promote good stories that offer a light during this dark time, highlighting inspirational individuals on the frontlines of the pandemic. The series was called, “The Unsung Heroes of COVID, Interviews with HR Professionals.”

 

I prioritized HR because there was a conspicuous absence of news reports about the people who were managing the work lives of others, helping employees get up and running with remote home offices, and/or improving facility safety for those who needed to work onsite. I was lucky to speak with high-level professionals who gave a firsthand account of the front lines of human resources during a global disaster and how they kept a positive outlook.

 

From these conversations, a few themes jumped out and they are instructive. First, was the idea of business culture. Dee Marrs, President of AustinPeopleWorks pointed to the adage “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and said that HR and Leadership must ensure that the right culture is supported and ferociously protected. As companies pivoted to a remote work environment, Mrs. Marrs pointed to examples of how to ensure ‘respect in the workplace’ and going beyond a weekly check-in call. Companies shifted their focus to think more carefully about health and wellbeing as well as keeping remote employees engaged, excited, and feeling valued.

 

Melissa Morgan, HCM Process Consultant with Paycor made an important observation, she noticed two different mindsets among business leaders, and it mattered. There was panic mode, which resulted in furloughs, closings, and contractions. Then there was the optimist mode, which calmly recognizes that tough times are cyclical and businesses can still thrive.

 

Optimists have used this time to prepare for the future because they understand that great change, even very tumultuous change, is a time for growth and helping others. And this last point – helping others and being engaged on a social level, is critical. David Hughen, Founder and CEO, AustinWorkNet pointed out that Millennials and Zoomers just entering the workforce want to attach themselves to companies that do social good. Companies that have in their DNA a cultural commitment to give back to the community are better able to differentiate themselves and attract great employees to create high-performance organizations.

 

The topic of the “new normal” for remote work has been discussed ad nauseum but I’m mentioning it here because our Series’ participants talked about innovative hybrid environments around workplace expectations.

 

Debbie Smith, Executive Vice President of Human Resources with E2Open said they were in no hurry to get everyone back to the office. Some people may be able to continue to work from home indefinitely while others struggle to maintain boundaries at home. She highlighted that employees may be getting more work done at home because there is no natural stopping point. Her concern was that staff are overworking not underworking. She said the main goal is to make sure employees take care of themselves first. E2Open is now offering to cover internet charges over what their employees would normally use at home to help defray the cost of home offices.

 

If companies move to remote office permanently, it highlights major cost savings from commercial real estate rents, utilities, and other expenditures associated with large offices. A fraction of those savings could go to employees to incentivize working from home.

 

The question of keeping people connected is still a concern. David said he has been inspired by the humane ways in which organizations are maintaining comradery in a virtual environment, like Zoom happy hours and games. We also heard about LinkedIn contests for the best home-office photo and free mental health services for employees.

 

We are grateful to our participants, leaders in HR, for providing some good news and interesting ideas during a difficult time. Their time and effort is so valuable to the lives of so many. As many HR professionals already know, you can’t spell “hero” without HR.

 

Moving forward we will be launching our new blog series as we continue exploring overlooked professions for inspiration and knowledge. Next up, we will be featuring Pharmacists and their role in helping control drug costs. You may not know it, but your pharmacist is doing a lot more than putting pills in a bottle. You will be surprised and amazed.