"As an employer, we have a duty of care to be the calm during a storm of uncertainty for our employees, customers and partners who look to us for direction."
This article was originally authored by Terri Lewis, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Human Resources at Pontoon Solutions.
My career as an HR professional has primarily been headquartered on the east coast and in the mid-west of the United States. My experience has led me to manage my fair share of hurricanes, tornadoes and winter weather events which have impacted employees and business alike. As time went on and my scope grew to span a global presence, I became accustomed to supporting people dealing with fires, earthquakes, typhoons and monsoon season. Each of these events have occurred in singular locations, with immediate impact to those logistically close by. These events are relatively isolated to the extent you can draw a circle around the impact zone, then engage and deploy aid within the defined area.
An Event Like No Other
I recently gained a very new perspective none of us has had before. COVID-19, commonly referred to as Coronavirus which has become a global pandemic. This started out (as recently as a couple of weeks although it feels like a lot longer) mirroring elements of prior catastrophes I have faced which has now reached a scale unlike any of the others. Simply put, it has challenged every experience I have dealt with to date. This virus has thrust every person on the planet into a situation none of us were truly prepared for – a global outbreak of a novel virus rapidly working its way through the world in ways we have yet to fully realize. It is all-consuming in its path and transcends borders, religion, race or sex, it is at present seemingly unstoppable and the worst is about to hit me domestically where we also have our largest working population.
Bracing for Impact and Looking for Positives
I am fortunate in that it hasn’t visited me personally as of the time of writing, but we remain vigilant across both our local and global communities. However, even from afar in terms of distance, it has certainly altered my responsibilities and outputs as a Global Head of Human Resources and how I have needed to manage our global workforce of nearly 2,000 employees. For me, it has meant very early mornings and late evenings doing all we can to ensure we are making the best decisions with the best information we have at that moment. This workload is immaterial to what some others are facing on a global scale, but these are real choices being made which have ramifications (both tangible and unforeseen) on our people and customers. To hold or cancel a meeting? To attend or not attend a conference? To approve employee travel for what is a truly critical client meeting? Balancing business disruption and employee welfare has become a daily and almost hourly obstacle.
While on a functional level we were well prepared in many cases with BCPs (Business Continuity Plans) in place, remote worker evacuation policies, technology planning in place as a company, for my team and I, it has meant an increase in the scrutiny and stress we are placing on the decisions we are making which impact our people every day.
It has also led to a renewed sense of finding the good in colleagues and people we come into contact with. Our leaders are stepping up to do the right thing for each other, for our customers and for our people. We are in regular contact with our amazing customers and partners and mutually supporting each other. The tough decisions are being taken in a mindful way and communicated thoughtfully with wellbeing at the top of the agenda.
Uplifting Discoveries in Times of Uncertainty
Through the unfortunate developments we have endured since this outbreak began, I’ve found hope and silver linings that would not have been realized otherwise. To start with, I’ve reaffirmed that we have amazing people working in our organization. They want to do everything they can to drive our business forward and serve our customers.
I’ve found many countries, states and local governments are more well prepared to deal with this than I expected them to be. On the flip side, I’ve found many countries, states and local governments with far larger infrastructure and wealth to be less prepared than I was sure they would be.
I know that, as an employer, we have a duty of care to be the calm during a storm of uncertainty for our employees, customers and partners who look to us for direction.
And I’ve found that regardless of any factor that makes us different, something like this brings us together. It brings us together to work toward a common goal and look past things we may have disagreed on before. We can come to find out how little importance things previously had and that being present and mindful means that we can understand the position of others and stop perceiving ourselves so centrally when faced with a unified opposition.
I feel this has also shown my son and all of our children what all people can do for each other in tough situations and that we have the capacity to fight to rise above every time.
None of us can truly say what the next weeks and months will bring. We are all experiencing this for the first time, but we are experiencing it uniquely and together.
We must try to take this as an opportunity – to identify our gaps, evaluate our continuity plans and assess our preparedness for catastrophic events. Going forward it is our duty to ensure we are all better equipped for whatever the future brings to us. It is our responsibility to make sure our employees know what to do in an emergency, how to care for ourselves and each other both personally and professionally.
I hope we take this as an opportunity to consider how prepared our homes, schools, ageing parents and country infrastructures are. This will not be the last time we are tested.
I hope this enables us to make better use of our existing resources and have less of a global climate impact by evaluating which meetings and events can be done virtually in the future. Today’s technology provides us with ways to stay connected regardless of where we are physically located. Using these solutions rather than travelling in excess is ultimately better for our personal health and the environment.
I didn’t want to have discovered the things above going through what we are right now with the huge impacts Covid-19 has already made and the long-lasting damage it will continue to cause. Unfortunately, the fact remains that we are in the midst of a global crisis. Personally, I likely still have the worst to come but as leaders, we must to guide our teams through this, be their objective source of truth for them and ensure we are communicating thoroughly and often.
As humans we will overcome when approaching each other with love and compassion, I hope we can all remember that in the coming weeks and months.
Terri Lewis is Senior Vice President and Global Head of Human Resources for Pontoon. Terri is responsible for driving the acceleration of Pontoon through leadership, differentiated talent models, attracting and developing the best talent and building a culture of engagement, agility and innovation.