In combating the COVID-19 pandemic, a majority of the world is following strict social distancing - putting a virtual halt on most economic activities. Whereas employees of IT and IT-enabled services are working from home temporarily, a majority of them are going through the transition for the first time. And naturally, most of them are struggling with work-life balance and adjusting to new working conditions.
After Europe, the U.S has emerged as the epicenter of the outbreak and many other countries are in line. People across the world are being strongly advised by medical authorities to practice social distancing. And nations are undertaking vigorous lockdown to ensure that proper preventive measures are taken to contain the coronavirus spread.
In such a situation, businesses worldwide are re-molding working conditions to prevent workplace infection. While HR services are examining current policies favor of more active ways to calm employees' anxiety.
GoodFirms interviewed 100+ employees of IT and IT-based industries from around the world about how their companies are helping, challenges they are facing, and further measures that could help.
How Are Companies Helping Employees?
As the pressure is on, and countries under lockdown, it is up to companies to make efforts that will better their employees. And indeed, many of the companies have been fast in moving and making decisions to adopt practices that would promote employees’ well-being during this crisis.
Around the world, employees, who can, are working from home to efficiently enable social distancing. While company premises are being washed and sanitized. But there have been more and wider efforts:
Among the major efforts done by companies to help their employees during this crisis are:
- 98.18% of employees are working from home.
- 91.82% of companies underwent sanitization drills.
- 75.45% of employees have an awareness program conducted by their companies.
- 62.73% of employees mentioned they have cut down their business travels.
- 51.82% of employees received an essential goods package or financial aid for the same.
- 36.36% of employees were trained & facilitated to work better during the crisis.
- 20.91% of employees were given an extension of sick leaves.
- 10% of employees mentioned that their business events were canceled or made digital.
- 8.18% of employees said that their entire business was closed temporarily.
Below are the few significant efforts are done by some companies worldwide as mentioned by their employees:
Work From Home
The ability to work from home has always been an innate opportunity for IT and IT-enabled services. Amidst country lockdowns and rigorous social distancing, this has been the biggest strength for such companies to take care of their employees as well as their businesses.
It is no surprise that almost all of the people interviewed are working from home, in their own capacities.
"Efforts first started 3 weeks [March] ago by cautioning employees who have the ability to work remotely to do so." said Riley Adams, a Senior Financial Analyst at Google, "Within a week's time, the company shifted its message to recommending employees work from home and finally closing down offices last week to all but absolutely essential personnel. The company's guidance for working from home has us staying remote through the beginning of April, pending an extended duration based on a number of public health statistics."
The company's guidance for working from home has us staying remote through the beginning of April, pending an extended duration based on a number of public health statistics.
- Riley Adams, a Senior Financial Analyst at Google
Katie Doyle, the Head of Marketing at California-based app-development company Branch, said, "We're a global company and have been monitoring the situation since news first broke of a case of COVID-19 in China. We formed a task force to evaluate developments and take measures quickly to keep our employees, customers, and community safe. As of now, all of our 13 offices around the world are closed and employees are working from home. We've also canceled or indefinitely postponed events and in-person meetings. Right now our business is 100% digital."
Alyssa Loring, Marketing Director of Boston-based online property buying platform Torii, says, "We are no longer working out of our offices. Our employees are all working remotely from home. We have limited the number of in-person meetings, moving everything we can to a virtual meeting. We are also building a resource for our clients to find listings with virtual tours or the option for virtual showings."
Keeping employees aware of company dynamics is one of the keys to employee engagement. The prevalence of fake news, the unprecedented nature of the crisis, and the fear among employees - the current situation of the workplace demands extra efforts from a company.
And thus many companies have chosen to keep their employees in the loop with the latest situation, as well as, the company dynamics.
Bethany Spence, Content Marketing Specialist at UK-based Exposure Ninja, said, "From a social point of view, Exposure Ninja's founder Tim made a video company update addressing the situation quite early on. This video was honest yet positive and helped everybody to feel as though we were well informed about the company's approach to the virus. Shortly after this, the senior team introduced some new social measures such as a virtual book club, live-streamed exercise classes and a gaming channel to keep the community spirit alive."
Ralph Sustaita, Marketing Executive at Chicago based online clothing store Angel Jackets, said, "Our company had sent a circular email informing everyone about the precaution methods of coronavirus including washing hands for 20 sec, avoid shaking hands, covering sneeze and cough, etc. We were also provided hand sanitizers and masks. However, this only lasted for a few days as we were requested to work from home."
Essential Goods and Financial Aids
Amidst complete lockdown and disrupted supply chain, availability of essential goods such as groceries and medicines has been a major issue. As many employees mentioned, companies are helping them either by procuring them essential goods or by extending financial aid for the same.
"Aside from the groceries, mask, and medicines, some essentials such as wi-fi routers, desktop/monitors, and hard drives are provided to keep up with the quality of work they provide in the physical office setting,” said Chad Hill, CMO at law-firm Hill & Ponton, “Also, not to give the employee a hard time to stay connected with the department. Companies, with consideration of the current situation, have advanced the employee's mid-year bonus to help in their budgeting since lockdown will take months long. Advanced salaries and pro-rated benefits have helped the employees in financial terms to survive until the end of the pandemic."
Companies, with consideration of the current situation, have advanced the employee's mid-year bonus to help in their budgeting since lockdown will take months long.
- Chad Hill, CMO at USA-based Veterans Disability Lawyers: Hill & Ponton
Erik Rivera, CEO of Maryland-based Honest Paws, said, "Honest Paws has provided upwards of $700 to each employee to purchase any supplies they need during the transition period. Also, Honest Paws is offering unlimited paid time off to all of our full-time employees, whether it's due to illness or otherwise."
Kevin Miller, Founder & CEO of The Word Counter, said, "Cleaning supplies are being sent to each employee’s home to help them disinfect. This is paid for by the company. In addition, a bonus stipend in the amount of $1000 is being sent to all employees to help during this difficult time."
Matthew Ross, Co-founder of Nevada-based The Slumber Yard, said, "We purchased and shipped hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies to each of our employees to ensure their home environments are clean and sanitary. Further, we purchased $100 gift cards to grocery stores for our employees and provided instructions on how to order food online. That way they don't have to leave their homes in order to go grocery shopping."
All sports events stand canceled. All entertainment events stand canceled. All personal events stand canceled. With rigorous social distancing, almost every business event stands canceled too or postponed to an indefinite date.
- South by Southwest (SXSW), an annual media festival, in Austin, Texas, was canceled.
- F8, Facebook's annual conference for developers and one of it's biggest event, stands canceled.
- Mobile World Congress, the biggest smartphone conference of the year, in Barcelona was canceled.
While a few have decided to move an event online.
"About two weeks ago, Domopalooza, our largest show of the year that we attend, was canceled due to COVID-19. So, we have moved to conduct the three speaking sessions to online presentations with our partners from Belle Tires and ESPN.," said Tom Stanek, President of Michigan-based RXA.
Of course, organizers have to abridge these events, canceling some segments and retaining only the most essential ones.
Tom added, “Domopalooza 2020 was being transformed into Domopalooza Live & On-Demand, and like many other shows, moved from an on-location event to a virtual one. At RXA, we were completely in support of this decision and feel lucky to work with a partner that cares so deeply about their stakeholders. In addition to now presenting virtually with our partners, all of our employees are working from home and using tools from Zoom to connect and communicate regularly."
Unfortunately, businesses, whose revenues depended directly on brick-and-mortar activities, have to shut down for an indefinite time period. About 8.18% of the employees we interview belong to these businesses and reported having shut down operations.
"Because of the nature of our business, we’ve closed down our tours,” said Noah Watkins, Tour Director at Chicago-based tour company Bobby’s Bike Hike, “For now, however, our entire leadership team is working remotely and struggling here and then with taking a brick-and-mortar company virtual."
“Our shop and service manager, Ben, has been focused on converting all our processes to a socially distant version of their prior selves. Additionally, he’s sanitizing every touchpoint in the shop daily,” Noah added.
What Challenges are Employees Facing?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced billions of employees across the globe to work from home. While this will limit the transmission of the virus, saving lives, it also poses some big challenges.
While the virus was swift to spread, most employees were neither technologically equipped nor physiologically prepared for working remotely. And most of the major challenges that employees are facing are around this single fact.
Among the major challenges faced by employees worldwide while working from home during the coronavirus outbreak are:
- 70.91% of employees are worried about the impact on their businesses - operations and finances.
- 60.91% of employees are struggling through a work-life balance while staying home 24 by 7.
- 45.45% of employees are facing issues adjusting to new work conditions.
- 21.82% of employees do not have satisfactory channels for internal communication.
- 20.91% of employees are struggling through reduced productivity.
- 17.27% of employees do not have satisfactory channels for external communication.
- 13.64% of employees are struggling through work in the absence of social interaction.
Below are the few significant challenges mentioned by employees worldwide:
Impact on business
Healthcare Vs. Economy - the real, clear, and contrasting nature of combating the virus outbreak makes it an unprecedented crisis. A cease on economic activities across countries and industries, makes it hard for IT and IT-enabled services too - both financially and operation-wise.
And that explains the worries of a majority (70.91%) of employees.
"The biggest challenge we have faced is some clients (understandably) need to put a hold on their marketing campaigns as many of them cannot even run their business operations during this time.” said Matt Erickson, Marketing Director at California-based digital marketing company National Positions, “Another challenge has been pivoting clients (of whom are still providing products and services) to marketing activities that can help keep the ball rolling. This might include moving from an SEO campaign to a PPC or social media campaign to drive awareness that business operations are still going, such as restaurants or e-commerce websites."
Mika Edward, Insurance Industry Expert at New York-based Cogneesol, says, "We provide back-office outsourcing services to B2B clients worldwide. The major challenges that we faced during this period were maintaining client data security. As we provide legal, accounting, insurance services to clients, we have lots of confidential information about clients that we can’t reveal to our employees. In such cases, our high authoritative people take responsibility for the clients’ data security, and we place remote login directly on clients’ machines in some exceptional cases. Our secure infrastructure helps to keep proper surveillance of employees to avoid any kind of data breaches."
Work-life balance is one of the most sought-after workplace values. For many, it is even more important than a good salary. In current times, living and working at the same place, with indefinite home captivity and lack of physical social interactions, have blurred the lines of work-life distinction.
Not only 60.91% of the people have mentioned it, but the difficulties were vividly described.
When working remotely, employees tend to overwork or to drag their workday throughout the whole day, which can result in diminishing the line of private and personal life.
- Luka Arezina, Co-Founder of DataProt
"I think the greatest challenge is to keep our employees steer clear from burnout, which can decrease their performance and endanger their overall health.” said Luka Arezina, Co-Founder of Czech Republic-based cybersecurity platform DataProt, “When working remotely, employees tend to overwork or to drag their workday throughout the whole day, which can result in diminishing the line of private and personal life. The situation becomes more dangerous in situations like these where we cannot move from our houses and when our movement is limited."
Riley Adams, the Google-guy who helps young people find financial independence with his personal finance site - Young & the Invested, said, "Working from home has been a challenge for my wife, son and I but we have actually managed well, all things considered. Previous to this, I had been doing so twice per week to watch my son on days my wife worked. However, since transitioning to WFH full-time, I have had some difficulty remaining connected to extended team members, hindering my ability to collaborate on stretch projects above my basic scope of work. I'm able to produce quality work and be productive but feel I have a slack capacity which is going underutilized as a result of not being able to collaborate effectively across my broader team."
Kirsty Finlayson, the Content Strategist at Barcelona-based IT service Holded, said "Waking up and being in your workplace is pretty tough mentally as I'd normally go to a coworking or a café if I were working remotely. Also, when the day ends - you're still where you've been all day. As of now, it's the little things like getting up, having a shower, not staying in my PJs all day(!) that really help you get through the working hours. Quarantine loneliness is a real thing!"
Andrew Clark, the Marketing Strategist at Maryland-based web marketing agency Duckpin, says, "For me, I've been finding working from home to be a challenge given my wife is pregnant and is home, too. My thoughts are often directed to making sure she's comfortable and avoiding situations where she might contract the virus. As a result, I have had to take time away from client work to run errands, such as grocery shopping or getting an oil change for her car (the last thing I want to deal with in the event of needing to leave or get to a doctor is a non-functioning car)."
Alice Corner, Content Marketer with Toronto-based online infographic maker Venngage, "The biggest challenge has been a personal one. No matter how many measures your company puts in place, shifting to working remotely is a huge mindset shift. How do I switch off at the end of the day? How do I get in the zone? How do you navigate the work-life balance line?"
Anya Prevallet-Kinstle, Project Manager at AppJobs.com says, "One of the biggest challenges faced is working from home constantly and not having a unique separation between home and work especially when social distancing has many of us spending more time at home altogether. It has led to a sense of constant work instead of taking downtime for a break or to get some rest from work."
Adjusting to New Working Conditions
Though an innate opportunity, work from home has always been tricky and difficult for companies as well as employees. When people were told to work from home on an almost emergency call, most were unsure - managing work from home, getting used to new tools, and more scrutiny on productivity. As many as 45.45% are still struggling to adjust, even though it would be a temporary working condition.
“Having entire offices working remotely is very new for a lot of businesses. It’s almost like a giant social experiment if you think about it.” said Anastasia Tubanos, Director of Content Strategy at Toronto-based FUSE Marketing Group, "Entire organizations are going virtual and some people will be more comfortable with remote work than others."
It’s also a time for more forgiveness and consideration around things like technical issues and background noises. We should all approach it with a bit of empathy for each other since, for many of us, we're venturing into uncharted waters.
- Anastasia Tubanos, Director of Content Strategy with FUSE Marketing Group
Matt Zajechowski, Outreach Team Lead with Chicago-based marketing company Digital Third Coast, "The biggest challenge for me is getting acclimated to working remotely full time. Finding a quiet space away from distractions has been my biggest challenge as I currently am sharing an at-home working space with my significant other. We both have to be on work calls at the same time during the day, so making sure we are respectful towards one another while taking care of our own work-related responsibilities is a daily challenge."
While a substantial number of employees who were already having a work-from-home policy/practice had collaborative tools in place and were better, faster adapting.
"Our company already had a team of remote workers, so introducing a remote working policy was easy for us, since we have many tools in place and most of the employees are used to working in this model at some capacity.” said Sara Spector-Brown, Director of Operations at 3 Media Web, “We made remote working optional 100% six weeks ago and made it required at the beginning of mid-March, so we were able to quickly adapt to this change and so were our clients, who we mostly work with remotely. Luckily we can work this way, as long as needed, and from what I've heard in the news that could be until the end of summer."
Most of the companies have employees working on-premise and heavily rely on face-to-face conversations. While it would be wrong to presume that technological tools could enable efficiency, many companies had difficulty in getting the right productivity tools in the first place. With the emergency situation, the lack of channels for everyone to work remotely has been hurting overall efficiency and production.
Mudit Singh from LamdaTest said, “For managers like us, it is especially hard to track if the task is properly done or not without coming off as a micromanaging demon. No brainstorming sessions, innovation is sometimes not of the same level and each hurdle during a task takes just a little bit more time.”
There is a reason why nearly all companies, even tech-based enterprises, are working on physical site offices. You never realize how much communication happens face-to-face especially between team-mates in getting the job done.
- Mudit Singh, Director of Product & Growth at India-based LambdaTest
Mudit added, “Managing people working from home is like herding cats. Granted they are working online and on time yet for any instant team meeting, you realize that people are not at their workstation at that particular time. We are now heavily dependent on team collaboration tools. Teams now have to report daily in the morning on what tasks they are gonna work on and at the end of the day report on what has been accomplished."
Christine Glossop, a Content Specialist at Canada-based graphic design agency Looka, said, "The biggest challenge so far is collaboration. Slack is great, but getting in the habit of hopping on video calls or chats is still an adjustment. When you're used to swiveling your chair around to talk to your coworkers, switching to Slack-based communication takes some time. What's helped with that is starting to use our non-work-related Slack channels more frequently, so the lines of communication stay open throughout the day."
For most B2B companies, at least one segment of their client touch-point is in-person. And for many, this segment is indispensable.
"With no in-person meetings, it becomes more challenging to get in front of our target demographic,” said Bryan Pattman, the Lead Digital Strategist at New York-based 9Sail, “We attend a lot of networking events and conferences and almost every event that we planned on attending has rescheduled or canceled completely. But, we are trying to adapt to this by utilizing Zoom meetings and constant communication with referral partners and current clients. As a company, we are prepared to come out even stronger once the coronavirus rules become less strict and will continue to improve our service offering and make sure our clients are happy with the work we are doing."
Lack of social interaction
The current working conditions are temporary. And many companies have found creative ways to keep employees engaged. Yet for many employees, it can not facilitate the work environment that is otherwise enabled by social interactions.
"The most challenging aspect for our agency is the lack of social interaction that we would normally have within the office.” said Noel Hampton, Account Manager at Dallas-based TrizCom PR, “We have an open-door policy because we believe that everyone should have an opportunity to ask questions, engage with one another and seek advice or help on the work we’re doing. We’re a collaborative team, and sometimes that can be difficult when everyone is working from home. But as communication professionals, our phones are always at the ready in case we need to reach one another."
Nick Carr, a Solution Architect at UK-based management consultants Kinsmen Group, says, "As a very social company, with strong relationship bonds, it has been hard to distance ourselves from each other to the degree that we have. However, increased and enhanced use of video-conferencing has made a significant impact."
What Further Measures Can Help Employees?
In addition to being worried about health, a majority of employees are struggling with work-life balance and adjusting to new working conditions. On top of this, an apparent recession has also sparked fear of lay-offs and salary cuts. The pandemic is gradually raising employees’ fear and stress levels, which could have disastrous consequences.
Many of the interviewed people have expressed what further can be done to ease their concerns. These were asked in a general manner, and still, an overwhelming number of people indicated how their companies can help furthermore:
Among the further measures that can ease their concerns, employees deem the following:
- 40.91% want some kind of reassurance or relaxation from companies to ease their concerns.
- 29.09% of employees need financial aid either for personal or business purposes.
- 24.55% of employees indicated that the end of a pandemic would be the biggest help furthermore.
- 6.36% of employees pointed out the need for rigorous public initiatives.
Below are the few significant measures mentioned by the employees:
Despite the efforts, there has been a gradual increase in stressed working conditions. And employees use a wide variety of coping strategies under such a new and stressed environment. This necessitates companies to redirect their efforts to nurture employee well-being.
More than half of the interviewed employees are looking for relaxation in working conditions.
"Another challenge our team members face is parents and children of aging parents, who now have other things distracting them and requiring attention while they try to work,” said Sara Spector-Brown. She added, “They are challenged now with having to run out at certain times of the day to grab things or take care of something for their family. We have stressed that we are in “flexibility mode” right now and that this flexibility is there to take care of their families. We think that providing this is what will keep us moving forward in a positive and successful direction."
We have stressed that we are in “flexibility mode” right now and that this flexibility is there to take care of their families, and we think that providing this is what will keep us moving forward in a positive and successful direction
- Sara Spector-Brown of 3 Media Web
Alice Corner of Venngage, said "I think as we navigate this adjustment [work-life], constant communication and a non-judgemental space is needed from both the employer and the employee. Having the room to say 'I'm struggling with anxiety today' or 'I need some extra time' can go a huge way to help everybody adjust to this new reality."
Michael Tomaszewski, a Career Expert at Poland-based online resume services Zety, said, "I think one of the best things employers can do to quell employees' fears and concerns is to continually communicate to employees that their jobs aren't on the line. Due to COVID-19, there have been a plethora of people that lost their income sources and, as a result, they are now struggling to make ends meet. That's why employers across the world should reassure employees and highlight the fact that their people remain the company's top-value asset, which they don't want to lose."
Eliot Kersgaard, Public Relations Director at Goldin Solar said, "Our top concern at the moment is the wellbeing of our employees and our communities. Government action, such as support for those who have lost their jobs during this crisis and increased support for healthcare workers and those on the front lines of the pandemic would be the most reassuring action for us personally as well as for our business outlook. The emphasis right now should be avoiding a worst-case depression scenario in which many people lose their jobs permanently, lose their homes, and have difficulty meeting their basic needs. These efforts will have a positive downstream effect on our operations."
Easy Loans / Financial Aids
Along with job security, the minimum possible security of finances drives the rational well being of a person. More than a third of the interviewed employees are hoping for some kind of financial aids - relief packages or easy loans - some for personal purposes and some for business.
"Like many people in the US and elsewhere, I'd like to see more efforts devoted to addressing people's near-term financial needs,” added Andrew Clark of Duckpin, “and committing to social distancing. Even while feeling financially secure presently, I worry about the ability to pay recurring bills in the future if things continue like they have this week. I'm hopeful the federal government will step up to the situation with a fiscal stimulus that helps everyday people and small businesses, who are also taking a hit."
Sky Cassidy, CEO at California-based MountainTop Data, said, "Being able to get low- to no-interest small business loans would be very useful in taking away some of the uncertainty. It would be very useful, both for us and to increase the confidence of our clients, if, for example, the government made business loans with no interest for 24 months of up to 10% annual revenues available to small businesses. Large amounts of money are being made available to banks and financial institutions at no interest, but it’s unlikely most of the small businesses that really need the money will qualify for bank loans."
End Of Crisis
We hope that when we look back in a few months, we see COVID-19 far behind in the rearview mirror. But for now, nothing is certain. About a fourth of the interviewed employees is hoping for a sooner end to the pandemic and the crisis it brought.
"Most importantly, we are looking forward to the time when our medical professionals and scientists have been able to address COVID-19,” said Eric Machnacz, an HR Consultant at New jersey based Red Clover and we can be together again in our offices and meeting with our clients and grabbing coffee with prospects. We have been effective over web calls, but we also thrive being on client sites, being physically present with our clients, and providing direct insight to them regarding their HR and change management needs."
Lars Skjold Iversen, Search Engine Explorer at Denmark based Umbraco, said, "Right now the only thing that can really ease any concerns is to see the infection curves flatten. Until that happens, any other measures will merely be bandaids. Some will help a little, some a lot, but none will truly fix the underlying issues that every business is facing."
Generally speaking, most businesses around the world are shut-down. While a majority of work-force is not able to work, a great many people can still work from home - thanks to the digital space. And while working from home is nothing new, it’s the first time masses have made the transition at once. So it’s natural for some to find the shifting a challenge.
During a global crisis, going through turbulent times and making tough decisions to hold your company afloat seems much harder. But, this is a time to show understanding, rather than keeping an emotional distance from your people. The outbreak will pass. How will your employees remember your company’s response? Prepared, flexible, and people-centric leadership will ensure that the company comes out of this crisis stronger than ever before, enhancing employee engagement and company culture.