The COVID-19 pandemic provided company leadership an opportunity to evaluate and implement processes that were once seen as impossible, the CHROs of Dow Jones, Krispy Kreme, Sealed Air and CommScope discussed during a virtual roundtable Oct. 8.
During Championing the Future of Work: The CHRO's New Mandate, a webinar hosted by Summit Leadership Partners, a leadership advisory firm, HR leaders reflected upon how the pandemic — and the subsequent pivot to telework — affected employee-focused practices at their companies. The leaders also discussed how the onset of the pandemic affected them personally.
There was a period of time for "much needed rebalancing," personally, Sealed Air CHRO Susan Edwards said. "Things slowed down a little bit [and] you got a chance to work from home," she said. "And I was surprised at how much I needed that." But very quickly, she learned that she values face-to-face interaction with others, Edwards said.
Professionally, the pandemic accelerated Sealed Air's flex work policies, she said. "We were already having a conversation about how we could create a global, flexible policy and practice. Half of the organization felt it would never work," Edwards said. "And the other half of the organization said, ‘you know, we ought to just shoot the moon and see what we can do with it.'" This "grand experiment" made the organization realize that it could be possible. "We know there are pitfalls to doing this long term," Edwards said. But there was a consensus to work through it, she said.
"I can't ever remember a time when having clarity around my own personal values and my company's values have been so centrally important to navigate in this environment that we've been in," Robyn Mingle, senior vice president of HR and CHRO at CommScope, said. "Organizations are looking to us to help guide decisions," Mingle continued. But the transparency of CommScope's values "really helped us to shape and make those decisions," she said; "values are the big hallmark of this year."
As news of the pandemic unfolded in Asia and Europe, Mingle said she realized that engaging with a network of global CHROs would be essential. She reached out to peers with an initial email and a group formed. "It was really important because our CEOs and leadership teams were looking to us for confidence in what we're recommending for decision making," she said.
Dow Jones is the home of Wall Street Journal, Barron's and other news publications. "We were at the epicenter of making sure that we were getting people information that they needed to respond to the COVID crisis, both individually and in the business context," Dow Jones Chief People Officer Kamilah Mitchell-Thomas said. It has also been a time to review processes and "declutter," Mitchell-Thomas said. A "surprise learning" for the company was that some pre-pandemic processes "were not necessarily moving the needle," she said. "We were allowed to quickly kind of clear the deck, so to speak, to focus in this really important time," Mitchell-Thomas said.
A greater focus on what really matters, like family life, self care and employee experience, took precedence, she said.
"The once seemingly impossible became quickly possible," Krispy Kreme Chief People Officer Terri Zandhuis said. For example, "testing some of the paradigms around the ability to be productive when you're working virtually" took place, Zandhuis said. In reviewing procedures, the company realized that some jobs that weren't considered for part time status could actually be part time, she said.
"I think we also really pivoted quickly on how we had to reinvent servicing our customers, while keeping our employees, who we call our Krispy Kremers, safe," Zandhuis said.
But, more than six months later, the pandemic is still affecting the workplace. "I don't think anyone anticipated this would be a long haul as it has turned out to be," she said. Processes that were initially helpful for employees may need some tweaking, Zandhuis said. "The flexibility the company offered at the beginning of the pandemic once provided employees energy, and "a chance to regroup and work differently," she said. The company is working to keep employees engaged, Zandhuis said — especially because Krisy Kreme continued with plans to open a flagship store in Times Square.
"When we thought about how we manage the performance of the business, and how to rally our Krispy Kremers," the company reflected upon "what do we do to uniquely respond to what's going on at this point in time," she said. "So, we threw out some of our traditional playbooks. And we did things like creating what we called 'active acts of joy.'" For example, on "healthcare Mondays," health care workers can show their ID and get free doughnuts to bring back to the hospital or to the clinic, Zandhuis said. "It gave us an opportunity to connect the brand with the people … very much on the front lines of what was going on."