What Did the COVID-19 Crisis Teach Us About Managing Employees?

Back view of business woman talking to her colleagues about plan in video conference. Multiethnic business team using laptop for a online meeting in video call. Group of people smart working from home

The COVID-19 crisis shook up the economy and the Israeli labor market. Hundreds of thousands of workers were sent to work from home, and many companies had to quickly adapt to work in the coronavirus world. 

Now that the economy is beginning to show signs of recovery, it is time to look back and ask some important questions: what changes is the labor market undergoing and which are still to come? How will work culture be impacted? Will we adopt the new technologies which have been forced upon us during the crisis on a long-term basis? What will go back to normal and what has changed forever? We approached senior HR executives at leading companies with these questions in an effort to figure out where we are headed. Here are the answers we received. 

Which changes will become permanent? 

“We discovered that it is possible to manage teams and even new employees remotely without sacrificing productivity,” says Meirav Fox, Head of People at Autodesk. 

Meytal Sandor, Head of People & Culture at Chegg Inc., agrees: “The key change that will probably continue is the flexible work model. In fact, one of the reasons that contributed to the success of remote work is that everyone worked remotely, rather than just some of the employees. I’m guessing that the duration of meetings will be shorter than we are used to. Instead of lasting long hours, there’ll be quick and more focused sessions throughout the day”. 

“COVID-19 has shown all of us that teams of employees can be managed remotely without compromising on goals, schedules and quality,” says Revital Bergstein, Head of Human Resources Strategy, Talent Management & Leadership at Bank Hapoalim’s IT Division. “Before the coronavirus, we were world champions in initiating many projects simultaneously. The crisis taught us that we need to focus on fewer projects in order to complete them in shorter amounts of time”.  

According to Keren Halperin, Chief People Officer at startup company, Namogoo: “The new situation ‘flattened’ the organization at both the hierarchical and geographical levels. Location is already less relevant and the distribution of teams based on geography is blurring”. 

(Photo By Andrew Neel on Unsplash)

What is something you thought about incorrectly at the start of the crisis? 

“We discovered that despite high output, brainstorming in large groups cannot be done on Zoom and there is no substitute for personal communication between people,” says Fox. “It’s hard to bridge emotional gaps”.  

Gal Nof Eitan, HR Manager at Cyberseason, notes that, “Early on in the remote work, there was a fear of lost focus, but we were soon pleased to discover that the crisis created a new intimacy between employees”. Sandor adds: “We were worried about our collective ability to function remotely with kids at home, but we turned out to be productive”. 

However, this is not the case in all companies. According to Anat Haas Mizrahi, CEO of Karyopharm Israel Pharmaceuticals, “I was wrong to think that the team in Israel would make the transition to work from home easily. Even though they are used to working remotely, our employees have taken it hard”.  

What did you learn during the crisis that you had not previously thought about?  

“We discovered that the number of flights could significantly be reduced,” says Fox. “We also learned that remote employee management must be leadership-focused rather than task management-oriented.”  

Einat Leham-Livnat, the Vice President of Human Resources at Imperva, a cyber company, agrees: “After two months of full-time work from home, we realized that the issue of burnout cannot be ignored. There is really no balance between home and work because there is no real separation. We also found that the level of cooperation and desire to help one another rose, as internal politics waned”. 

“We continued recruiting workers during the crisis, including training and Zoom orientations. We had not previously thought this was possible and it turned out to be so,” says Haas Mizrahi. The effort to acquire and build talents never stops.  

Meirav Fox, Head of People at Autodesk (Photo By: Autodesk)

Have you continued trainings during the crisis? 

“We continued to train, recruit and even onboard new employees during the COVID-19 crisis,” says Fox. “The main change was to switch from verbal rules to a written code. One of the insights we came across is that Zoom makes for a lot of on-screen distractions, as employees look at each other’s homes, examine how their hair is arranged after a month and a half without a haircut and more”. 

Halperin agrees, noting that talent management is crucial to keeping employees engaged during times like these: “We discovered that there are professional knowledge trainings that can work great online and combined these with one-on-one meetings with managers”.  

Bank Hapoalim continued their trainings in order to optimise their talents’ skillsets. Bergstein says, “In the first phase, we acquired more licenses for remote learning platforms and created a platform called “Poalim Zoom-In”, where we provided podcasts, presentations and more. We held executive webinars and continued to develop training programs”. Livnat adds, “We also continued on-line training, but there is less demand because everyone is very busy”. 

On the other hand, according to Sandor it’s important to make talents last “At the beginning of the crisis, we decided we would take the time to design new, flexible workflows and not heap heavy loads in the workshops which were planned”.  

What feedback did you receive from employees? 

“Many workers loved saving time and missing out on traffic,” says Nof Eitan. “But the main difficulty was to create a clear separation between home and working hours. And of course, in the end, there is no substitute for close personal contact (with all due respect to Zoom, and I’ve got lots of respect for it!)”. Nailing down this tension is vital to ensuring employee retention and turning all employees into talents.  

“Most of our employees adapted to work from home and even enjoyed it,” says Sandor. “But the longing for the office and for their friends is something that has returned to all employees”.  

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