Building resilience: advice from HR and Talent Leaders

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We asked HR, talent and people professionals about their company’s response to the COVID-19 health crisis, and what they think makes a resilient company. Our 38 respondents shared their advice and top tips for the HR and recruiting community to help weather these uncertain times.  

1. Keep communication open

Keep communication open: Zinc

It’s an obvious one, but open communication really is key to success for , and even more so for teams who have due to the coronavirus pandemic. Good levels of communication were consistently brought up among our respondents, not only to help monitor projects and productivity, but also to maintain team morale.

“Communication is the most important thing. Constant updates from the business as a whole is important but regular communication between managers and their teams is vital. 9am catch up video calls between managers and their teams seem to be working really well for us.”

Recognition and reward

Remote working can be isolating, but one thing a few of our respondents advised was to give regular shoutouts to team mates for doing a good job or for a specific achievement. This doesn’t need to be in formal terms like ‘employee of the week’, sending a message of thanks on a Slack channel or mentioning their work in a bulletin can help.

“Over-communicate with your teams and hold regular catch ups. Recognition and reward is more important than ever right now so make sure managers know their role in supporting people's wellbeing.”

This also goes for recognising the challenges employees are facing, not just in terms of their work, but also consequences of the lockdown such as isolation and working from home.

“Try and keep in touch with as many people in the company as possible and check in on people. Remember that people might be struggling with more now than before, such as children at home, sick relatives/friends or worsening physical or mental issues.”

“Remember that this isn't "normal" remote working so productivity can not be expected to be the same as before the crisis.”

Acknowledging and addressing these challenges can help your team feel valued and cared for.

Communication tools

Unsurprisingly video conferencing tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts were mentioned frequently for meetings and catch-ups between colleagues.

“We’ve been using Slack, Zoom and MS Teams, leveraging our CRM system and taking advantage of the digital expertise within the agency.”

While video calls can be a great way to hold meetings in distributed teams, a few respondents warned against using video tools constantly. Colleagues can easily get ‘’ due to the increased focus needed in comparison to face-to-face meetings. Constant calls can also eat into precious ‘deep work’ time. Asynchronous communication tools like Slack can be less draining as they don’t require the same level of focus.

“My advice would be to embrace asynchronous working practices enabled by a remote team so you don't spend all day on Zoom. Work on your organization's documentation to make remote work more effective.”

Keep your documentation up to date

Documentation was mentioned by a few respondents who said that as their hiring was slowing down, they found it valuable to update their written processes to help employees and candidates keep up to date both with the company and with changes to employment law.

“My advice is to document all the things - from hiring processes, to criteria, and the initiatives your teams are running in these times where we're slowing down. It'll help new hires get up to speed and enable teams to collaborate asynchronously.”

“Be prepared. Draft documentation and templates to support new Government initiatives and employment law changes”

If your hiring is slowing down and you have some free time, now is the perfect time to dust off the employee handbook and other onboarding materials and give them a proper update.

2. Monitor and promote mental health and wellbeing

Monitor and promote mental health and wellbeing

One theme that arose again and again among our respondents was mental health and wellbeing. The pandemic has pulled the rug from under society’s feet, completely changing the lives of everyone and this undoubtedly affects mental health and wellbeing, whether it is through raised anxiety, isolation or through working in inadequate spaces.

“Keep in touch with staff. Some are struggling mentally as they live in not so ideal home situations.”

We’re not working from home, we’re isolating during a crisis

Although all of our respondents who were office-based reported having transitioned to working remotely fairly successfully, it’s important to remember that not everyone will be coping well in this crisis and extra support beyond what’s usually required for working from home may be needed.

While you are working hard to support your colleagues, one respondent commented that you shouldn’t forget your own mental health is just as important.

“Use your network for support, communicate honestly with your teams, remember some people thrive, others struggle. Be kind to yourself at the end of the day, you'll have done your best in trying circumstances.”

Investing in staff

A couple of respondents shared how their company was allocating more resources to their staff to ensure their wellbeing during the crisis.

“We have introduced counselling paid for by the company if people request it. ”

“We’re investing in junior staff to support them financially.”

A couple of our respondents told us how their company was giving their people a home office budget to help them buy ergonomic equipment and technology to help them optimise their new workspaces.

“We gave people a budget to make their remote working conditions nicer. We are continuing to do bi-weekly company activities such as quiz nights.”

Of course, there were those who didn’t have this support from their companies which left a negative impression.

“I believe we should have increased our comms, offered more support in terms of wellbeing and paid for tech including screens and office equipment. I have been denied all of this by leadership who feels that since we are set up for remote working, not much else needs to be done.”

Remember there is life outside of work

All of our respondents had either transitioned to remote working or were already a fully remote team. Some of them had concerns that remote working would mean they’d lose the human touches that characterised their company. This has led to a lot of innovations in their virtual socialising.

“The staff forum organised a bake-off, quizzes, french lessons, yoga and pottery classes via Zoom”

“We've started a Family & Friends First day on May 1st. The whole team is encouraged to take time off to remind everyone that family and friends come before work. Leadership is actively encouraging teams to block time in calendars to spend time with families and being visible about working reduced hours”

This is particularly true for people who live on their own and have few responsibilities outside of work, meaning they can forget to take time out for themselves and end up working longer than they need to.

“Looking back, we could have prepared the staff better for the mental health aspects of lockdown. Perhaps signed up to Spill or something similar. We could also have ensured and prepared staff to not overwork.”

3. Be proactive, not reactive

Be proactive not reactive - Zinc

Making the right decisions at the right time is important for any business, but when faced with the global pandemic, many respondents said their teammates felt reassured when their company’s leaders were visible and made proactive decisions acting ahead of government restrictions, prioritising the safety of their staff.

“The company told staff to work from home from the first week in March. That way only a number of people caught the virus or were exposed to it.”

Some respondents told us their customers have noticed and praised their actions, strengthening their employer brand in the process.

“I think over-communicating and going above-and-beyond with our COVID-19 measures for our prospects, customers, employees, and the world during this will do nothing but strengthen our employer brand, and we see it right now in our customer's social media posts and stories thanking us for our rapid response, actions, empathy, and care.”

Many respondents commented that proactive transitions helped improve employee satisfaction and strengthened their company culture.

“The feedback from staff on how we handled the transition and how we have handled the lock down has been very positive. This will improve our brand and culture.”

One respondent shared that their global teams were an advantage during the initial spread of the coronavirus as they were able to share what worked and what didn’t and be proactive in their protective measures.

“As a company, we were able to very quickly decide on the best course of action. We acted quickly in remote working and communicated regularly from a local and corporate perspective. Our action plans were dictated by the APAC teams who experienced this in the beginning, then by our Italian office for our EMEA teams.”

While there are of course things that could have been done differently, many of our respondents were mindful of the fact that this was a novel experience and teams were doing their best under the circumstances.

“In hindsight there are probably initiatives we could have done sooner, such as Manager Mental Health First Aid training. We could have also got teams involved sooner in how we planned to support people during the transition, but the People team were working flat out and feedback has been really positive until now.”

Again, we hear that kindness, empathy and transparency all positively impact the company culture and help teams to move forward in building resilient teams.

4. Humanise your hiring processes

More than half of our respondents were hiring less than usual due to the pandemic, but those who were hiring said now is a great time to recruit if you can as there are many excellent candidates out there looking for a new position or looking to take on new projects while they are on furlough.

Keep candidates interested

If you are able to hire right now, keeping candidates engaged through timely and transparent communication can give you an advantage. Many respondents voiced concerns over remote hiring, saying building rapport with candidates and ensuring would be harder to do virtually. Yet these issues are not impossible to overcome with proactive communication and online processes.

“Build out your remote onboarding using tools like Zinc and/or , and reassure candidates on financial fundamentals”

tools like can be invaluable to get feedback on your new hires’ work styles, feedback preferences and strengths. Perspectives from their previous managers can then be used to inform your virtual onboarding and give them a personalised experience, even if you aren’t able to meet in person.

Keep engaging new talent

Humanise your hiring processes - Zinc

If hiring isn’t on the cards for you, now may still be a good time to increase your talent pool. One of our respondents said they are taking this time to engage with prospective candidates so that they are more prepared to fill roles when the lockdown is lifted.

“I am currently speaking to more speculative applications to build a pipeline. Traffic to our careers page has increased due to redundancies and furloughs so I am feeling more optimistic about the number of applicants that will be available once we are actively hiring again.”

Another respondent advised TAs to cast their net even wider in the search for candidates.

“Be open to look for talent in unusual areas. There are a lot of great people losing jobs, so there will be talent available from new industries.”

One hiring manager said that although there are many candidates right now, moving them along the pipeline isn’t always an option in the current climate.

“Most of the candidates we’re seeing are not interested in switching jobs during these uncertain times - they are ready to engage with hiring managers but would like to join 3-6 months later. Candidates don't want to be in a situation where they quit their current job only to find their joining date has been pushed.”

Recruiters also need to bear in mind that these are not normal times and candidates may be dealing with many issues such as isolation, anxiety or the loss of a loved one. This means that empathy and transparency are even more important, and going the extra mile to engage with candidates can positively influence your employer brand.

“My advice would be to humanise now more than ever how you approach candidates. It's a great time to hire if you are, but people are also impacted and influenced by much bigger things right now, which they should also be sensitive to. Some people may be anxious to interview elsewhere or not have as much time to complete interview tasks etc.”

Some final words of advice

“Use every challenge and set back as a way to learn for next time, these times will improve and it will be what we have learnt that determines how we approach things we took for granted in the future such as face time with people.”

“Stay connected and bring wellbeing to the forefront of your activities. While this is an incredibly challenging and difficult period it has created opportunities to reevaluate working practices and to focus more attention on projects which usually get sidelined in the day-to-day. Above all, go easy on yourselves. There'll be good days and bad days and it's important you recognise this and do what you can.”

“Remember the candidate experience. It’s going to be more important than ever.”

Thank you to all of our respondents who took the time to complete our survey, your advice has been incredibly powerful.

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