Virtual RoundTable “How COVID-19 is Reshaping Engagement & Culture”

Virtual RoundTable “How COVID-19 is Reshaping Engagement & Culture”

Roxane Sexton Virtual RoundTable, HR Insight

“How COVID-19 is Reshaping Engagement & Culture”

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it. Every business leader's assumptions, strategic plans, and visions for their companies' futures have been profoundly changed, and as the virus lingers, its impact will not only affect corporate culture it will possibly change it forever.

When COVID-19 hit, employee safety, stability, and security became the top priority. The pandemic has closed borders, restricted travel, made remote working the norm, and heightened the importance of efficient technology, communication, and collaboration. New norms and habits have been forged, however, is it too early to tell what the mid- and long-term changes to organisational culture will be. One thing that is inevitable, is that the way organisations work will never be the same.  

What must leaders do to best adjust and adapt now and, in the months, and years to come?

Speaking to many of our clients over the past 12 weeks, we noticed a commonality in pressure points and issues that had arisen due to the pandemic and the role that HR and HSE professionals were required to take in order to take care of their workforces, as well as identifying the changes that were needed to prepare for the now as well as the future.

Continuing our series of virtual roundtables, Roxane Sexton Manager Permanent Recruitment Sydney and Charlotte Grimmett Senior Consultant HR Interim & Contract Sydney were delighted to host a group of Heads of Talent & Organisational Development professionals from Financial & Professional Services industry sectors. The topic for the virtual roundtable was “How COVID-19 is Reshaping Engagement & Culture”.

From the conversation we compiled the following key takeaways:-

How are other firms adapting their approach to talent and developing talent during this time

While businesses may slowdown, shifting employee focus to upskilling could have a positive impact at two key levels. For employees, it would instill confidence and channelize their downtime in the right direction. It would also help organizations fix skill gaps and improve productivity when business recovers. The opportunity and challenge for HR leaders is to respond and move from a static to an agile planning approach, one that can continually reshape the workforce to incorporate changes in business and skill needs during the pandemic and beyond.

  • COVID-19 has meant companies have had to stop, regroup and redesign programs to suit a virtual environment, by utilizing Zoom, Teams and Google hangouts
  • There has been a shift to focus on the business core building blocks that allow for future-proofing the business. Have we unlocked all of our talent? Being smarter about upskilling internally is on the agenda
  • Building the confidence and growth mindset in company leaders is now a priority
  • Some companies are continuing to use external coaching methods for with executives and other high-level leaders, whilst utilising mentors internally for other employees
  • COVID-19 has also led to many businesses making the shift from external coaching to internal. Internal coaching programs are becoming more popular, especially because they are often more cost-effective, are usually shorter, have a specific number of sessions and aimed at individuals who are early in their leadership journey
  • The focus for some businesses is to strip back programs to shorter sharper sessions, to get key concepts across quicker. Programs that are driven by on-demand bite-sized scalable learnings that are diverse such as podcasts, videos, and curated learning
  • Companies are trying to change the perception of development and learning. Introducing LIVE Q&A’s to groups of employees across different regions and countries. Utilising a panel to facilitate a discussion, the HR team can listen in to what resonates with people and what doesn’t
  • Learning & Development is changing. Companies are reorienting what they think is learning and what they think is development. Connecting employees within the same role types within the business in other geographic locations to swap concepts and ideas. By creating synthetic connections, they become organic connections.

Impact on mental health – What are organisational leaders doing to address mental health during the pandemic

Business leaders around the globe are justifiably focused on the here and now of the COVID-19 pandemic, however as a result of global quarantines and a massive, sudden shift to working from home, an impending second-order mental health crisis is only just starting to emerge.

  • The most effective delivery has been through coaching.  Starting one to one and then you build your bookend. Investing in coaching we think is the most realistic
  • Providing corporate training on how to approach conversations around mental health. Utilising external providers such as Reach Out, Beyond Blue, Happiness Co., and Heart on My Sleeve, a not for profit registered charity in Australia
  • Whilst utilising external providers brings great expertise and energy into an organisation, unless there is a group dedicated to building on the tools learned in the workshop then the learnings fade away and are forgotten about.

Managing EVP with the changing conditions during COVID-19

Employer branding / value proposition, an organisation's reputation as an employer, can significantly affect the applicants a company attracts. It can also make a vast difference to employee job satisfaction and retention. Regardless of what a company’s EVP states on paper, how your company is acting during COVID-19 will be what defines what your employer brand really represents, to employees, future employees, customers, and the greater community.

  • Where employees would normally work hard play hard, there is no play at the moment. Social interaction is a huge part of the workplace experience, your coworkers are in the trenches with you and some become lifelong friends. It is essential to create a virtual social interaction to keep employees engaged and connected with each other
  • With the pandemic continuing, the burnout factor is here, for some of us. Some businesses are being told by their employees ‘Do not put me on another zoom call. I do not want to engage in that way anymore’ 
  • People are craving person to person interaction. Leaders need to take responsibility in checking in with their teams. They need to be creative and innovative in how they engage with their team
  • COVID-19 has forced companies into a level of trust that was difficult for some in the past. In the past, employees would need to sign off and to gain permission to organise such things as work-from-home but there is a lot more trust now for employees to get on with the job
  • EVP is now the responsibility of all levels of management, from the executive team to senior management and middle management. It’s a much less hierarchal approach
  • People are craving human interaction. Empowering the business to create human interactions
  • Whilst COVID-19 will create some difficult decisions, some of which may cause discomfort (even hardship) in the short term, addressing the why will go a long way in winning the trust and respect of employees and the greater community
  • It is essential for a company to communicate proactively, consistently, and considerately. Employees, prospective candidates, vendors, and external partners will notice if a company’s actions don’t match the messaging.

Moving forward how we will define and create the cultural engagement piece?

A company’s actions in times of crisis can make or break employer culture. Maintaining employer culture takes work, especially in times of crisis. Feeling connected and engaged when forced into work-from-home scenarios, especially when some employees are new to remote working, can be difficult. Companies have been forced to change and redefine cultural engagement strategies during COVID-19.

  • Most cultural initiatives have now been moved to digital. Trivia, Friday night drinks, competitions, games, etc.
  • Some organisations have introduced employee-run activities. Employees with hidden talents - Yoga instructors, podcast hosts, fitness instructors. Have employees volunteering to run sessions
  • Engagement with non-work-related content is high, such as video content of employees enduring lockdown (life in lockdown), TIK TOK routines, homeschooling, my at home work set-up etc.
  • Lockdown and work from home have invited team members into our home lives.  Now employees get an insight into other employee’s lives, how they live, their likes and interests outside of work. You can get to know your leaders and your team members more and at a greater level. Empowering the human factor
  • Organisations are evolving and introducing new engagement initiatives, from hosting virtual coffee sessions to team lunches, managers are leveraging several techniques to connect with their team members that they are no longer meeting with in-person every day
  • However digital burnout is now starting to occur. The novelty factor of virtual / digital interactions is becoming tiring and boring. It was fun at first, but now things need to change
  • HR Teams are now thinking, its time to throw out the rule book, and fundamentally start afresh. The answers and solutions aren’t there yet, let's try and create it.

Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace. What are people doing?

When it comes to workplace culture, there is a large gap between what leaders think is going on and what employees say is happening on the ground. Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand with workplace culture. When there is a high level of diversity and inclusion in a business the stronger the workplace culture is, and the more likely that all employees can and will advance and thrive.

  • Diversity & Inclusion is a deep and complex topic. Many organisations don’t think about D&I very much until it becomes a situation. For some, there is little awareness or openness to think about it
  • COVID-19 has created a great opportunity to look at refreshing D&I targets. Gender targets have always been a large focus, but now its important for businesses to realise that gender is not the only area of D&I
  • Conducting focus groups is a good way to understand where the drop off in D&I levels are in a business. Generally, businesses have a more diverse population at the entry-level however at management levels this seems to drop off
  • Some organisations are now employing specific D&I managers targeted to the individual areas, for example, LGBTI Manager, Indigenous Manager, General Inclusion & Diversity Manager
  • Introduction of new programs to focus on D&I in organiasations such as LGBTIQ talent programs, Cultural Diversity talent programs, Gender Talent Programs, and training programs for Leadership teams such as Managing Bias
  • Most effective way to implement D&I targets is to utilise managers / leaders, that have a personal interest or a personal experience with bias in D&I
  • Huge challenge and the biggest problem is when an organisation does not have senior sponsorship /buy in to actually make a change.


If you are interested in being part of our conversation and/or would like to join one of our Virtual Round Tables or Webinars, please get in touch with one of the Frazer Jones team here.