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HR in a Pandemic: How to Take Care of Your Team

Hello! I’m Kimberley Brooks, HR specialist at Knak, and I’m taking over the blog today with some tips on taking care of your team in the middle of a pandemic. I’ve been here for about 8 months now, and when I started, I never imagined that I’d be helping to manage HR from my guest bedroom. 

See? Here’s where the magic happens.

It looks serene, but what you can’t see is the path of destruction that my 2 year old has left right over my shoulder. 

It’s ok though, because Knak is nothing if not flexible and understanding, and I’m here to make sure that carries over to the entire team. So, here are my thoughts on taking care of your team when circumstances aren’t predictable and helping the new normal feel normal normal. 

#1: Adapt Your Culture

Of course the way your team is interacting has changed. Even if you’re back in the office part of the time, I can guarantee that it doesn’t feel the same. 

That’s ok – with a few changes, you can still build relationships and foster a strong team. 

We have monthly happy hours where we get together and connect on a personal level. It’s refreshing, and in many ways, we know each other better now than we did last winter. 

Think about what made your office environment distinctive in the past, and look for creative ways to get that same vibe virtually. 

  • Did you often get tacos on Tuesday? Send out a small gift card for your favorite restaurant and invite them to a virtual lunch. 
  • Send out a trivia question a few times a week. 
  • Share individual success stories and make a big deal out of them so your team feels appreciated.

Whatever you used to do, there’s probably a way to adapt it so your team stays connected. 

#2: Hijack Slack

Slack is incredibly useful as a workplace chat tool, and with a little creativity, you can use it for so much more. Here are some ideas we’ve incorporated:

  • #winning – We post success stories and share “wins” that our clients have had
  • #random – We share all kinds of stuff here, including photos like this, which was from one of our team dinners (back when we could have team dinners)
A Knak team dinner (pre-Covid, of course).
  • #stayfit – One thing you should know about Knak is that we’re an active group, so we use this channel to share our activities, daily workout tips, and even photos from our home gyms (and workout partners!). 
Felix Higgs, our Customer Success Manager, snowboarding in Rethel Mountain, BC.

My favourite workout partner!

If you use Slack, get creative and start some new, just-for-fun channels. 

#3: Don’t Ignore Mental Health

The effects of this pandemic are far-reaching, and there’s a good chance your team is feeling the strain. Take the initiative to check in privately: schedule a 15 minute call, write an email, send a gift card for a cup of coffee, etc. 

Blanket “how are you” questions at the beginning of group Zoom calls are not enough. No one responds honestly in that situation anyway, so be intentional about checking in. 

If you are in an HR role, this can help in two ways: 

  1. It shows your team that you care about them as individuals.
  2. It alerts you to potential issues before they become a problem.

If your organization is large, split this responsibility up. Assign a reasonable number of people to everyone on your team, and make it a point to check in with them as needed. I’d suggest at least once a month, but you can do it more frequently if you have the resources. 

#4: Reconsider Sick Days

The rules around sick days have changed at Knak for the time being. We understand that our staff needs some flexibility: to help their kids with school, to stay home with kids when they can’t go to school, etc.

We also understand that someone who might have previously come into the office even if they weren’t feeling 100% now needs to take the right precautions and stay home. 

In the interest of protecting business continuity while also giving our team one less thing to worry about, we’ve relaxed our sick day rules. 

As long as they get as much done as they reasonably can, we don’t count their absence as a sick day. We have an outstanding team, and we trust that they’re working hard no matter where they are.

Of course, if someone is ill, we encourage them to rest until they feel well enough to return to work. 

#5: Be Flexible

If you’re like me (and most HR people that I know), you probably like to run a pretty tight ship. I get it. It’s standard HR practice, and it keeps your office running smoothly. 

Unfortunately, my preferred “pretty tight ship” looks more like a free-spirited tea (or coffee!) shop at the moment. That’s ok. 

Kids are going to interrupt Zoom calls. Your team is going to have to reschedule meetings. The internet will go out at the worst possible time. 

Just take a deep breath, remember that everyone is in the same position, and do what you can to keep your team on track. 

Someday, this will end and you’ll be back to a more regular schedule. However, it’s likely that your team will continue to work remotely, at least in some capacity, for quite a while. Whether you’re back together in person, working from home, or taking a hybrid approach, you can maintain a strong team and a strong culture if you invest in your people, right now. 

Kimberley Brooks is Knak’s Executive Assistant and HR specialist. Kim brings a wide range of experience to the team, from event coordination and production to Supply Chain management and logistics, and she is always ready for a new challenge. When she's not working, Kim loves to read, be outdoors, and spend time with her husband and son.

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