Ways To Communicate With Employees During Distancing: HRBP, Uber India

Lest this thing worsens, let’s agree to be separated by the length of a tall person. No touch. We’ll communicate via voice and eyes and heart. Stick together—six feet apart. - Ode to Social Distancing, Jeffery Goldberg


The war against coronavirus is being fought across the world. With traditional workplaces being transformed into virtual ones, the need of the hour is physical distancing while strengthening our social connections with our colleagues, but that doesn't necessarily mean social isolation.

Successful organizations world over have been built on the premise of great teamwork, collaboration, and social interaction. Humans are inherently social beings but as more countries go into lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, employees find themselves in situations not many have experienced before. Working from home over a prolonged period brings its own unique challenges that can be unsettling and overwhelming, to say the least.

Building interpersonal trust, leadership engagement, and access establishing multiple channels of communication all strongly founded in the principle of empathy, respect and care can all go a long way in employees feeling connected and supported to deal with this unprecedented crisis. Uber has always been ahead of the curve on remote working and given that we are a global technology company we have been working in virtual environments from the very start. These are challenging times and since most of us have not lived through a global pandemic before, I would like to share my experience to help companies set up robust processes and employee engagement initiatives that prove effective during times like these.

Re-set plans and deliverables: Most businesses have their priorities with pre-defined deliverables in place and teams used to standardized processes to achieve their goals and targets. In a quarantined environment where employees are dispersed, working from home, managers need to refocus and reprioritize goals to accommodate expectations, deliverables, and timelines. Realigning goals can provide employees a solid anchor and reduce anxiety with respect to the health of the business.

Engage in honest and direct communications: Leaders need to be at the forefront of this pandemic to provide assurance of the health of the business. These can be uncertain and ambiguous times for employees, some even fearing to lose their jobs. Honest and direct communication of the real impact on business/ overall economy, addressing policies and initiatives that are working and more importantly not working will instill confidence, enthusiasm, and motivation amongst employees. Leaders that demonstrate confidence and the ability to transparently communicate during testing times have the ability to drive innovation and creative solutions from their teams, enabling employees to find purpose and value in the work they do.

Open two-way communication: The need for information is even higher due to the fear and uncertainty right now. Leaders and managers need to communicate openly and regularly with employees to cope and build resilience during these times. Emails, calls, quick no-agenda meetings can help employees feel connected and engaged. At Uber, we have ensured regular updates and weekly virtual meetings are organised for leadership to apprise employees of the plan we have to come out of this pandemic stronger along with guidelines of what we are doing to help the communities we operate in. Technology today allows us to be in constant touch with employees and support them. Using a two-way communication mechanism allows team members to ask questions that may be causing them the most anxiety, share ideas and ask for support. We have also set up a global response center for employees where all their queries are answered within 24 hours.

Make the most of video meetings: Video calls are the closest thing to the in-person conversation in the current situation, so prioritize staying engaged and encourage team members to turn on their videos. This gives us a chance to see our team in their home offices and coping with remote working, feeling connected under similar circumstances.

Support personal and social needs: Working from home means different things for all of us, for parents it means balancing their children's’ needs and schedules, for those of us who are caretakers it means prioritizing the needs of elderly parents and for people living alone, it can be particularly isolating. This is the time an organization can show they care for employees’ personal and social needs, not just professional ones. Regular talks by experts and motivational coaches focusing on health, nutrition, and emotional support will help keep employees engaged. Uber has started activities like virtual Yoga Sessions to help employees stay calm, focused and feel connected while they WFH. We also have a dedicated assistance program for parents with an expert in the prenatal and postpartum periods, who is available to answer questions, any time.

Remind employees they have resources available: Assuring employees they have the necessary resources at their disposal to help them through such periods builds trust. Regular reminders to reinforce that you care for their physical and emotional wellbeing will reinforce that. Uber has a global ‘Employee Assistance Program,’ that provides employees with a number of services that are confidential and free for our employees and their family members. These include confidential counseling with stress, grief and anxiety. We have also initiated regular webinars with specialists to help employees navigate WFH transition, cope with uncertainty and address any other issues they might be facing.

Focus on work-life balance more than ever: Finding the right work-life balance when working from home can be difficult. We found that employees who have not worked from home for extended periods were struggling to switch context and were facing challenges to separate work and home routines. We wanted to support employees to fulfill both personal and professional priorities during these times and therefore, decided to provide a ‘No meeting block’ on employee calendars daily to help them schedule their day based on their needs, professional and personal.

Reinforce the sense of community: All employees have a vested interest in the success of the organization they work for. By empowering employees to take part in the decision-making process and crowdsourcing innovative solutions to overcome a common challenge gives them a sense of belonging, ensuring they feel valued and connected to the mission of the company.

The Washington Post recently reported a research study by Professor Daniel Aldrich of Northeastern University that found “communities that survive and rebuild most effectively after disasters are those with strong social networks, which can share lifesaving information with one another.” By keeping employees engaged through this phase, we can reinforce overall organizational trust and loyalty so that we come out of this pandemic stronger, together.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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