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Be Human First: Key Takeaways From Business Leaders During the COVID-19 Crisis


Empathy, connection, and openness to change—these were just a few of the COVID-19-related work themes discussed at a recent virtual panel of top business leaders and HR professionals in the Tampa area. Amy Newberg, PhD, head of business services at PAR’s InVista Talent, served as one of the panelists.

Work Now and In the Future brought together eleven experts on the work experience and invited guests to listen and interact as the experts spoke about topics ranging from dependence on technology to economic shifts in the local job market.

The panel, sponsored by livingHR, invited questions from the audience as well. In lieu of attendance fees, organizers asked for donations to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, raising $3,000.

Organizers’ goals were “to stay safe, socially distanced, but still connected and facilitate this conversation that’s more important than ever,” said Tessa Whitmore, senior manager of creative solutions at livingHR.

Erika Thompson

Senior Editor

June 16, 2020

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Here are four key takeaways from the panel that will help business leaders navigate these changing times.

  1. Acknowledge what’s different, and what’s good, about the new world of work. Many panelists expressed that some processes are more efficient since COVID-19 changed how we work—and perhaps this is expected for those who have always worked from home. There is time saved in eliminating commutes, fewer office distractions (e.g., “water cooler talk”), a more comfortable dress code, and less overhead for organizations. Videoconferencing technology has been embraced, largely successfully, in the transition. Generally, productivity has either remained steady or increased. 

On the other hand, this is far from a typical work-from-home situation. Because many employees have had to adapt quickly to a new way of working, they haven’t had time to establish strong boundaries of when to start and stop working—and in many cases, the blending of home and work lives doesn’t allow those boundaries to be well-defined. Another challenge is the loss of face-to-face interaction. Tangible connection is highly valuable, and “we lose synergies when we eliminate in-person collaboration,” said Matthew Snook, partner at Mercer.

2. Approach this situation, and employees, with humanity. It is so important to recognize that not everyone has the same comfort level or set of stressors in dealing with this crisis. Some employees may be worrying about elderly parents, some trying to homeschool their children, some dealing with isolation and loneliness, some dealing with more work anxiety than before—or a combination of these. Many panel members echoed that being empathetic is more important than ever. “Be a human first,” said Newberg. Take the extra time to ask employees how they are doing, keep them up to date on the company’s plans for reopening and other strategies, and show appreciation for their work. In addition, remind them of your company’s EAP and wellness benefits, if these are still in place.

3. Be aware of increased risks. Many more people are homebound now than before, making the risk of domestic, child, and elderly abuse high—but the likelihood that these abuses will be reported is lower, as there are fewer people able to see the effects of the abuse. “Home is a sanctuary for some but a warzone for others,” said Clara Reynolds, CEO at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. It’s important to call employees on a regular, frequent basis to check in and look for any red flags. Reynolds also stressed that increased anxiety and guilt levels are possible, especially for those who already have anxiety or are dealing with multiple home or work stressors.

4. Recognize that this is an opportunity to change. “Return to work” was a hot topic among panelists, and there was general agreement that, while we don’t know what the world of work will look like in the future, it won’t go back to what it was pre-COVID-19. Our changing circumstances are an opportunity to shape the future in terms of hiring, performance evaluations, and culture. “In the future, organizations will need to give their employees more autonomy and more trust,” said Newberg. “There will be a shift in focus on measurement of outcomes versus managing the nuances of process.” In addition, an organization’s culture will, and should, evolve as a result of the crisis. It can be viewed as a chance for each company to learn, grow, and adapt to this ever-changing world.

Additional panels will be held by livingHR.  For more information, visit