Remote Productivity

How should HR Respond to "The COVID Wipe"?

Candace Giesbrecht | Director, Talent Strategy at Teamit
February 25, 2021
4 min read

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“Well…COVID.” At first glance, the report appeared to be in order. Metrics showing performance this quarter along with year-to-date stats followed by a narrative report explaining why targets were achieved, exceeded, or missed. A closer look though revealed barely veiled excuses that started and pretty much ended with, “COVID.”

Yes, COVID has been responsible for total disruption to most businesses’ plans and was devastating for many. Yes, it was unprecedented and continues to cause hardship emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially. I am not for a minute minimizing how hard this last year has been! But we can’t just wipe everything with “COVID” and be relieved of all responsibility.

For many of us in HR, we’ve been entrusted with the role of championing the “people” part of our people operations. Our employees look to us for help and resources that will support their well-being. Business leaders understand there’s a direct correlation between the wellbeing of our employees and business profitability. We want to retain the employees we’ve worked so hard to recruit and onboard through the “right” perks and benefits.

We need to be watchful and attentive when we hear signs of what I’m calling, “The COVID Wipe.” Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Our team hasn’t been performing to standard, but…COVID.
  • We’ve experienced an increase in turnover, but…COVID.
  • Our engagement scores are low, but…COVID.
  • I know I need to have a performance-related conversation with this person, but…COVID.
  • We would have normally celebrated staff anniversaries, product milestones, etc.…but …COVID.

We can’t just say “COVID” and wipe away anything that deserves explanation, investigation, or attention. Here are a few suggestions to help when you hear the COVID wipe:

1. Remind leaders that it’s okay to expect our people to perform and do their work.

In well-meaning desires to be compassionate and/or liked by their employees, there are many leaders who need reminders and permission to hold people accountable for work they’ve committed to do. Where we can, we need to be flexible. Where there’s evidence that accommodations need to be made, we need to make them – to the point of undue hardship. But we aren’t doing anyone any favours when we enable ongoing performance issues to go on without being respectfully addressed.

2. Remind leaders frequently that you’re here to help them navigate the complexities of some of these conversations.

When was the last time your leaders accessed your support on conversations like this? In the demands of the day-to-day work, it can be easy for leaders to forget to tap in to the advice and coaching HR can provide. While more and better well-being initiatives are important parts of our HR strategy, there’s a great deal of evidence to support the role that work and productivity can play in promoting mental health, if certain conditions are promoted, protected, and maintained.

3. Check in on the quality and frequency of 1:1s that leaders are having.

Are the one-to-one meetings that leaders are having doing an adequate job of both “checking in and checking up”? How skilled are your leaders in giving and soliciting feedback? How skilled are they at setting and communicating clear performance expectations? This is not the time for vague goals and white-washed praise. Teresa Amabile in The Progress Principle makes the case for the critical importance that “progress” plays in motivation. We can support our leaders in doing this well by investing in training to help equip them with the skills needed to successfully lead high-performing remote teams.

4. Good leadership starts with self-leadership.

Being an HR professional can be one of the best jobs but also the hardest and loneliest. We need to be vigilant in caring for ourselves, asking for help when we need it, and supporting one another. As you know, there are several virtual meetups happening both internally in companies and externally through other groups. When was the last time you attended one and let yourself connect?

Standing strong against “The COVID Wipe” is part of our role in our organizations right now. When we hear it, we need to ask our leaders to expect for more, different, and better. Undoubtedly, COVID is an external force that pushed all of us to re-evaluate, re-structure, and revisit.

As HR professionals, we can help encourage accountability, responsibility, and dig into the learnings by not letting the conversation stop at “well....COVID”. We need to ask our leaders to tell us what happened, how they responded, what they tried, and most importantly, what they learned and where they succeeded. Recognizing it at play in our organizations and requesting better and different is a conversation worth having. How will we learn and grow if we don’t?

Do you have the support and tools you need to grow and maintain your remote workforce? The Remote Performance Academy can help your organization execute action plans to improve collaboration and performance. Learn more about our programs.

You can also download this free hiring and salary guide, created specifically for remote teams in IT and software development:

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About the author

Candace Giesbrecht | Director, Talent Strategy at Teamit

Candace’s passion for connecting people and building stronger teams and communities has been her “why” for over 20 years. As a Chartered Human Resources Professional, with a social work, mental health and fintech background, she has a large and varied toolbox to draw on to serve clients and to support the pursuit of healthy workplaces and great candidate experiences. She is values-driven and a consummate professional unless you’re with her during an NBA playoff game. She lives in Kelowna, BC with her husband, son, motorbikes and two rescue dogs, Wylie and Lucy.