Round Robin: HR Q&A with Robin Schooling

July 20, 2020 Aaron Kinne

6-minute read

Robin Schooling

Recruitment, operations, training, strategy … it’s been said that Robin Schooling, managing partner at Peridus Group, has held practically every HR job there is. And then some. 

So when it was time to get the latest insights and perspectives on how the pandemic has impacted employees and employers alike, we turned to the globally renowned HR visionary, author, speaker, and podcast host. In an engaging “round robin” Q&A, this longtime friend of Workhuman® shares her thoughts on a wide range of issues, including returning to the office, staying connected to furloughed and laid-off employees, “Zoom fatigue,” performance management strategies for employees juggling work and caretaker responsibilities, and racial injustice.  

Her insights provide a welcome and much-needed perspective as organizations adapt to the dramatically changed HR landscape brought on by the pandemic. Herewith our Q&A with Robin:

Workhuman: What are the most important considerations HR should make when developing back-to-office plans?

Robin: There are two primary considerations when developing back-to-office plans: workplace safety and employee readiness. 

First and foremost, HR teams must ensure they are following the Centers for Disease Control [CDC] and local health department recommendations and requirements. This includes social distancing measures, mask-wearing, and regular, deep-cleanings of the office – including air-flow systems. 

The other critical aspect is ensuring employees – from both a logistical and emotional standpoint – are actually ready to return. With schools and daycare centers closed – and caregiver arrangements still tenuous – there are some employees who may not be able to come to the office. The stress of forcing an employee to choose between their job and their child can be avoided by extending work-from-home [WFH] options.

Furthermore, some employees may still be afraid of contracting the virus and bringing it home to their family. Rather that disregarding this fear, HR professionals should engage in a conversation with the employee, listen with empathy, and understand that – since COVID-19 cases and deaths are still on the rise – people are naturally afraid.   

Now is the time to consider allowing employees to continue to WFH while reexamining additional leave of absence [LOA] options. These policies you “created” in mid-March may be your guidelines. But the time has come to go beyond asking: “Can we do something?” to “Should we do something?” 

Workhuman: How should HR handle staying in touch with employees who have been furloughed or laid off?

Robin: While we’re in the midst of difficult times – times when you’ve perhaps had to make some tough decisions – you’ll discover there are still opportunities to create a positive employee experience (as surprising as that sounds). 

Those individuals who have been furloughed want you to stay in touch, so continue to reach out to them by email, snail mail, or online channels – such as Slack – with updates and insights. Even if you have nothing definitive to announce – such as planned return-to-work [RTW] dates – letting these employees know you have not forgotten them is crucial.

For those employees who have been laid off, you can replicate the alumni communities and networks often created by talent acquisition teams. Your ex-employees may one day be rehires themselves. At the very least, they can continue to be your brand ambassadors, sources for referrals, and may one day become customers and clients. You can stay in touch with laid-off employees by sponsoring an online network – and even hosting online events for your alumni (for now, these would obviously be online).

Workhuman: Any tips for relieving what’s being called “Zoom fatigue”?

Robin: It’s exhausting, isn’t it? Staring, zombie-like, at a screen for hours on end continues to feel unnatural and – for me, at least – reinforces the fact that we are unable to meet face-to-face and in-person. There are, however, a few ways to combat the omnipresent reality of video calls:

  • If you’re meeting with just one person, ask them if you can conduct your meeting the old-fashioned way: by telephone. Press those digits – instead of clicking a link – and have that conversation away from your desk.
  • Suggest to the other participants on a Zoom meeting that everyone turn video off. All for one and one for all.
  • Do not force your co-workers or employees to log in for a virtual lunch, happy hour, or trivia night in the name of “team building” or “engagement.” Let people have a break. Full stop.

Workhuman: What additional types of wellness programs are companies offering right now?

Robin: One of the effects of COVID-19 has been an enhanced awareness that mental well-beingand work are closely intertwined. Within organizations, we’ve seen more conversations around workplace stress and how to help employees deal with anxiety. 

One area in which we need to develop further awareness is acknowledging that employees who “work from home” also experience stress, anxiety, and burnout. For far too long, the mindset has been that remote workers have it “easier” because they can work in yoga pants, raid the refrigerator as needed, and don’t have to battle a killer commute. Now that more HR and organizational leaders have worked remotely for the first time, they have begun to understand it’s not just endless snacking (well, OK … sometimes it is) and taking breaks to walk around the block. 

Workhuman: Many employees are juggling work and caretaking responsibilities. How should companies think about adjusting performance goals in this environment?

Robin: This may be the year when we finally do a reset on the traditional performance review. Over the last several years, more organizations have moved to a nimble, feedback-driven performance model that gives a greater voice to the employee and enables goals to be adjusted based on the rapid pace of business. 

The typical performance review, completed in late 2019 (“Let’s set your annual goals for 2020!”), should have been tossed out the window in mid-March. Ideally, organizations have moved to setting 2020 goals that recognize the world has gone upside-down. Goals for 2020 should be adjusted and agreed upon by both the employee and the manager. And they should be realistic in light of revised projections for revenue, business development, staffing levels, and all the other factors that have been up-ended by the pandemic.

Workhuman: How involved should HR be in the conversations around racial justice that’s reverberating throughout our country?

Robin: When we work in HR, we have an obligation to support basic human rights. We should take a stand on equality and advocate for the rights and protection of people who have historically been marginalized – including LGBTQI and BIPOC individuals. 

Within organizations, this goes beyond reiterating existing policies and tossing together an emergency training session on bias so that HR can “check it off the list.” The national and global conversations about racial injustice offer HR teams the opportunity to take a meaningful approach to examining their organization’s diversity, inclusion, and equity practices. 

I encourage HR professionals to first educate themselves, review their culture, examine their employee data, and have tough internal conversations about their own historical policies and practices that may have – unintentionally – been furthering inequality, rather than promoting equality.

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About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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