We sat down with HR consultants Dr. Keri Ohlrich and Kelly Guenther about solving some of the most challenging problems companies are facing during COVID-19.
Article by Valerie Paris | December 24th, 2020
The one-size-fits-all approach to employee culture is dead. Co-founders of Abbracci Group, Dr. Keri Ohlrich, CEO, and Kelly Guenther, COO, have been inspiring companies to be more empathetic, courageous, and innovative culture leaders for years. They are constantly asked: how do we handle remote work, how can we build a stronger remote culture, and, most importantly, how can managers connect better with their teams?
As the pandemic has exacerbated these challenges, the nature of remote work has also provided an opportunity to champion individualized care, and managers are being put to the test. As Keri says,
“The idea of individualized care is not new. We’ve been saying it for the better part of 10 years. You really have to understand each person’s career and development. But what’s different now is that COVID has forced you to become a better manager. This is an opportunity for managers to step up. And if you’re a bad manager, you’re going to get even worse.”
Remote work has opened a virtual window into the particulars of each employee’s life. Managers get to see partners, pets, kids going through school. Getting to see your team’s needs and the problems they’re facing presents an opportunity to craft one-on-one solutions for them so they can be happier, better-contributing employees. But as Keri and Kelly warn,
“If you weren’t doing it before COVID started, simply having this opportunity isn’t enough. If you were managing diversity, for example, poorly before COVID, you’re going to be managing it even worse now.”
So, what is preventing managers from exceeding at providing individualized care during this time? According to Keri and Kelly, the problems can generally be placed into three major categories.
1. Managers who have a lot of technical skill, but are not good people managers.
2. Managers who simply don't know what to do. They are unsure of what questions to ask, there are no formal procedures in place, and they don't know how often to check in with their employees.
3. Managers who are good leaders, but are genuinely scared to start these conversations for fear of not being able to solve a problem or answer an unforeseen question that is presented to them.
In the case of the first two categories, the situation may be that the manager is not aware of how to handle such conversations or who to contact for guidance. In the rush of daily operations, it’s easy for people to be under-prioritized.
In the case of the third category, managers are natural problem solvers, so it’s understandable they may be fearful when faced with challenges they don’t feel qualified to handle. What if an employee begins telling them about their severe depression, or about a sick family member, or that they’re dealing with debilitating anxiety? As an employer, providing your managers with resources to respond to these issues successfully (mental or physical healthcare, childcare, proper office equipment, etc.), is paramount to alleviating manager fear.
“The machine is always running. There’s always things that seem to take precedent. When things are going well, the answer seems to be - push through because things are going to get better. So, no time is made to reach out to people. When things are really bad, ‘Well, sorry no time for culture because earnings are down.’ ‘We’re sorry you’re depressed but the whole company is going to lose their jobs.’ Again, no time is made for culture.” - Keri and Kelly
A new era of office work requires innovative solutions that may have never been prioritized before. The unfortunate reality is that most companies are not exceeding when it comes to culture -- in fact, most are doing the bare minimum or below that. On the flip side, that means taking any step is a huge leap forward. One new solution is the remote advocate role.
People operations is a specific discipline, and HR is a large umbrella. You may have a manager who isn’t trusted, so people aren’t opening up to them, and it may be the case that HR is swamped with other responsibilities. So, to set yourself up for successful remote work teams, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Who is the best person to actually identify when employees are having problems?
2. Who are employees naturally going to when bad things happen?
3. How can the company equip a remote work advocate with resources to deal with those challenges once they have been identified?
Yes, large companies can better afford to fill specific people & culture roles, but even smaller startups with teams of 10 - 50 people need to build community. Spend some time to seek out who that remote work advocate person is. See what they need. And most importantly, ensure they’re not operating at 100% all the time so they have the capacity to do this important work.
Unsure of how to get started on building stronger and more individualized teams? Dr. Keri and Kelly have an incredible amount of resources and services available to assist any sized team in achieving their HR goals. Feel free to reach out!