Corporate Responses to the Coronavirus: How to Make Isolated Employees Feel Included

Categories: Diversity & Inclusion, Global Mindset, Global Teams

The spread of COVID-19 (commonly called coronavirus) has created a humanitarian crisis across the globe. While this is first and foremost a medical emergency and a human tragedy for those directly affected, employees of global enterprises increasingly find that valued colleagues and friends have been impacted in an increasing number of countries. Multinational employees in places like China, South Korea, or even Singapore note that their daily lives have been dramatically altered, and the virus has now spread to a growing number of sites in the Middle East, Europe, North America, and South America as well. Many workers remain at home, factory floors are deserted, and schools are closed.

The social isolation of those under mandatory or voluntary quarantine during the coronavirus outbreak is conducive to tedium and depression in the absence of familiar forms of daily interaction with others. Job-related anxieties are common, with employees worrying about missed goals, project delays, and perhaps their own job security if the crisis is prolonged.

How can those who are in locations still relatively untouched by this crisis respond in a way that is both helpful and supportive?

From Isolation to Inclusion: What You Can Do

There are a number of steps that ordinary company employees can take to support valued colleagues who are experiencing the isolating effects of voluntary or enforced quarantine measures. Although the natural human response is to distance ourselves from the source of infection, physical isolation doesn’t need to prevent virtual outreach, and small acts can have a large impact.

Here are practical steps that employees with affected colleagues can take:

  1. Reach out to those whom you think may be experiencing difficulties and ask them how they are doing. You might be surprised by how much this matters to them and how quickly they respond.
  2. Express appreciation – offering thanks for coping with difficult circumstances can mean a lot to people in the midst of a daily climate of anxiety and isolation.
  3. Provide concrete support and flexible options for work location, meeting deadlines, time off to care for family members, and so on. Encourage colleagues concerned about their own health to take time for medical checkups.
  4. Ensure that virtual meetings are truly inclusive. Make a point of hearing from isolated colleagues by deliberately allocating meeting air time to them and inquiring about friends and family. 
  5. Think creatively together about ways to serve customers or to solve supply chain problems. Those closest to coronavirus hotspots and their impacts are likely to know best what workarounds might be most effective, and will appreciate your faith in their problem-solving capabilities.
  6. Enable colleagues to pivot toward different business solutions. Even though you may have recently settled on strategic priorities, goals, and budgets, these may no longer be realistic or have the same value under drastically changed circumstances.
  7. Convert isolation into a learning opportunity. Some groups of employees who would normally be preoccupied with their day-to-day work routines and achieving ambitious targets may have more time on their hands to acquire fresh knowledge and skills, and greater patience to use elearning resources that now look more attractive.
  8. Preserve camaraderie and connection. The sense of being part of a unified and supportive team not only has significance in the moment, but will be remembered by employees who feel that their colleagues stood by them in a time of need.

Inclusion on a global scale requires more than awareness of personal biases or dealing with local issues and concerns. At times it also requires us to look beyond our immediate surroundings and to offer understanding, friendship, and practical support to colleagues who are far away along with those who are nearby.

The instinctive human response in a time of medical quarantines is to close all borders and reinforce separation; however, this is a critical time to build bridges as well.  

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About the Author

Ernest Gundling, Ph.D
Co-Founder and Managing Partner

Dr. Gundling has worked with numerous Fortune 500 firms and is a sought-after keynote speaker and executive coach. He has lived in Asia and Europe, including six years in Japan. Dr. Gundling holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. from Stanford University; he also serves as a Lecturer in the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of six books, the latest titled, Inclusive Leadership, Global Impact.

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