Pulling back the curtain on business COVID-19 policies

Article by
Katie Nelson

Behind the curtain.

I used to feel anxious when I was working at home and you could hear my dog barking, see my cat crawl across the screen or, god forbid, my poor partner might try to talk to me in the middle of a conference call. Embarrassed and apologetic, I’d quickly move to silence them (this sounds a bit more foreboding than I intended … I mean with a swift “shhhhh” or head pat … not with silent assassin skills).

It’s crazy to think this was me just a couple of years ago. Today, when my dog, Barnaby, demands a little mid-meeting attention, I see this as an invitation for a little dog introduction, which is often met by subsequent animal family member introductions, and some great pet chat. This peek behind the “professional curtain” so many of us have had up for years offers a glimpse into each other’s lives and, sometimes – for the first time, a whole new understanding of each other.  

It’s funny how the intrusion, and sometimes annoyingly omnipresent eye, of Zoom or Teams has, for all the negatives and flaws, helped us to break down our barriers with one another and offer up a little vulnerability. Betraying us and revealing our taste in art, or love of house plants, our chaotic animals, or cute (if not a little chaotic) kids. It feels as though one of the unintended consequences of this crisis, is that despite COVID’s hellbent determination to ruin as many lives as possible, it has also succeeded in bringing us closer together, in helping us to see our similarities, our common struggles and needs, in creating camaraderie, connection and empathy.

Sometimes there is nothing like a good universal baddie, to help bring people together.

I can’t help but chuckle thinking about the scene in the Wizard of Oz,

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

Perhaps, in some ways, COVID has been “the great revealer”, an agent of transparency in the workplace; divulging ourselves to our colleagues, warts and all, no matter how hard you try and resist.

The power of transparency

The power of this new found personal transparency is that it has allowed colleagues to connect on a new level and recognise we are not alone in facing our daily COVID battles. Sharing insights with each other has helped us deal with the common obstacles that face us all during these COVID times. Whether it’s a hint on how to best focus during the work day, a chat on keeping perspective, how to create a little much needed balance, or advice on how to facilitate an online workshop for the first time. It is through transparency that together we have found the best ways to deal with these shared challenges, almost a type of new age best practice one could say.

All this got me wondering…. Why can’t businesses take the same approach in adapting to COVID-19? Can business use the power of transparency to jointly tackle shared challenges as we head, hopefully, towards a post-COVID world?

Businesses, big and small, face similar challenges throughout their COVID-19 journeys; the most recent of which is how to adapt to the new COVID-19 Protection Framework in New Zealand (AKA the traffic light system). And while each business will have their own nuances and individual considerations based on size and industry, these are largely shared challenges with commonalities.

Surely there are things we can learn from each other if we take a page from our personal lessons learned: pull our curtains back and invest in a bit of transparency. Why feel alone in figuring out how to deal with certain problems, when there are other organisations facing similar questions, considerations and decisions? Why operate in silos and reinvent the wheel? What can we learn from each other’s insights, successes, and failures to establish and accelerate a type of best practice approach?

Sharing our approach and insights

At Redvespa, when the new COVID-19 Protection Framework was announced we took the following, relatively simple, approach to tackling the change.

However, I’ve found that the most valuable insight in helping to guide our organisation through this process was to invest time in the first step, Discovery. That instead of immediately diving into action, spending time gathering information allowed us to move forward with confidence, knowing we had considered all options and implications.

This is where transparency comes into play. In initiating my research, I found there were limited resources available online that provided clarity or detail on approaches or steps other businesses had taken. I also found that companies willing to externally publish their COVID-19 policies provided extremely useful reference points. However, these were few and far between. So, in my desperation, I began reaching out within my network to friends and individuals at either similar sized companies, in similar industries or organisations that provided comparable services to try and understand how they were approaching the issue.

The transparency and collaboration with which this was met provided invaluable insights that ultimately helped inform and shape our approach. This also helped us understand the types of survey questions others were asking of their employees and ultimately led to a survey that was better designed than if we developed one in isolation. The development of a survey was a critical step in our process as it allowed us to collect the information we needed to make informed and data-driven decisions regarding the development of Redvespa’s new COVID-19 Response Policy.

Below I’ve provided a little further commentary on the key actions taken under our Discovery phase:

  • Research comparable businesses and their approaches
    We conducted both desk research and proactive networking to understand approaches other comparable companies or clients were taking. This helped us to develop a picture of current best practice.
  • Understand market landscape
    We analysed our current client portfolio both nationally and regionally. By breaking the client portfolios down by sector we were able to anticipate which clients were more or less likely to implement vaccine mandates and within what timeframes. This allowed us to determine the speed with which we needed to act and how to anticipate clients’ needs.
  • Investigate international implications
    For international businesses it is worth thinking through how you plan on implementing policies. Will they be company wide or region specific?
  • Legal review
    We reached out to our legal advisor for an assessment and advice on the current situation. At this stage, we also had our solicitor review our draft survey.
  • Conduct staff survey
    We gathered information on survey design. We also ran a small internal focus group to seek feedback from employees. Once finalised and reviewed by legal counsel, we conducted the survey. A high response rate of 98% was achieved by engaging people leaders and asking them to follow-up with individuals within their teams who did not respond to the survey. This helped to ensure that a non-response was a choice, not just a missed email or a consequence of being busy.
  • Update travel and Location of Interest protocols
    In parallel, we decided to update our travel policies and location of interest protocols to ensure they reflected the most recent government policies.

By pulling the curtain back on our internal process, survey and policy we hope that this may help others adapt to the ever changing landscape of COVID-19. Through transparency and shared insights we hope we are better able to meet the challenges of COVID-19 together and continue to evolve as more empathic, people-focused organisations in this brave new age. And perhaps it is only through being transparent about our approaches and experiences that we will be able to continue to improve in time for the next big change!

In the ongoing pursuit or transparency, and in reciprocating the generosity of businesses that shared with us, you can read Redvespa’s COVID-19 response policy, developed as a result of this process, here.

If you are interested in learning more or having a further conversation regarding our approach to supporting our people and the national response to COVID-19, please contact Jamie Bell, Redvespa’s Head of Communications & Business Support.

Katie Nelson is a Redvespa Consultant who lead the Discover and Assess phases of our COVID-19 approach and provided support through the remaining phases. An American Kiwi who loves travel, collaboration, and asking questions, Katie considers herself very fortunate to have landed in Aotearoa just before our first national lockdown in March 2020.

You can connect with her via Linkedin here.

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