As the coronavirus upends the business world, employee logistics have become a crucial factor in staying afloat.
The challenge has been greater for some than for others.
For Sensata, a global industrial technology company with 21,000-plus employees in 11 countries—including 5,000 in China alone—the transformation was seismic. Alexia Taxiarchos, Sensata’s senior director of global communications, cites its traditional, on-site collaboration model.
“We never truly embraced the work at home model before this, so this was a big change for us,” says Taxiarchos, a Ragan Communications Leadership Council member. “We don’t have enough VPN slots [a must for intranet access] for all of our employees globally. We quickly had to assess our toolkit and figure out what made sense to keep our employees informed.”
Deemed by many governments an essential service, Sensata stayed up and running.
First came the immediate need to address health and safety concerns.
“We had to quickly build our own COVID-19 microsite—on Microsoft SharePoint,” she says. “We did it overnight; it took us less than 24 hours.”
The microsite provided links to relevant information that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization would provide on their respective sites, but Sensata’s portal also dealt with staff-specific matters: face masks and temperature screenings and, early on, travel restrictions.
They also set up a COVID-19 specific email account, for HR, legal, comms and ESH officers to field questions, such as worries about exposure and whether employees would have to use up their PTO for coronavirus concerns.
The general email address was a welcome option for staffers. “Sometimes they feel more comfortable emailing a central place than asking their HR manager or their manager,” Taxiarchos says.
On the financial front, there were pay cuts for executives, the CEO announced his desire to reduce his 2Q salary to $1, and some employees were furloughed. “We had to communicate those issues and help contextualize them,” she says.
The CEO himself, Jeff Cote, became a key part of communication effort. Mind you, he started work the first week of March, walking into the thick of the pandemic fallout.
Cote began creating weekly videos, unscripted and shot at his home, speaking to the staff about difficult topics, among them the furloughs and the first COVID-19 case on staff.
“He’s done a phenomenal job,” Taxiarchos says.
Meanwhile, the staff had to embrace a new reality. The communication team had its hands full—and responded with vigor.
“We’ve also put up a lot of WFH resources: how to set up a home work station, how to get access to remote learning or virtual interviewing, access to mental and financial wellness resources … what to watch out for from cybersecurity,” Taxiarchos says. “It helps [our employees] get a better sense of how to do this and do it really well.”
The pandemic is likely to have a lingering effect, even beyond its eventual ebb.
“I am hopeful that we’ll be better, when this is done, at being more remote and being a more modern workplace,” Taxiarchos says.
“For now we’re just trying to make sure we get our people the information they need to really be effective and safe in their jobs.”