Managing People Operations through a Global Pandemic: Perspectives from HR

Managing People Operations through a Global Pandemic: Perspectives from HR image
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From the onset, Human Resources was the company’s front-line responder to the pandemic.  

As organizations across the globe switched to remote working environments at an unprecedented rate and scale, Human Resource (HR) departments were challenged to rethink and transform their role while keeping employees safe and informed, and guiding staff and leadership through those changes.

Navigating Challenges and Tough Decisions

Just as the pandemic dramatically impacted all organizations, FirstCarbon Solutions’ (FCS) HR Team was faced with a complex and continually changing environment, challenged to find effective solutions to ensure business continuity and to help their employees cope with this extraordinary crisis on a personal level.

Given the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, we were forced to act quickly to completely transform our workplace policies into a new and unfamiliar remote setting for all staff. With this transformation came many challenges and tough decisions.

Physical Workspaces

With an in-person workplace option no longer available, we adapted to remote set-ups. This came with its own set of challenges, such as providing up-to-date information and constant updates to executives, allocating necessary office equipment to all staff, and adapting to virtual life.

In the first of many steps aimed at making the transition as easy as possible for our staff, we had to ensure that everyone was supplied with all the necessary equipment. This was not an easy task because every team member had different professional and personal needs. When your team comprises of biologists, accountants, professional services, marketers, archeologists, and more, it wasn’t as simple as just sending laptops to the entire company. Every team and every team member has different professional requirements for efficiency. And, with each staff member in their own unique working environments; some with home offices, some sharing a kitchen table with a spouse or roommate; some working in their bedrooms, and some with children and pets right by their side, we addressed the individual needs of each employee directly. We took a conservative and measured approach to the pandemic and with a feeling that this remote environment may last more than the initial two weeks projected in March 2020, we set out to equip our teams in a very deliberate fashion. Coupled with patience and understanding from our teams, we get them up and running at their new remote workplaces.

Once our staff was equipped for success, we prioritized the need for distributing up-to-date information companywide. This included frequent virtual meetings with the executive team to interpret newly released information and its specific impacts on our firm. Communication was another major challenge; without the proper channels, it is extremely difficult to manage a workforce. Our company quickly evolved, by utilizing Zoom, emails, the cloud, phone calls, and Microsoft Teams. To be honest, there was an initial fear that this just wasn’t going to work, but we learned that it was possible! All the luxuries of an office that we had taken for granted started seeming more ‘nice to have’ than ‘need to have’.

Remote work greatly impacted HR’s ‘regular’ responsibilities, which forced our team to restructure our processes. We strategized how to handle employee hiring, rewards and recognition program, performance management, roles and responsibilities, communication, as well as taking time off in a virtual workplace by creating different task forces to tackle each challenge. Our teams utilized Microsoft Teams to share files, chat with peers, implement group calls, and maintain calendars. Our hiring process became entirely virtual by implementing fully internet-based recruiting and video interviews. In addition, HR went completely digital with all recordkeeping, onboarding, training, and orientations. Our team consulted with outside HR advisors and worked closely with our legal team to guide us in the proper direction.

Mental Health and Wellbeing

While maintaining professional efficiencies and a fun culture was important to us, we prioritized an urgent and strong focus on our staff’s mental health and wellbeing through the constant uncertainty and changing impacts of COVID-19.

Acknowledging and normalizing each individual’s unique feelings, we took on an additional support role. We knew it was not enough to simply share the contact information for the employee assistance program, so we proactively tried to help employees better navigate factors both within and outside of their control. In addition to mental health and wellness programs available through our employee health benefits, we created committees and forums for Working Parents/Work-Life Balance and Culture, Diversity & Inclusion (CDI) that meet on regular cadences. Additionally, we provided access to free and low-cost programs and apps that promote self-care. The forums were developed from our staff's feedback. We performed many employee pulses and other surveys to gather information, concerns, and suggestions.

Social Aspects and Schedules

One of the intangible ‘nice to haves’ quickly revealed itself as a ‘need to have’. Social aspects of the workplace were glaringly missing from the equation. We are a company that gathers for lunches, has parties for holidays, celebrates new hires by going out to lunch, gathers for monthly birthdays, enjoys bagel Wednesdays and potluck lunches, and even has an adopted office dog. How could we adjust when those in-person social activities were such a huge part of our company culture?

Although we made tough decisions to prioritize physical health and cancel these in-person activities, we knew it was still important to celebrate our staff, even if the celebrations were virtual. In an era where information and data are readily available, we embraced technology as our best friend by maintaining our culture virtually. We created social channels to share updates on our pets and our at-home DIY projects; we held virtual social hours and game nights, monthly birthday singing, online peer-to-peer recognition, holiday celebrations and contests via Zoom, and more. But the transition to a remote work culture was not completely seamless. How could we help parents that just became homeschooling teachers’ aides? How could we help those who couldn’t hear meetings because others in their home were on calls simultaneously? Strategies were no longer designed periodically or in advance; we addressed these needs in real-time. Our focus on employee productivity and engagement shifted to immediate acknowledgment, responses, diagnoses, and solutions.

Learning from the pandemic

We have learned many things since March 2020 and are still learning daily, 19 months later. We continue to adapt and evolve into a stronger and more understanding organization. We learned that communication is key! It is important to maintain open communication and consistently update our staff. Surveys and continuous requests for feedback were imperative in helping us better understand the needs of our staff.

We learned to be more proactive, both in communication and checking in on staff. This allowed us to then collaborate with the leadership team to better identify solutions together.  

Perhaps most importantly, throughout the unpredictability, we have learned that our organization is comprised of a resilient and supportive staff. We are proud to have learned that we can not only survive, but also thrive during a global crisis. In fact, with this experience behind us, we feel unstoppable.

Do you want to learn more about our amazing staff and about the work that we do here at FCS? We are always on the lookout for sharp, passionate team members excited to share their ideas and help make an impact in the world around us. Check out our current career opportunities to learn more. 



This article was a collaborative effort from members of our HR team.

Rachel Duff. As the People Operations Manager for FCS, Rachel plays a fundamental part in an employee’s lifecycle. Taking on the challenges of searching for talented and driven individuals that want to join the FCS family, providing a well-rounded and welcoming Onboarding experience, identifying and coordinating opportunities for both career and professional development, as well as teaming up with the Human Resources department to continually provide an environment that can sustain a developing, dynamic, and rewarding career for our entire team.  


About the author

Betty Chea

Betty Chea thumbnail

With over 15 years’ experience in Human Resources, Betty oversees employee relations, ensuring regulatory compliance, administers employee-related services such as payroll, training, employee development, worker’s compensation, compensation, and benefits. She maintains compliance with federal, state, and local employment laws and regulations, and recommends best employment practices. Betty provides support and guidance to management and staff when complex, specialized, and sensitive questions arise. She has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis of Human Resources from Cal State Dominguez Hills.

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