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How organizations are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic

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A group of leaders from various industries shared their learnings from navigating the pandemic at Iron Mountain’s Executive Exchange virtual event.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, organizations had to figure out what was going on and what to do to keep people safe while continuing to run the business. There was — and is — no rule book for how to navigate such a global crisis, but organizations are responding and rethinking how to adapt — and permanently transform — how they work.

While the world is not out of the woods yet, a group of leaders from various industries shared their experiences and learnings during a virtual panel at Iron Mountain’s Executive Exchange event.

Here are their observations and how they’ve navigated the pandemic so far.

Access, connection, flexibility

One executive from a major financial institution discussed how access, flexibility and connection all play a major role in how her organization continues to adapt to the pandemic and, ultimately, the new normal.

She shared that her organization had, luckily, already made the decision to make it easier for employees to work remotely prior to the pandemic. However, maintaining a sense of connection was initially a challenge. In their physical office, she said, there are open spaces and collaborative environments to encourage employees to work together, something less easy to replicate with remote workers.

She and her team began using WebEx to create virtual coffee breaks and chats, which helped everyone feel they were still connected and she hosted daily huddles for more opportunities to engage with each other. As a result, her team has actually gotten to know each other in a more intimate way than they would have in an office environment. In turn, this has led to more empathy for co-workers balancing work and taking care of their families.

Strong governance and crisis management plans

An executive from a global manufacturer related that, due to the nature of their work, the organization has remained operational since the pandemic’s inception. Some locations have been closed and “back-office” employees are able to work from home.

What allowed this organization to deal with this crisis in an immediate and structured way is attributed to their strong governance structure, in place prior to the pandemic. They have a designated team tasked with managing the response across their global enterprise during a crisis. While the protocols may change and evolve depending on the situation, having a strong governance and accountability structure allows them to commit to decisions and execute on them.

Addressing employees’ mental health

Perhaps one of the most severe effects of this pandemic – besides physical illness and financial distress – has been on peoples’ mental health. One executive from a financial services organization shared how this has affected her employees.

With everyone working from home, people are struggling to balance work and their personal lives. For those in leadership roles, the pandemic has changed how they work and manage people. This executive talked about how she personally addresses her employees’ mental health struggles, challenging her to be more than simply someone’s boss. The pandemic’s disruption has led to everyone talking to each other more as people now, not simply as employer or employee.

Because people have such different working styles and social requirements, it’s essential to give them the opportunity to return to the office, she said, although she recognized that we will never return back to the way things were. This means her organization has to, and will, adjust its culture to accommodate peoples’ mental health while addressing the fact that the days of every employee going to an office five days a week is a thing of the past.

Handling records and data

Another challenge COVID-19 has presented to organizations is determining how to handle records and data created or received as a result of the virus; for example, via health surveillance, contact tracing, health and safety protocols, etc. One financial services executive said that the best course of action is to follow an existing risk management framework. As long as you have requirements and controls in place you can mitigate risk, he said.

He added that privacy considerations are also crucial during this time as organizations collect data related to the pandemic. The goal, he said, should be to protect employees, and privacy plays a role in this. Some organizations are even considering the creation of a new record retention rule where organizations would only keep the records and data for the life of the pandemic crisis.

Moving forward

The pandemic is far from over and there is no diminishing the challenges it has presented, and will continue to present, to both organizations and individuals. However, as the executives above discussed, they are responding with immediacy, flexibility and empathy; and with the expectation that, as one panelist declared, “going back has never been how we go forward.”

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