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Under regular circumstances, People Teams strive to create positive working environments. Environments full of belonging, recognition, productivity and engagement.

With the advent of a global pandemic so much has changed. Our streets are empty, store shelves are missing staples, many are working long hours, others are being furloughed or laid off. Students are home from school causing parents to work two jobs at once – Mum AND VP of HR. Relatives and friends that were a regular and essential part of our lives are now off-limits. 

As the environment around us continues to change, our priorities adapt. These last weeks have caused us to shift our focus down a level or two on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Instead of striving for belonging, esteem and even self-actualisation in our workforces, we have often had to scrap well-planned initiatives and focus primarily on safety and survival – are our employees safe? How are their families doing? 

As leaders, we have an opportunity to elevate people out of those basic needs and reconnect to normalcy by providing a sense of security, belonging and respect. 

But before we can return our focus to the mid and top tier needs in Maslow’s model, we need to make sure we have addressed our new reality. Right now, our people (and our People Teams) are feeling isolated, uncertain and under pressure. We need to start by giving ourselves and our teams time to adjust.

Download our eBook to discover how HR can support employees during the  COVID-19 pandemic»


Start with the facts 

If our people are operating from a place of stress or fear, making well-informed decisions or behaving with long-term goals in mind is challenging. In the middle of an emergency or crisis, our limbic system can kick into overdrive, making us respond to a regular situation based on how we feel, rather than what we know. Operating in this manner over a long period of time becomes exhausting. 


Leaders can lessen the stress and help employees regain a sense of stability and security by providing clear, consistent and accessible information.

By prioritising open and honest communication and helping employees stay up-to-date with changes to government regulations or local health news that impact their day-to-day work environments or operations, leaders can make a positive impact on morale and productivity. Providing clarity on these facts can empower employees by moving their focus from the “unknowns” to the “knowns."

Learn more about how to improve employee communications in your company »


Remember your “true north” 

Many companies are pivoting and discovering new ways to deliver services and new customers, while other companies are doubling down their efforts to provide exceptional support through this time. Reminding people that the contribution they make today will help create a stronger future can be incredibly encouraging, and provide hope and focus.

We have heard from clients that it helps to provide inspiring and engaging communications if they are talking about how their people can continue to support the known company mission or values:

  • “Despite our challenges, I appreciate how committed you have been to our value of Teamwork. Here are some ideas for how we can make Teamwork even stronger…”
  • As you make decisions in the field, remember our mission of “Making customers’ lives easier.” If you are hitting obstacles that make it harder to fulfill on that mission – let us know so we can support you.”  


Adjust your expectations

While our list of concerns has inevitably grown in light of this crisis, staying motivated and productive means proactively prioritising and acting on the things we can directly influence. We can’t solve all the world’s problems, or address all our organisation’s or team members' challenges. 

Now is the time to be patient with ourselves, as well as others, by refining our to-do list to what is truly achievable. 

Everyone’s productivity will likely be impacted because of what is happening around them, so it’s important to work closely with your team to determine what is realistic for them to accomplish. Having these conversations can immediately lessen the pressure and improve engagement with a remote workforce

Is someone working while caring for small kids? How can the expectations be adjusted so they will be motivated to make the most of the time that they have, rather than feel set up for failure? Are you struggling to focus? Take that as a learning experience and share it with others. By collaborating and being vulnerable, the team can support each other, and work together to find strategies to stay on track.


Make time for the positive 

And when things go well? Celebrate those successes individually, as a team, and across the company with an employee reward and recognition platform. Feeling successful despite obstacles will support motivation and results for you and your team. Set aside time each week to consider what is working. If you can’t think of anything, consider who is living your company mission or values, or reach out to the team and ask them to share their victories.

Remember that focussing on safety and security doesn’t mean we need to abandon our focus on respect, recognition and engagement. By finding time in our weeks to communicate what is working, stay connected to our teams, and recognise the great work they are doing we can simultaneously address those higher-level needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy. 

Making time for recognition and connection can benefit our business and people’s wellbeing — rather than waiting for this all to be over before putting this first, prioritising it now can help inspire innovation and growth. 


While it’s uncertain how long we will be working in unusual conditions, there are things we can do now to set our people up for success today and well into the future. Our initial focus of crisis management may be on our employees’ base-line needs, but building channels for open and honest communication and reminding people of the impact they make to your bigger mission will develop strong foundations on which we can rebuild or strengthen the next tiers. 

I’d love to hear how you are progressing and how or where your focus is shifting as we navigate this new world of work together. 

Alexandra Powell

Alexandra Powell, Director of Client Cultural Insights, not only knows American Sign Language, but uses it to secretly communicate with her husband and kids at parties. Alex is a highly experienced employee engagement consultant, trainer and speaker. For over 20 years she has helped HR and business leaders implement strategies that drive true culture change.

Director of Client Cultural Insights

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