Women in Business  April 1, 2020

Hartung: Virus crisis provides chance for growth

Editor’s note: Ask your questions here about COVID-19 disruptions to your Life@Work. Jessica Hartung, author of The Conscious Professional: Transform Your Life at Work, designed this column to answer reader questions about challenging issues they face in their work lives. Submit questions to Jessica@workthatmatters.com

Dear Jessica,

I’m new to my role — 5 weeks in. I am supposed to be getting to know people and building trust as an HR specialist, but we are all working from home now because of COVID-19. The teams I support are asking me lots of questions I don’t have answers to about layoffs and more. I’m worried about being “last in-first out.” Any ideas how to deal with this?


Strengthening relationships at this time of change and disruption is an opportunity for everyone right now, no matter how long they have been employed with the organization.  For a new person, you have a perfect case study for strategic reframing.

This situation could be seen as hopeless, causing you to withdraw, become invisible, and increase the likelihood you would be let go. Or it could be reframed as your opportunity to shine. Being new gives you license to reach out to people, to ask questions, and to gain clarity. As the new HR person whose role it is to provide support, build trust, and get to know people’s HR needs, you have a great opportunity to build your own structure for remote relationship building and data collection.

One of the best ways to position yourself for ongoing employment is to add value in an area that is really important for the business and create visibility for good work. First revisit your company’s objectives to ensure your efforts are in alignment with them.  Identify the most useful purpose you could reach out to your team. Providing connection, information, and good listening is always relevant, but add in topical content and questions that specifically furthers those key objectives. Knowing what matters to the people you serve always helps you to serve them better.

After you create a plan for connecting with individuals or small groups of people to provide support and listen to their ideas, I would encourage cultivating your own sense of gratitude and peace of mind so that when you reach out you are grounded and prepared to be a supportive listener, and to reimagine existing processes.  This time is a perfect catalyst for business process improvement and change management. What is possible now that never would have happened last year?  Innovation is born in times of constraint. People just like you can lead internally to find better ways to meet needs.

Now is the time to turn the unexpected into just a bump in the road, not a barrier.  Your strategic thinking will be a strong asset. Reflect on the values you hold about helping people. When you combine that intention with the technology you have available to you, what else is possible? How will your values lead you to serve now? Keep asking and exploring; there may be multiple layers to this.

Start brainstorming ways to improve the situation in collaboration with others. Identify the current needs for training and development so that the organization can thrive in new circumstances. Help identify cost-effective ways to get those needs met. If the needs seem way too big, keep chunking them down. Ask yourself: “What could we do in the next couple of weeks that would make a difference?” 

Finally, share results with your managers. You may want to provide a summary report of training needs, or three options for how to best increase virtual facilitation skills, or other specific, fact -based approaches you can implement with their approval. 

Building your capacity to stay calm, helpful, and strategically focused during this unprecedented time will surely be full of learning and challenges. Let me know how it goes! 

Jessica Hartung is a work coach and founder of Work That Matters & Integrated Work, a Boulder company. She can be reached at jessica@jessicahartung.com, 303-516-9001.

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