Wednesday, 29 April 2020

10 Ways Companies Can Make a Difference During the Pandemic

Paper ship leads others - leader ship

by Thiago Earp

We humans are wired to try and help others in times of distress. Companies are just a bunch of humans working together - and together humans can make a disproportionate difference. Read on for examples and ideas to inspire you to make a difference, too.

COVID-19 has brought us to a stark and grim reality. Sadly, many of us are stuck at home, facing an unclear future due to unpredictable economic shifts. But even in these tumultuous times, our humanity is shining through. During many lonesome hours in isolation, a lot of people are searching for ways to help others in this time of crisis.

If you are looking for a glimmer of hope, this article will present you with a list of inspiring initiatives and ideas. We’ve chosen the most effective examples of actions for both large companies and small businesses. They have made a significant impact and have helped employees, customers, health workers, and communities all over the world.

So read on to get an idea of what you and your company can do to help during the pandemic.

10. Provide Relief for Hourly Workers

As a direct consequence of the pandemic, multiple companies, including Tesla, Sephora, and Disney, have had to make some difficult decisions. That includes steep salary reductions. Plus, mass layoffs by similar companies have endangered workers across the globe. Nevertheless, others, like Microsoft, have taken a positive step towards protecting their employees.

In early March, the tech giant put forward a new policy intended to help all of the company’s hourly employees. Namely, Microsoft offered to keep paying its hourly workers their regular wages. That includes on-site tech staff such as audio-visual experts. Moreover, it also applies to cafeteria workers, shuttle drivers, or vendors. Even if the service hours of those workers were reduced, Microsoft provided them with their full pay.

As an example, in the Puget Sound region, approximately 4,500 employees are currently receiving their full-time wages. It’s a fantastic example of an initiative created for hourly employees who can’t work from home. What’s more, Microsoft’s decision is also important because other major companies have followed suit. Amazon, Google, Twitter, and others have all taken similar steps to support their workers.

9. Offer Ways to Stay Connected 

The internet has been our most powerful tool during the Coronavirus outbreak. If you are working remotely, you’re most likely using the web for browsing, videoconferencing, etc. After that, you probably turn to YouTube, gaming, music streaming, and long TV show binges on Netflix.

All of this generates massive bandwidth strain. With it come prospectively large fees if you exceed your bandwidth cap. And while most of us are connected, it’s easy to overlook that others do not have the means to pay for a full data plan.

Fortunately, many providers in the U.K. and the U.S. have opted to offer various benefits. For example, U.S. providers are taking part in an FCC pledge. It lifts bandwidth limits, waives late fees, reduces costs, and unlocks all Wi-Fi hotspots, and some of the companies, namely Verizon, Charter, T-Mobile, and Sprint, have all followed suit. Furthermore, those providers decided not to block access to those who cannot pay their bills.

In the U.K., many companies have taken similar measures, such as O2, Sky, Vodafone, and Virgin Media, to name a few. Overall, even if those actions did not affect you personally, they are certainly helping millions of people stay connected.

8. Facilitate Access to Learning

A vast number of companies are providing nearly everyone with free or discounted online courses, with tech companies leading the way.

For instance, LinkedIn has recently allowed all its members to participate in 16 free courses, mainly focusing on professional development. Similarly, other programmes focus on managing day-to-day life. As another example, language school Rosetta Stone is encouraging education with three months of free courses for school students. Other notable ones include Google and The Open University.

We at Firebrand have pivoted to offer online certifications to help people build a digital future. Our Online Instructor-Led (OIL) courses offer a fast-track to professional certifications comparable to a residential bootcamp, enabling collaboration with training experts via a virtual classroom. To make training more accessible during this time, we’ve also put together different offers - namely the Microsoft Fastpass, and a bundle with 50% discount on any second certification course.

In addition to professional development, there are many other types of courses available. You could try dance, art, fitness classes, and more on various platforms. And if you’ve got the knowledge, you could conduct some courses on your own and offer it on platforms such as Udemy.

7. Promote Health Awareness Across Digital Channels

In early April, popular U.K. game developers like Rebellion started to utilise their products to make an impact. Namely, they used their games to deliver health messages to the public. Many companies inserted safety notices into various world-famous titles, including Candy Crush, Farm Heroes, Sniper Elite 4, etc.

Overall, most took the form of in-game ads. They contained messages along the lines of “Stay Home” and similar. The goal was to motivate the public, especially younger generations, creatively and effectively.

Games are a neat way of reaching out, but there’s nothing stopping companies from finding creative ways to raise awareness across websites, apps, and marketing messages.

6. Help Employees With Expenses When Possible

Many businesses with better financial health have given their employees extra money meant to support them during the pandemic. It’s another incredible example of companies standing up for their employees’ financial status and ultimately, their mental health.

For instance, Shopify and Twitter decided to offer stipends. They announced that each of their employees would get an additional $1,000. That was done to cover the costs of remote working. Others, like Facebook, have also given their workers a $1,000 bonus to help them during the crisis. And last, billionaire Mark Cuban offered to reimburse his employees for any purchases of coffee or meals bought in small, local businesses.

Keeping track of finances, benefits, and compensations can be quite tricky now. Interestingly, many fintech companies in the U.K. have developed new tools for tracking government compensation.
The Countingup company has invented an incredibly useful tool called the Coronavirus Calculator. First, it asks you to enter your data. Then, it automatically estimates the support you could potentially receive.

Additionally, Pento developed a Furlough HMRC Claim tool. This calculator is meant for workers in startups and companies. Namely, it lets them estimate the benefits they could obtain from the Job Retention Scheme.

5. Turn Remote Work Into Flexible Work

With up to one-third of the world population in some form of lockdown, a remote working revolution has been widely publicised across all corners of business. However, in many cases, the change has been superficial - not much beyond the mandatory home office. In many companies, employees are still expected to stick to their office routines, both in terms of hours and also when it comes to rituals such as meeting frequency.

This can be an added source of stress, as the new current change comes with new challenges and requires new habits. Motivation, focus, and distractions have different impacts on people, and forcing employees to mimic the office space at home can be “a nightmare” as this piece from The Independent so rightfully puts it.

Smart companies are embracing the opportunity to review their entire work cultures in a way that benefits everyone. Tech companies have a lot to teach here. The blockchain studio Consensys, for example, has been built around remote, flexible collaboration. Giants like Google have implemented flexible policies for years.

The gist of it is, remote working isn’t just a change in location; it’s a shift in culture. It means removing the training wheels: giving employees the freedom to determine not only their working hours, but their entire routines (and being supportive of them in this learning curves).
The benefits for both employers and employees can be huge, and have been shown time and again.

4. Conduct Free Digital Summits

Currently, the future of conferences and public events is unclear. And while thousands of massive events have been postponed, many organisers and individuals have turned towards live streaming. Forbes8, for instance, conducted a large digital summit called “Business Resilience”, held on March 20 via the company’s platform.

Overall, its focus was on supporting businesses. Best of all, the event was free. The event included a roster of successful speakers and entrepreneurs like Dorie Clark and Chris Brogan. Interestingly, most of the experts were scheduled to appear at SXSW 2020. The summit is still available on Forbes8 (via free trial). Overall, this conference is an excellent example of combating social distancing. It can undoubtedly inspire others to lead or participate in similar events from home.

Traditional educational institutions, such as the University College London’s Centre for Blockchain Technologies, have ramped up on free seminars. The CBT, for instance, has launched a massive series of open seminars on blockchain technology every last Thursday of each month for the next six months.

3. Pivot to Help Increase Offer of Essential Goods

Generally, companies can pivot at any point to change their direction and goals. When it comes to COVID-19, many have shifted their regular operations to assist those in need by increasing the production of essential items to fight the pandemic.

One notable such move comes from hoover maker Dyson, who in late March, 2020, pledged to build 10,000 ventilators to boost the U.K. fight against COVID-19. That said, the company has since acknowledged the donation is “no longer required” in the country - meaning the devices may be diverted to other countries in need.

Businesses like Portland’s Shine Distillery or Aberdeenshire’s BrewDog brewery surely stand out. They’ve used their knowledge of alcohol production to create hand sanitiser during significant shortages.

And the help can also come from goods or services that help in a more indirect way.
1Rebel has turned all of its London gyms into NHS facilities with over 400 available beds. On an even larger scale, Airbnb has offered free housing. The company reached an arrangement with its hosts to provide accommodations for 100,000 people. That applies to health workers, responders, and volunteers who are battling the crisis globally.

Of course, there are many more similar examples. Any business owner who is thinking of ways to provide support can look for inspiration here.

2. Communicate with Customers Online

The current crisis has also caused a steep rise in e-commerce. With it, many companies are looking for new ways to reach their customers through their digital channels.

Hero, a leading e-commerce platform that supplies solutions for Nike, Longchamp, and others, have recently developed an innovative video-call option. It allows customers to reach sales associates via webcam.

With this feature, customers can get a detailed look into various products. They can view the items before buying as well as communicate with sales reps for advice. It mirrors a quality in-store service experience.

Such an idea may be especially useful for sales-orientated businesses during the crisis. It could improve customer-employee relationships and result in highly positive feedback.

1. Creative Charity

Perhaps the most inspiring initiatives during COVID-19 are those that demonstrate not only creativity, but also altruism.

On an individual level, there’s no better example than that of Tom Moore. This 99-year-old veteran took walks in his garden in London. In the end, he raised more than £20 million for the NHS. Fortunately, the list of individuals and companies who took part in global and local charities is quite extensive. Creating or joining a cause could be the best way to help.

Some brands like Starbucks have opted to help first responders. Namely, the company donated free coffee to each health service worker. In another example, Casetify, a company that specialises in tech cases, came up with UV sanitizers for mobile devices. Casetify also donated the profits of their new product to a charitable organisation.

Closing Thoughts

To summarise, our examples reveal that the Coronavirus crisis has united us towards battling a common cause. It has also changed the way we work and the way we treat our employees.

Still, the future remains uncertain, and not every company is willing to help their workers or communities. So the next time you find yourself with nothing to do while practising social distancing or washing your hands, consider some positive actions that could leave an impact!

Do you have an even better example of good deeds people have done during the Coronavirus outbreak? Share your stories with us, and stay safe!

Thiago Earp is Content Strategist at Firebrand Training. He’s fascinated with technology, human behaviour, and complex systems, and writes on a range of tech-related topics.