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‘It’s kind of like playing poker’: Confessions of a HR exec on managing staffing during a crisis

Digiday 20 Mar 2020 04:00
agencies

As the coronavirus has spread across the U.S., businesses have had to quickly retool how they work: allowing employees to work from home, make meetings virtual and all the while continue to create work for clients. Managing staffers amid the pandemic is unprecedented. To get a sense of what it’s like to make decisions about employees’ well-being as well as take care of the business, Digiday spoke to an HR exec for an ad agency for the latest edition of our confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor. This interview has been edited and condensed.

How has the coronavirus impacted day-to-day operations?
When something like this happens you see people’s true nature. Some people are like, “Nothing to see here. I want to keep coming in.” Others are like, “I’m packing up and going to my mom’s.” You see both ends of the extreme. Both from an HR perspective and a business perspective, you have to make a lot of space for all of those feelings while keeping people working.

Did you have a hard time convincing people to take all of this seriously, encouraging isolation?I didn’t want to be an alarmist. It’s like being a parent: You don’t want to scare the kids but you also know that this could be serious.With clients delaying campaigns and cutting ad spending, what do you expect the effects to be?Yeah, it’s really scary. We do have some bigger clients who are starting to pull back scopes and projects. We’ve had productions put on hold. We just don’t know what it’s going to look like. It’s kind of like playing poker right now. The [staffers] don’t know that yet. Right now, I have three open positions and we’ll have to put those on hold. Teams are going to wonder why and we’ll have to explain that. My biggest priority is preserving the bodies we have. We still have a lot of work.

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