How to Help Each Other: The Role Businesses Must Play in Supporting Their Workforce, Communities and Other Businesses

Chris McCarthy, CEO of Degreed, looks at the various ways businesses can help each other and their workforces during the pandemic.


As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” These words ring especially true today, as the world faces unprecedented challenges. But with every challenge comes opportunity and, as business leaders, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help each other through this crisis. In addressing the current response toward the pandemic, keeping morale high and ensuring the safety of our workers supports our communities in the long run. 


Our Priorities Have Shifted

In a matter of weeks, the world has shifted. Priorities for business leaders, like myself, are constantly changing in flux with market volatility, political decisions and the evolving health care scenario. One thing, however, remains constant. By helping others succeed and sustain in this time, you can make a tangible difference on a personal and business level. 


Look After Your People

First, let’s address the monumental changes currently facing the workforce. We are in the midst of the world’s largest work-from-home experiment. People have suddenly had to switch from 9-5, 5-day-a-week, in-office interactions to completely virtual. They may have children and homeschooling to juggle, or elderly or disabled relatives they are concerned about. Some may fall ill and others may find themselves struggling with social isolation and worries about current events. 

As leaders, we must be aware and considerate of these extra pressures of our people’s lives. It’s vital to let people know that it’s okay to be human, to feel negative and to have bad days throughout this crisis. For those who are furloughed, it can help if their leaders tell them that they still hold value to the organization; that this is a temporary scenario in response to an unpredictable event and doesn’t reflect their value or career potential. 


Consider Offering Upskilling Opportunities

Better still, consider using any downtime as a chance to upskill your workforce. The shift to remote work has had a knock-on impact on digital transformation, the incoming technology trends that we expected to happen a few years from now have been sped up. In post-COVID Wuhan, automation and robotics have become commonplace in contact tracing and preventing the spread of the virus. Therefore, you cannot press pause on your upskilling efforts, especially because 54 percent of workers will require reskilling by 2022. Plus, more people are recognizing the value of upskilling, especially right now, in mitigating an uncertain future and preventing long-term career detours.


Support The Whole Worker 

You should also consider the holistic support of your workforce. What are the ways you can boost morale by considering your worker’s family and social life? One thing that went down very well at Degreed–and also within our wider network of prospects, customers and partners–is an activity book our brand team created for working parents. Part of the reason is because it is different from anything we had ever done and fully embraced the strange times we’re living in. 

Depending on needs, your support might involve giving greater flexibility, offering mental health and health-related resources, coaching people to build resilience, or even providing practical support in setting up a home office and switching to remote work. Given that many social circles have also been disrupted, it’s worth exploring ways for your workers to still gain some of that interaction through virtual coffee meetings, quizzes, happy hours, workouts, meditation, dinners and so forth. 


Alleviate Concerns

Psychological safety is another big concern for the workforce. A lot of people are worried about their long-term job prospects, the state of the economy and incoming recession, and their salary and ability to meet their living costs. It’s important to be clear, communicative and transparent during this time. Let people know your plans for continuity, let them do “Ask Me Anythings” with senior leadership and make it clear that your (virtual) office has an open-door policy for any concerns they want to air with you personally. 


Contribute More Widely

Looking beyond your organization and immediate network, find ways to help the industry and public sector with your expertise, resources and knowledge. For some organizations, this will be an obvious contribution that you can make. Many restaurants, for example, are feeding health care workers donated meals. 

Others may require some rethinking and strategy. To help organizations navigate future uncertainty from a talent perspective (particularly in retaining and redeploying workers), I recently hired Janice Burns, former chief learning officer at Mastercard, to advise senior leaders during the crisis and coming years. 

Your contribution could be as diverse as offering physical supplies like PPE (personal protective equipment), people, donating money, influencing others, or sharing relevant data. 

I must give an important caveat, however. Now is not the time to market yourself: Unless you have clear expertise and resources to offer, stay quiet. The time will come when businesses and people will be willing to buy from you again, but right now everyone is trying to figure out our new normal. 


Together We Thrive

This, ultimately, is the crux of what we are facing. Nothing will be the same again. In Wuhan, the months prior to the pandemic are simply known as the ‘Before Times’. Businesses and people are adapting quickly, and will have to evolve again, and again, in response to long-term changes that we cannot yet predict. To survive and eventually thrive in this new reality, we must be united.


Degreed CEO Chris McCarthy for Crunchbase

Chris is the CEO of Degreed. He held executive positions at both Zinch and Chegg before becoming COO of Degreed in 2013.  Chris has extensive experience in business operations and leading organizations. A true east-coaster at heart, Chris graduated from Northeastern University in 2002 before continuing on to Harvard Business School where he graduated in 2009 with his MBA. Outside of Degreed, he is passionate about Boston sports and disrupting the future of higher education.

  • Originally published April 28, 2020