: Q&A: How Microsoft Supports its Teams During COVID-19

Q&A: How Microsoft Supports its Teams During COVID-19

By Jomiro Eming

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every company globally – from startup, to enterprise. Whether 20 or 2000 people, there are things that every company wants to do well to support their teams. As a multinational corporation, Microsoft has made sure to put systems in place to prepare their team and set them up for going remote.

We spoke to Domina McQuade, Lead Datacenter Recruiter at Microsoft, to get a behind-the-scenes look at a few of the strategies that Microsoft has put in place to support it’s team during this uncertain time. These strategies are:

  • Lots of updates and communication
  • Encouraging a ‘work-from-home’ approach very early on
  • Doubling down on flexi-hour policies
  • Opening up backup daycare to employees’ networks
  • Adding two extra weeks of leave for employees
  • Updating their benefits websites
  • Moving all interviews to online

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Lots of updates and communication

Q: What has Microsoft communicated with your team about COVID-19?

Domina: One of our Executive Vice Presidents (EVP) has been specifically caring about COVID-19 communication. He’s been sending updates weekly, sometimes daily, since early January, long before the virus was impacting the US – updates on global impact, where to get info, and what the company is doing.

As a new manager, I check-in often with my team too. In group meetings, I start by doing a quick one minute pulse check and asking how everyone is feeling and what is distracting them. Everyone is distracted right now, so I think it’s better to talk about it and then refocus on the meeting. I know this situation has been distracting for me!

Q: Why is this group check-in specifically so important?

Domina: I think it’s important to know where my team is at right now. For us, schools and daycares are closed. Many people are juggling work with young kids at home. I’ve been trying to balance work, and communicate to the leaders we support that we might be a little slower during this time.

Q: What impact has lots of communication had on your team? Can you give me a concrete example of that impact?

Domina: I hope it’s calming some nerves during this crazy time! Everyone is anxious right now with all the unknowns, so I think having the most up to date info on what the company is doing helps.

We’re facing a health crisis and probably financial crisis at the same time – it’s a lot. I think it’s also made people feel okay talking about how they’re really feeling and what they need from me to get through this time.

Encouraging a ‘work-from-home’ approach very early on

Q: How has Microsoft helped teams work remotely? What kind of support have they given during this time?

Domina: They encouraged work-from-home very early on and did it for the whole month of March. It really made employees realise the seriousness of COVID-19 and that it was going to be around for a while.

Logistics wise, most of us had laptops already, but we were able to bring our monitors home too. We also have a Stayfit annual credit for fitness-related stuff, but we can use it for ergonomic things too, like desks and chairs.

We switched all meetings to video chat via Microsoft Teams, switched all orientations to remote, and are postponing many relocations to make new employees feel safe. In general, we have flexible hours at work, which helps with all of the above!

Q: Why is it important to give that support now?

Domina: I think giving extra support during this time helps people both personally and professionally. Not having to stress about the logistics of work is nice when there is so much other stuff going on in the world.

Doubling down on flexi-hour policies

Q: Why has this been so important for your teams in terms of support?

Domina: Even before COVID-19, Microsoft had flexible hours, which it makes it easier not only for those that have young kids not yet in school, but anyone with children really.

This has been a lifesaver for me personally: Right now, my husband and I are both attempting to work from home full time with a wild four-year-old. Having the flexibility to wake up early or work during her naps has been key.

Some recruiters and managers have even set up amended schedules of half days for a few weeks until they can figure out childcare.

Q: What impact does flexi-hours have on your team?

Domina: Every recruiter on my team has kids at home right now. Some are young and some are teens. I don’t think a set ‘9-5’ schedule would work for any of us right now, so this is really the ‘make’ part of a ‘make-or-break’ situation!

Q: What advice/tips do you have for making flexi-hours effective, or doing it well?

Domina: Man, I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle homeschooling a four-year old and work! Working early morning for a couple hours before she wakes up is key.

Opening up backup daycare to employees’ networks

Q: Why is this support important?

Domina: Microsoft has always had backup daycare, but they are allowing you to choose people within your network (neighbour, friend, inlaw, etc.) to be the designated daycare, which is really cool.

Normally our backup daycare is either a third-party, highly-rated daycare, or they send a nanny to our house. With the virus, many people don’t feel comfortable bringing their kids to a centre or having a stranger come to their house. Microsoft has allowed you to elect a family member, or someone you trust, to take on that role and watch your kid(s). You log into our benefits portal and can request finding your own care, and the person gets paid for their time. Super easy! I will likely be using this benefit!

Adding two extra weeks of leave for employees

Q: Why is this important during COVID-19?

Domina: Microsoft has offered two extra weeks of time-off if you have symptoms, or don’t have childcare options. It’s neat because you don’t have to burn through all your sick/vacation time and have a couple weeks to plan out childcare options.

Speaking for myself, home schooling is exhausting! Typically, vacation time is meant to recharge you, so not having to use all your vacation time is AMAZING. Also, if you were infected with coronavirus – it would use all your yearly sick time. So not having to use your normal sick time is great.

Q: How has this extra leave helped people in your team so far?

Domina: I know people who have taken the two weeks off to figure out childcare, or people who have used it for half days, trying to get home schooling kicked-off. During a stressful time, it’s nice to know your company is being thoughtful and making it easier to manage.

Updating their benefits websites

Q: What does this mean?

Domina: Microsoft updated their benefits site to allow team members to quickly see what to do if they had symptoms, and they have nurses and ‘teledoc’ options so that peoeple cam talk to someone 24 hours a day.

Q: Why is this support important?

Domina: In the US, our emergency rooms are quickly filling up. A couple of weeks ago, both my husband and I had possible COVID-19 symptoms, but the ER by our house is filled with people who are in critical condition and we didn’t want to make the situation worse. I used the teledoc option and it was fast, and easy, plus we ultimately avoided an ER visit.

Q: How is Microsoft rolling this benefit out practically? What does it look like?

Domina: The emails from our EVP had instructions on what to do if you might have symptoms. It is also bolded and right in the middle of our benefits portal right now. They made it super easy to find and follow.

Moving all interviews online

Q: Why did Microsoft decide to do this?

Domina: Kirkland, WA, was the epicenter of the outbreak in the US initially, which is very close to Microsoft campus. Candidates were nervous to fly there for interviews or orientation (rightfully so!). To overcome this, we quickly adapted to virtual interviewing and orientation. We moved all interviews to video and changed up our orientation, where they are now completely remote (shipping a computer, I9 paperwork, etc.).

Q: Why is this kind of adaptation important?

Domina: Candidate experience is number one. We would never want a candidate to feel uncomfortable or be in danger. We also did not lose hiring momentum when making this shift online. For example, one of the organisations I support in hiring is going to have a record-breaking hiring month in March despite all the changes and distractions. Incredible! This just shows it’s possible.

Q: What impact has taking hiring online had on your team?

Domina: We initially had candidates wanting to back out of interviews or postpone their start date. This would have been a lot of admin – and just a general nightmare – for the team! This remote option has meant that we don’t have to cancel interviews or delay starts for critical roles.

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