By Christy Pambianchi, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Verizon
In a matter of weeks, coronavirus (COVID-19) has fundamentally changed the way we work, communicate, learn, and live. Its impact transcends all borders and boundaries, causing a mass and jarring overhaul of our systems and daily operations. Businesses are asking employees to work from home while juggling caregiver needs.
Schools are closing at an unprecedented rate requiring a new way of learning. Doctors and nurses are working around the clock to contain and combat the spread of the virus.
First responders are being dispatched to keep people safe and minimize panic. Families are feeling displaced as we practice social distancing.
Connectivity is key
In all these scenarios, there is one constant thread that connects everyone–the need for a reliable, powerful network. Connectivity is what allows our students to learn, our doctors and nurses to treat, our first responders to protect, and our families and community to stay connected.
For example, there has been a 25% increase in total voice usage across Verizon’s networks. For years we’ve seen a steady decline in the amount of time people spend talking to one another. This time of uncertainty has reignited a hunger to stay connected, voice-to-voice, with colleagues and loved ones.
Now, more than ever, our networks must remain operational as an essential service to healthcare, first responders, schools, businesses, and families. And to achieve that, to keep our customers and the world connected, we rely on our frontline workers whose job functions may require them to be physically present. Our highest priorities are the health and well-being of our employees, so we have implemented preventative measures to keep our frontline safe while they are in the field or serving our customers.
Across our retail stores, we have adjusted operational hours and implemented a pick-up only policy to reduce the number of people in the store. We also continue to direct people to our online services and have our stores support only critical needs.
We provided our call center employees with the right tools and training to work from home so they can continue to offer the best-in-class support to our customers.
And, for our Network team members, we have prioritized incoming requests to service only the most critical calls. We are also proactively connecting with customers to ensure there are no presumptive or confirmed cases of coronavirus residing in the home or business before dispatching any Verizon personnel.
While we recognize some of our employees have to be physically present due to the nature of their jobs, we have rapidly expanded our work from home strategy to encompass over 112,000 employees, which is close to 90% of our workforce.
COVID-19 doesn’t cancel out kindness and empathy
Overnight, companies have asked millions worldwide to adopt a new way of working that requires employees to assume a first responder mindset on top of triaging at home. Given the seismic and sudden shift, it’s unrealistic to set business as usual expectations.
Many people are sharing their workspaces with kids attempting to do their schoolwork or trying to console toddlers and babies who are rightfully demanding attention. I can tell you as a mother to four children this has been an adjustment for everyone. We should start every conference call by reminding our staff members that it’s okay and even somewhat expected to hear their children or pets in the background. Above all, we need to be kind and receptive to each other’s circumstances.
No one should feel like they need to choose between getting their work done and managing their health or that of a family member. That’s why it’s not enough to make sure our employees feel safe. We must support them emotionally and financially by infusing a sense of humanity across our policies so people can balance work commitments with realities at home.
At Verizon, we will pay targeted compensation and benefits to our colleagues who are working from home, working in our retail locations, call centers, and network locations that remain open.
Additionally, we launched a COVID-19 specific leave of absence policy offering 100% of pay for up to 8 weeks and then 60% of pay beyond 8 weeks for employees who are unable to work because they are providing care to loved ones or themselves.
And, should any of our employees contract COVID-19, we are offering up to 26 weeks paid leave. We have also partnered with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield to establish a team of nurses that will help Verizon employees diagnosed with COVID-19 understand their condition, address questions, identify resources, and coordinate care with doctors.
We can’t predict what the next days will bring, but we can and must continue to care for our employees and bend as a company to remain responsive to their needs.
Going beyond our walls
From a health perspective, COVID-19 has been devastating, but there are symptoms of this pandemic that are far-reaching and go beyond maintaining the physical well-being of our colleagues and loved ones. As more local and national authorities issue work-at-home orders and promote social distancing as a way to curb the spread of the virus, there are unintended consequences to doing the right thing.
One of the consequences is an increase in domestic violence, as partners and children are now tethered even more to their abusers and isolated from resources that could help. Our VtoV Employee Relief Fund was created to help Verizon employees get back on their feet after being displaced from their homes following a natural disaster or personal emergency such as domestic violence.
As we extend support to our employees and their families, we are also conscious that this pandemic is hitting our most vulnerable community members even harder and deepening the social divide.
As of today, we have committed $2 million to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund in support of the World Health Organization (WHO) ‘s global response. This is in addition to $5 million to No Kid Hungry and $5 million to Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) COVID-19 Response Fund and Direct Relief. We’ve tripled the data allowance for the 90,000 students and teachers in our Verizon Innovative Learning schools across the country, an increase from 10GB to 30GB for the next two months.
We know small business owners are feeling very uncertain about their future, so Verizon recently launched a new program, Pay it Forward Live, which is a weekly streaming entertainment series that will include music, gaming, and comedy. Verizon will donate up to $5 million to support small businesses and encourage viewers to champion their favorite stores, as well.
Verizon employees have also raised their hands to support the communities hit hardest by COVID-19, so we curated opportunities for V Teamers to virtually volunteer. These opportunities include providing tech training to older adults so they can connect with loved ones, becoming a homework buddy to students in low-resourced schools, and offering a lifeline to people feeling isolated and depressed.
Beyond helping our own, there’s a critical need for collective action. Every business, community, and individual has to look beyond their respective needs and pay it forward. It doesn’t matter the scale or the type of contribution. Small united efforts can add up to big wins that change the tides.
There’s a line in Verizon’s Credo, “We run towards a crisis, not away.” The talent we have within our walls, across our jobs, and throughout the world is best-in-class but we also attract people who have an outstanding sense of service.
We don’t step back when the world needs help; we lean in and march forward. We know communities are relying on us to stay connected, and we will deliver because we are Verizon. It’s what we do.