Market Response to COVID-19: Technology and Communications Industry

Blog 26 Mar 2020 . Brianna Kerr
Laurent Benkemoun
Global Head Technology & Communication

In the days following the World Health Organisation’s classification of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, organisations around the world have acted promptly to put safety measures in place for their workforces. Businesses are making sweeping decisions in an unprecedented situation and are looking to Pontoon to help benchmark their decisions against other companies. 

We are also hearing from stakeholders that they’re equally focused on recovery. In the mid-term, we expect to see a lot of antiquated processes quickly convert to digital. Companies are rapidly addressing questions like how to hire, onboard, and retain a virtual workforce? Or how to remain agile and enact new labour regulations?

It is predicted that once we get through this pandemic as a global community, the way in which we work, live, and learn will be drastically different. We’re seeing companies realising a long-term shift to remote work is both viable and necessary, and we expect to see a continuation of many remote work policies. We’re hearing from our clients that while travel policies will start to shift away from the severe restrictions in place today, they likely won’t swing back to pre-COVID-19 levels. In addition, we’re hearing onsite visitation will see significant changes post-COVID, with large meetings and non-essential face to face events moving to mandatory virtual settings at an unprecedented pace. 

The following benchmark analysis represents global technology and communications corporations from Pontoon’s segment portfolio as well as leading market competitors. Resulting from conversations with our client & prospect stakeholders, we have examined key areas that have been immediately addressed for the contractor workforce like remote work policies, paid leave or crisis compensation, and changes in office policies.

Benchmark Analyses Results (March 23, 2020):

Remote Work Policy

100% of the Technology companies reviewed have moved to a predominantly work from home policy except for critical business functions that must be performed onsite due to security and access requirements. While their remote policies may differ, companies are unanimously responding with a move to remote wherever possible:

  • All companies we’ve reviewed or spoken to have moved 100% of non-essential onsite workers to remote
  • Equally all companies have changed their office policies for required onsite workers to ensure social distancing and reduce human to human exposure.
  • One global leader in financial technology has taken the bold step of moving to 100% virtual workforce.

Social Distancing for Onsite Workers

To prevent the spread, we’re seeing creative strategies to practice social distancing on campuses where workers are still required to report. 

Organisations have responded quickly with augmented onsite shifts, reprioritised workflows, and changes to access policies to limit exposure while on campus.

Some of these updated policies have included:

  • Reducing seating capacity within offices and in cafeterias and common areas so workers are always more than 6 feet apart
  • Creating new shift patterns to minimize human interactions and overlap
  • Cancelling or postponing all in-person meetings and events indefinitely
  • Closing retail locations or limiting hours and/or number of customers allowed in the store
  • Limiting elevator riders to 4 people per car
  • Carpooling programs suspended
  • Broad travel restrictions, detailed further below
  • Establishing a visitor history centre for those business-critical visitors to be screened and approved for entry to company buildings

Travel

With governments now starting to regulate travel for their citizens, organizations have been ahead of the curve in many cases – either fully suspending or implementing severe restrictions for their workforce before these government-mandated regulations were set. Many onsite meetings and events within this sector were immediately cancelled or moved to virtual and all quickly implemented a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all employees, vendors, or temp workers following any international travel.

Crisis Compensation

We see a wider range of strategies as it relates to compensation for impacted employees. While over 90% are implementing new compensation strategies, the level of coverage varies drastically based on worker type and duration of support.

Some examples include:

  • 14-days covered pay for hourly staff, to be reviewed again by end of March
  • Uncapped fully covered compensation for all employees, for the duration of this crisis
  • No additional payment for hours not worked
  • Immediate cash bonus to all employees to provide immediate relief
  • Recording top performance ratings so there is no negative impact on compensation plans

Sick Time & Paid Leave

At a minimum, every company reviewed has expanded their policies to allow employees, contract workers, and vendor partners to self-quarantine if feeling symptomatic. Many will review again by the end of March to re-evaluate their policies. 

  • Most are offering up to 14 days paid leave to allow for the recommended quarantine period. These are billable hours, paid to contractors in addition to their employer of record’s leave benefits.
  • One global technology and information company is offering uncapped paid time off for those suffering or needing time to care for an affected family member until further notice. This applies to their entire workforce, including services procurement and contractors.

Screening, Prevention & Reporting

All companies have implemented CDC and WHO recommendations for self-screening (fever, cough), hygiene (“Do the Five”), and reporting of impacted or affected employees.

Technology and Communications Support

As expected, technology and telecommunication organisations are leading the charge with information and support during these uncertain times. 

Some examples have included:

  • Offering free access globally to video and conferencing tools like MS Teams, Quip Starter and Workplace
  • Establishment of dedicated 24/7 support and crisis management teams
  • Collaborating with the federal and local governments, branches like the CDC in the US, and the World Health Organization with support with data & best practices as well as partnering with US government to develop and maintain a dedicated COVID-19 website

Additional insights

The Technology and Communications industries are vital right now as the world moves work and education to virtual spaces. For those with an ongoing demand, the main obstacle is how to perform key onboarding functions virtually. Companies are finding gaps in their onboarding process, like how to provision and ship hardware with limited onsite staff or how to convert large new hire training classes from in-person to a virtual classroom. Another common onboarding challenge is drug testing. How can companies quickly complete drug screen requirements when labs are backlogged with prioritised COVID-19 tests? Furthermore, local labour laws are rapidly changing to respond and support their citizens affected. These gaps and concerns represent the next wave of challenges to address and we anticipate a lot of updates in this space in the coming weeks.

With corporations quickly adapting as best they can, we are also seeing incredible corporate generosity. Nearly all the major technology providers, like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and more have established benefit funds to aid impacted workers, healthcare providers, and vulnerable populations. Additionally, many are offering their technology and communication platforms for free to those affected by the pandemic. As the world implements social distancing, these companies provide us with the ability to stay connected while remaining in isolation.

This is an unprecedented global crisis, and the situation is fluid and changing rapidly. This analysis represents decisions made by technology and communications organizations immediately following the global pandemic classification. In the coming weeks and months, Pontoon will continue to monitor and update our benchmarking to provide current and accurate results for our clients and partners.

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