With skyrocketing unemployment growth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers today face serious decisions on how to keep people paid and/or employed. On the flip side, depending on the market sector, some employers need new workers in the fold to meet pandemic-driven demand for products and services.

One innovative solution, an employee-sharing strategy, is taking off to meet that challenge. Simply defined, one employer “shares” workers who would otherwise lose their jobs with another employer that desperately needs workers to meet business demand.

For instance, one recent effort, People + Work Connect, involves a group of employers from multiple industries bringing together companies laying off or furloughing people with those companies in urgent need of workers. Best of all, it’s free. CHROs from Accenture (which built the platform), Lincoln Financial Group, ServiceNow and Verizon created and launched the idea, which has more than 100 employers signed up already.

London-based Kate Bravery, a partner and advisory solutions and insight leader at Mercer, notes that the firm has developed what it’s calling its Temporary Talent Sharing program, driven primarily by client needs on both sides of the loaning/receiving equation that are reaching out to Mercer for help. Clients are asking to contribute staff as part of their CSR outreach, while others are seeking to offset their employee expense line or even provide pay for furloughed workers.

“We’re helping clients think through the main considerations to make this happen fast, factors like what are the benefits for each party involved? How will pay and benefits work during this period?” she says. Also, “Do employees earn pay aligned to their current role or in line with the new work assignment? How do they manage the return?”

The key to getting it right, she explains, is helping participating employers stay connected with employees who leave for new assignments as part of a sharing agreement, and making the process easy to execute.

“I spoke with a CHRO and they told me one of their biggest challenges was staying connected with staff taking up this program—not easy to do when off-site and not digitally connected,” she says. “To date, our work has been in response to individual clients who can see ways to mitigate risks, including the need for people to be occupied. We believe this can help employees, business and the community—both now and in the future.”

Mercer, Bravery says, “listened and learned” from companies engaging in this practice and developed a complete package that offers communications, change management and even support in practical areas, such as how to manage time sheets, pay people and, if needed, vetting and automated feedback.

“There is a lot going on for our clients and we are trying to be as agile as possible in meeting their needs,” says Bravery, noting that Mercer got its initiative off the ground within two weeks. “Speed matters if we are to impact peoples’ jobs and livelihoods, and developing partnerships everywhere helps with this acceleration. After all, companies that might compete in the past are now partnering.”

In fact, she noted that Mercer is partnering with Accenture and counseling clients about checking into the People + Work Connect site, primarily to consider which companies might be a viable partner in their location.

Ravin Jesuthasan, managing director at Willis Towers Watson, is another supporter of this developing trend.

“One of the most heartening examples of innovation during the crisis has been the B2B talent exchanges being implemented between companies seeing a significant decline in demand with those seeing a significant increase in demand,” he says.

According to Jesuthasan, Willis Towers Watson has been helping organizations think through how they operationalize these exchanges to significantly reduce the frictional and reputational costs associated with letting people go, while supporting workers in developing new skills.

For example, he explains that in Germany, McDonald’s and grocery chains Aldi Sud and Aldi Nord entered into a similar talent-exchange agreement. In the U.S., supermarket giant Kroger is temporarily borrowing furloughed employees for 30 days from Sysco Corp., a wholesale food distributor to restaurants that has been hit hard by the coronavirus.

Jesuthasan says some of the specific issues Willis Towers Watson is helping organizations address include:

  • How do we handle the benefit implications of such exchanges, particularly if they involve unionized work groups?
  • How do we accurately match the skills of talent to the work being demanded so we don’t have a lag in productivity when the borrowed talent is in place?
  • How do we protect against poaching of talent or addressing mismatches in the timeframes for each organization?

“Taking a view of work that extends beyond the organizational boundary will be critical to increasing the overall resilience of the economy to shocks like COVID-19 in the future,” Jesuthasan says.

“During these unprecedented times, we are pleased to partner with Kroger, as both of our companies work to respond in an agile manner to meet the rapidly evolving needs of our associates and our communities,” said Kevin Hourican, president and chief executive officer of Sysco, in a company statement.

While Sysco has not issued any recent updates on the program, Shannon Mutschler, senior director of external communications, says that Sysco has expanded the effort by working with C&S Wholesale Grocers and several other retailers under similar agreements.

“The program has been successful and we are pleased to be able to offer these work opportunities to support our associates,” Mutschler says.

Apart from loaning employees to other companies, some employers are moving talent within the organization with the same objective: Keep people working by putting them where they are needed.

For example, to meet the increasing demand for groceries during the coronavirus outbreak, during the past month General Mills has been allowing healthy office employees to work in its factories on a temporary basis.

“Our company’s purpose is to make food the world loves. But the unique circumstances of today call on General Mills to make food the world needs,” said Jeff Harmening, chairman and CEO of General Mills, in a company statement. “Our most important objectives are the continued health and safety of our employees and our ongoing ability to serve our consumers around the world. We see it as imperative that we help ensure a steady and reliable food supply for people and pets.”

In a similar scenario, Paradox, which offers an artificial intelligence-based recruiting platform, has helped clients shift talent internally to different business units that are hiring to avoid furloughs and mass layoffs. While they were not at liberty to name the client directly, a “good portion” of the industries that specific client serves are currently closed down (shuttered schools and sporting arenas), forcing it to act fast to repurpose its workforce for the other service areas/business units where hiring is ramping up (healthcare, corrections, custodial), according to Josh Zywien, Paradox’s chief marketing officer.

Zywien says the client used Paradox to create an outbound campaign through the latter’s AI Assistant to reach out to displaced workers and see what other areas they’d be interested in. The automated, conversational AI experience was seamless for employees, but it also saved the company’s recruiting and HR team hours of manual work.

“In one case, the client was able to identify and engage employees who are looking for full-time work with an opportunity at a hospital in the Dallas area,” he says. “The effort allows the client to quickly fill open positions and get their furloughed employees back to work faster.”

“We like to think this is an experience we won’t go through again, but companies are beginning to proactively build these types of relationships for now, but also for the longer term,” says Mercer’s Bravery. “It’s a smart way to go. Temporary talent sharing, for progressive employers, is becoming part of their arsenal of how to respond to changing economic realities that won’t bounce back to as it was before.”

Bravery adds that, when you talk to companies already doing talent sharing, there are some interesting observations. First, most feel that sharing enhances their employee-value proposition, so they are not concerned about losing the right talent. They also believe that this can build their workforce’s adaptability. That said, they note that, if the employee feels they have a better opportunity with the receiving company, they are also OK with them taking up a new challenge. “What’s key is managing the messaging and change process to ensure this builds future value,” she notes.

“Companies are saying if we get this right, it can benefit us all in so many productive ways—ways we’ve only just started to discover,” she concludes.

This article originally appeared at https://hrexecutive.com/innovative-approaches-to-talent-management/