While some organizations hunkered down, reduced costs and laid low in response to the coronavirus outbreak, other organizations had no choice but to ramp up hiring and expedite onboarding efforts to meet consumer and market demands amid a global pandemic. Grocery stores, pharmacies and big box retailers — among other industries — were forced to rapidly bring on numerous new employees, many of whom were in search of temporary work as furloughs and layoffs infiltrated departments and organizations.

This rapid hiring required a new approach to onboarding — an approach with employee care and speed to proficiency front of mind. Let’s examine how organizations are protecting employees while quickly enabling them to perform effectively on the job and mitigating perfectionism’s barrier to onboarding amid uncertainty.


Protecting new and existing employees is paramount at this time. Undoubtedly, organizations’ top priority must be the health and safety of all essential workers, the customers they come in contact with and their families. Many companies responded by providing workers personal protective equipment (PPE), extending sick leave, and offering both physical and mental health support.

Accessibility to PPE is critical to employees’ and customers’ health. To that end, Instacart, a grocery delivery service, offered health and safety kits to their shoppers free of charge. These kits include a washable and reusable face mask, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer. Walmart is requiring associates to pass a health screening and, if they do not have one, receive a mask before stepping onto the floor.

Another way employers help workers protect and care for themselves is by protecting workers’ income. Extending paid sick leave, encouraging employees to stay home if they’re feeling unwell and keeping that leave time from affecting their pay means that employees experiencing symptoms won’t risk coming in due to the pressure to make ends meet. Hourly employees often don’t have access to the same benefits as salaried employees. At CVS, addressing this problem meant extending resources and “[making] sure employees didn’t have to take PTO [paid time off],” says Eileen Cooke, head of enterprise learning and development (L&D) at CVS Health.

Protecting employees’ physical health is important, but don’t forget to account for their mental health as well. Through Walmart’s “Resources for Living” program, Walmart associates receive telehealth support and mental health treatment, regardless of whether they were previously eligible or enrolled in Walmart’s medical benefits. Caring for your people should be a top priority and built into the foundation of your company’s culture.


Hiring frontline employees in a pandemic presents a wide array of challenges, one of the most pressing of which is accelerating speed to proficiency, so new employees can effectively perform on the job as soon as they’re on the floor. Training must be relevant, and learners must be able to apply it on the job, points out Cooke. “COVID kind of forced us” to ensure both.

CVS partnered with the hospitality industry to bring on furloughed employees in need of temporary work. This strategy required L&D teams and hiring managers to identify the information that would be critical to employees’ work during their potentially short time with CVS. “You don’t want to treat anyone as temporary,” says Cooke, “so we had to decide: What do [new employees] have to know now? And, if they chose to stay, then we could add to things later.”

Prior to the pandemic, all new hire orientations at CVS took place in a classroom. Cooke says that the organization took onboarding “100% virtual” in response to coronavirus, and “for [her] training team, who were used to shaking hands and welcoming people, that was a hard transition.” CVS also modularized all new employee training, adding new cleaning and social distancing procedures as well as prioritizing the information that was most pertinent to new employees’ immediate responsibilities.


Often, L&D professionals have an inclination toward perfectionism. L&D is responsible for relaying information to ensure employees perform their jobs successfully, so learning leaders and their teams spend countless hours developing, vetting and researching to guarantee their programs deliver accurate information in the most effective way possible. But often, it can mean letting perfect be the enemy of good.

Quick and uncertain transitions present new opportunities for innovation. Now that all new hire training at CVS is virtual, there are no physical barriers to orientation processes. “We’ve now untethered,” says Cooke, “so that means I can provide the best possible experience for any new hire” by connecting him or her with geographically dispersed trainers, experts and employees. She adds that the coronavirus pandemic “didn’t tell us we should do things differently. We knew that, but in a business often it’s slow, like, ‘Let’s try it … get feedback… [then] change it.’” Coronavirus has required organizations to get up and go.

Perfectionism hinders adaptability, innovation and flexibility — all key qualities for an organization to be agile and thrive amid uncertainty. Whether onboarding frontline employees or a remote team member, there are important lessons we can learn from retailers’ responses to hiring in a pandemic that we should call upon long after coronavirus becomes a distant memory.