How Aflac invested in its employees to get them through COVID-19

The insurer’s Catherine Hernandez-Blades talks about keeping culture strong at PRDecoded.

Aflac's Catherine Hernandez-Blades and special guest the Aflac Duck
Aflac's Catherine Hernandez-Blades and special guest the Aflac Duck

When the pandemic hit, Aflac had a unique challenge because of the location of its headquarters.

Just like other companies, Aflac wanted to get its staffers working remotely as quickly as possible for their health, safety and security. The company’s communications team went into a virtual war room to determine the best way to support stakeholders, given how the pandemic affects people on a physical, mental and financial basis, said Catherine Hernandez-Blades, Aflac’s environmental, social and governance and communications leader, at PRDecoded on Thursday. 

“We had to look at every stakeholder audience and determine how you will help them get through the pandemic in each of these areas,” she said.

Yet because Aflac is based in rural Columbus, Georgia, the company had to identify its internet service providers as a target audience because the city didn’t have the infrastructure to support all of the remote work.

“We had to negotiate with them to help them boost their infrastructure and be able to have the bandwidth to accommodate all of this remote activity,” said Hernandez-Blades. “We sent 98% of our workforce home within the first two weeks of the pandemic with tech bundles and stipends for internet services.”

One particular challenge was taking Aflac’s call centers remote. Due to the significant financial investment in enabling each employee to work remotely, Hernandez-Blades said it doesn’t make sense to bring everyone back to the office once the pandemic ends.

“It’s not going to go back to how it was,” she said.

In response, Aflac has leveraged communications technology to maintain its work culture and keep employees engaged and productive in a virtual environment. 

“Our U.S. president, Teresa White, told Bloomberg that you can’t build culture in a crisis; she is right,” said Hernandez-Blades. “So when you look at all the tools in your arsenal that you can use and leverage, being able to pull that lever of a strong culture not just in times of crisis but times of great transformation and great reinvention, I think it will have an incredible impact and only grow.” 

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