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Good Vibes From Rome

It's time to take a step back and breathe for a few minutes. Today's podcast is straight out of Rome and was that surprise breath of fresh air everybody really needs. So, turn off the world, enjoy these Good Vibes From Rome and breathe.

Italy passed China in coronavirus fatalities this month, and has become a focal point for the severity of the disease as well as a warning for the rest of the world. Emily Alvarez, Global HR Leader with Symphony Talent joins The Chad & Cheese Podcast from Rome to discuss the pandemic and its affect on her company.

Her outlook is something we should all digest and take to heart.

Continued social distancing thanks to partners and sponsors Canvas, JobAdX, and Sovren.


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Chad: This crisis could perspectively bring you and your team closer together.

Emily: If you're able to build stronger relationships, then you're just going to work better together and it can only be better.

Intro: Hide your kids, lock the doors, you're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls, it's time for The Chad and Cheese Podcast.

Joel: All right. All right. All right everybody. A little bit of a somber opening compared to what we're going to be talking about today. But you are listening to The Chad and Cheese Podcast. I'm your co-host, Joel Cheesman.

Chad: And I'm Chad Sowash.

Joel: And today we are happy to welcome Emily Alvarez, global HR leader with Symphony Talent. Emily, welcome to the show. Emily is reporting live from Rome and we thought it would be a good opportunity to have someone from Italy talk about the coronavirus, the impact not only on the community, but also the workplace, predictions for the future and maybe some warnings. Emily, welcome to the show, I wish it were under different circumstances.

Emily: Thank you guys. Yes, I'd love to be able to share what we're going through very specifically here in Italy, as it relates to the coronavirus. And really share this as a learning for global community, specifically within Symphony Talent. We have employees throughout the US, UK, and India. This is actually a very unique situation since it's impacting us all globally. Specifically, in Italy, I could offer some insight as to what's happened here. So very quickly, the North of Italy, so the Milan area, which is your financial business epicenter if you will for Italy. The biggest vein from a finance standpoint. An area of so many employees and global companies just was impacted by big soar of the coronavirus. And they imposed some lockdowns if you will, within the communities there just to try to minimize the spread of the virus. They've taken some very strong responses there.

Emily: What's unique to Italy is that most employees, most gatherings is very socially based, all in offices. But they've actually gone into extremely new territory and started to encourage everyone to work from home. They actually call it smart working, which is extremely creative, and I think more positive message than working from home or virtual. I think smart working has a nicer tone to it. I celebrate the Italians for coming up with that terminology. But they've had to take some really extreme measures. Hospitals are extremely overwhelmed. And it's impacting so many people, so many citizens that they've decided to do a full lockdown, which started two weekends past in the Milan area. Very quickly the government chose on just last week to impose this lockdown countrywide.

Chad: From the US, I mean, we've been told that we're a couple of weeks behind Italy and I mean, we're pretty much sitting on our hands much like we saw Italy do. I mean, you guys were hit much faster than we were. But what were the learnings? Should we be testing and getting into lockdown right now? Because if we don't, we're going to be in a much dire situation in a couple of weeks. What would you say, and again, not that you're a medical professional or anything like that, but just from the learnings of you being in Italy, should we be locking down now so that it's not as dire in two weeks?

Emily: Yes. In reality, we're all taking a very strong commitment or sacrifice, if you will, by making those choices. By staying home, you are giving a gift to others by not spreading this virus any further, and really supporting our medical professionals that are just in it day and night trying to manage this influx of patients just requiring so much assistance. If you're thinking about going to a movie theater or a mall or a restaurant, which is unfortunate for these industries, it's just not the best idea, so in any public spaces. I know the US started slowly, and okay, don't have any gatherings of X number of people and now they're trimming it down. In reality, you shouldn't be attending any gatherings. You really should just be hanging tight. But staying healthy doesn't mean you should be sitting on the couch watching the news because that's not healthy.

Chad: No.

Emily: That's actually going to be, that's going to create a negative, definitely be informed. It's just learning we've done here, so we're minimizing TV watching. We're getting, we've identified what resources we need to pull from online so that we can get the information we need, but really just avoiding any areas with any crowds at this point.

Joel: You mentioned watching TV or in this case, maybe not watching TV. But the timing of this conversation is pretty unique in that, across the news ticker yesterday was the fact that Italy actually surpassed China in terms of cases and I believe deaths as well. Is that something you're conscientious of and everyone else is? How did morale react to that? And you mentioned the overrun hospitals. I want you to sort of paint a picture for what that looks like because I don't think we have a perception of that in the US.

Emily: Right. The hospital systems are different in Italy than they are in the US for example. It is socialized medicine, mostly public facilities that are actually struggling with supplies. So basic supplies like masks and gloves and respirators. I mean, this morning I just read, which is a beautiful story. Ferrari stopped manufacturing their vehicles so they could begin manufacturing respirators. It's a very serious situation. I am tracking the numbers on the World Health Organization site. They do have a dashboard with the number of cases in Europe. And as of this morning, my morning in Rome, it was over 41,000 cases that have been confirmed in Italy.

Joel: Can you paint a picture for what that means? Is it lines outside the hospital? Is it people that just give up and stay home and deal with it? Exactly what does not enough resources or medical professionals look like?

Emily: It's unfortunate, so I don't have direct access to that, which is a good thing. My family is safe and we are following the government's instruction to stay home. But what I have been seeing through social media and other news channels is that medical professionals are making decisions on who is most likely to actually have a chance to survive and therefore are rationing ventilators for those cases. It's a very severe decision that the medical community is being put.

Joel: And what's morale like in Italy right now? Is there sort of a bonding together or is there a helplessness?

Emily: Yes, it's mixed. Italy, I am definitely an adopted Italian, so I grew up in the New York city, New Jersey area. I've been here for a few years now, so definitely adopted. But what's beautiful is that, yes, it is somber, but Italians by nature are extremely social individuals. Even business transactions are done over an espresso or a handshake. This is very disheartening for our communities, the sense of a Sunday family dinner. We're unable to celebrate weddings, baptisms now, so just really strong effects on our community. But on the flip side, I've just seen such beautiful displays of comradery.

Emily: In Italy, children across the country have created signs of rainbows that they're hanging from their terraces with the hashtag, which is called [foreign language 00:09:28.18], which means everything will be okay. There is a mix of coming together and true community spirit. I'm not sure if you've seen, on the media there's families gathering on their terraces and singing.

Joel: And singing.

Emily: Yes, and singing.

Joel: That's beautiful.

Emily: Yes. Or DJs, or exercise, and really just a sense of trying to bring everyone's spirit together, which is so beautiful. My son's in a judo class and they actually created a WhatsApp group, the teachers. And they included all the students and parents and they're exchanging videos with the children to, in a spirit of connecting everyone together during this time, while we're not in schools, all activities have been closed. So really just celebrating creative ways to connect with everyone.

Joel: It's commercial time.

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Chad: It's showtime. I think the key word there is spirit and not breaking the human spirit. As you see, a very social community, a very social country like Italy. And again, it makes you happy, but it also makes you sad at the same time as you see this wonderful chorus of neighbors out on their balconies singing together because they're enjoying each other, they're just not doing it in the manner in which they're used to. That being said, there in Italy, you work for Symphony Talent, which is a very global organization. How are you guys actually working this and managing this? I would assume, and correct me if I'm wrong, that you work smart from home already, right?

Emily: Yes.

Chad: How is this changing how you work and then also the team abroad?

Emily: We have a mix of subcultures within Symphony Talent. In the US, over 50% of our employees already work remotely. They're pretty much okay with these changes. Having said that, lots of schools are starting to close now in the US so their normal is changing. They were used to working from home, but now they're managing their children. We're also starting to work, doing their school work from home as well, so that's an impact. Other offices like our New York city hub, our headquarters was primarily used to being in the office, so that's a big change. UK, our London office, our London team was completely on site. But they've rallied together and have started to do virtual walks, connecting with the team. Zoom, who we use for our video chats has been a trusted friend throughout all this.

Joel: Can you describe virtual walk for me? What is that?

Emily: Sure. Yes, absolutely.

Chad: Walk with your phone.

Joel: I guess.

Emily: Yes. Zoom fortunately does have a mobile app. So you could actually take a walk, turn on your video or an audio of course if your bandwidth allows, and everyone's able to chime in. If you envision The Brady Bunch, the tiles of everyone coming on, that's what we're seeing a lot of. And Brady Bunch is only specific to the US so I actually had to share an image of the 70s show with our team in the UK and Bangalore because that's actually very US specific.

Chad: And they should have time to binge Brady Bunch by the way now too.

Emily: Yeah. Why not? Yeah. We all can learn from our cultures and we do that a lot at Symphony Talent. And that's what living in Rome has taught me, to be so sensitive to a US perspective or UK or even India. By visiting our teams there, understanding them. Our team in Bangalore are extremely hospitable, always in the office, so it's a big impact for them. But they've started to do tea service. Our Belfast team is doing tea at 3:00. Some of our teams in the US are starting to do virtual cocktail or happy hours. New York is hosting a karaoke and a happy hour next Thursday and I'm planning to join from Rome. And that's the beauty of Zoom and video chats. We're definitely coming together.

Chad: Yeah. It sounds like this is actually an opportunity for companies that are out there, that maybe they worked virtual or remotely smart before, maybe they didn't, but it sounds like this is an opportunity to actually come together, start to use technology, start to get into each other's lives a little bit more, and make this more of a relationship instead of just a employer to employee type of relationship, it's more than that. And this crisis could perspectively bring you and your team closer together. Do you think that most companies are using this time to do that?

Emily: I hope so. I mean, it's really the best thing to do. If our employees are able to rally together, if we focus on the humanity and the empathy that is the silver lining of this virus, I think it's only can make our team stronger and perhaps changing the perspective, primarily I would say in the US. It's okay to schedule a coffee chat with a peer. Not everything has to be a project or checking off the boxes. And if you're able to build stronger relationships, then you're just going to work better together and it can only be better.

Chad: I was talking to a friend yesterday who's in the UK and he's working from home, and many of his team just didn't do that and it was starting to give them that moment to gel. Not to mention he has kids running around in the back. It's like our whole thought process of what quote unquote formal business is, is really thrown out the window and we can become more human while we're doing business as opposed to having to get the suit jacket on, or get the kids out of the room or have the dogs outside or something like that.

Emily: Right. Accept the new normal.

Chad: Yeah. Is that the new normal?

Emily: It is. It's our reality. And I think the sooner we accept it, the sooner we can make our teams comfortable and be ready to share. Why would we want to identify someone situation in a negative way. We already are having so much stress that we're dealing with, changes in the way we're working, the way we're living, access to supplies. There's obviously been changes in the US, UK as well, just getting to the supermarket and seeing shelves empty. These are basic components that is very difficult for us to accept. And if we're able to at least empathize with that new normal, then we'll be able to get through this.

Joel: It's commercial time.

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Chad: It's showtime.

Joel: Has this at home for you at all, anyone at work been affected by this or maybe in your own family at this point?

Emily: No. We're extremely, extremely fortunate that no one in my family has been affected. Our team is healthy and sound. We all are dealing with our personal challenges I think with balancing a new routine, a new normal, but fortunately everyone is healthy.

Joel: I want to shift it a little bit to work. Obviously layoffs are going to happen, companies are going to be hurt by this. And we certainly, we all make our living to some degree on companies hiring and the vibrancy of the economy. Have there been conversations at Symphony about how are we going to react to this new reality and our business, is it just like, let's survive this thing and then we'll figure that out. How is Symphony sort of dealing with a new reality?

Emily: Right. The key is actually knowing, and I'll repurpose our CEO's quote, Roopesh Nair. He mentioned, "The work we do is nothing without our health and each other." That is the number one priority and that is what we're focusing on right now. Having said that, that is the priority and we're really focusing on that first. Because how are we going to put ourselves in our client's shoes if we're not feeling good, if we're not healthy. We're doing it in layers if you will, or steps. It's a new journey that we're uncovering. That is our building block.

Emily: Two is actually then anticipating the new needs of our clients. So yes, the leadership team has been talking extensively about that. Obviously some of our clients are impacted directly by the virus. Anyone in healthcare, healthcare is going to see a surge. Others, or some of our food product industries are seeing a surge. They need to hire a whole bunch of truck drivers for example, to get the supply in. Amazon just recently advertised the amount of additional seasonal workers that they'll need to hire to maintain the demand.

Emily: On the flip side, if you're in tourism or you're in the airlines industry, you're seeing a new normal as well. I think we have to rechannel what our clients are looking to achieve given their personal circumstances. But the key focuses will be on their brands. While hiring may fluctuate, whether it's one stream or the other, their brand and how they respond to this is an impactful opportunity for them and they shouldn't lose that momentum.

Joel: I know that DoorDash alone will have to hire some more drivers just for the fact that Chipotle comes to my house two or three times a day. Last one for me. I just want you to just sort of look into the future a year from now, being almost ground zero in Italy. What does the world look like a year from now?

Emily: From my standpoint, and if you look at it from the EU perspective, I think this is actually going to make our economies stronger. Right now there's probably going to be steps taken back. But with all this smart learning and this flexibility that I'm seeing within employers in Italy, I think it's going to be extremely liberating and we'll create a new era of smart working. And I think that that's going to allow so many more industries and businesses in Italy to grow.

Chad: That's what I'm talking about.

Joel: What a great way to start my weekend.

Chad: That's what I'm talking about Emily. Wrapping up on a positive note, I love it. Everybody, this is Emily Alvarez, she's over at Symphony Talent. Emily, if people want to connect with you, where should they go?

Emily: I'm on LinkedIn. That's probably the fastest way to reach me. Definitely on throughout various time zones during my day to be able to support all our global teams and happy to connect with others.

Chad: Excellent. Thank you so much.

Joel: Thanks Emily.

Emily: Thank you guys. Take care.

Joel: We out.

Chad: We out.

Announcer: Thank you for listening to, what's it called? Podcast. With Chad, and Cheese. Brilliant. They talk about recruiting, they talk about technology, but most of all, they talk about nothing. Just a lot of shoutouts of people you don't even know. And yet you're listening, it's incredible. And not one word about cheese, not one. Cheddar, blue, nacho, Pepper Jack, Swiss. There's so many cheeses and not one word. It's so weird. Anywho, be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. That way you won't miss an episode. And while you're at it, visit Just don't expect to find any recipes for grilled cheese. It's so weird. We out

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