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Your business and COVID-19: Part 1 – People

Justin Rix Justin Rix

Over the last two weeks, conversations with our clients have shown that their biggest concern during the COVID-19 outbreak is how to manage their workforce, both in terms of affordability and keeping them healthy, motivated and engaged. Justin Rix gives you practical tips for moving beyond the outbreak.

Every organisation will have a different experience during the pandemic. Some will barely be affected, while others will struggle. To get your people through the situation, you need to take a holistic view of your operations to determine your areas of focus and the essential actions you need to take.

We're recommending a three-stage process to determine your strategy and protect your team:

  • assess the impact, your options and the implications of those choices
  • protect your business from the impact and support the wellbeing of your people
  • restore your business as quickly as possible

Assess

Identify the impact of COVID-19

The first step in preparing your people to move beyond the pandemic is to conduct an impact assessment. Your main concern will be the financial affordability of maintaining your workforce, but you should also look at the impact on work volumes across the business and any capacity and capability gaps or surpluses that exist.

For example, some of our clients are finding their HR functions have capacity challenges in dealing with the increased administration of managing the impacts of COVID-19 on their people. That may be through furloughing some of their workforce, making workers redundant or advising employees on how policies apply to their specific situations. Consider whether others around the business with a reduced workload can offer support with some of this rules-based processing to free up capacity for the HR function. This then frees them up to focus on crucial activity, such as succession planning.

Consider your options

Once you've analysed your cash flow and your current workforce, you need to consider what you can do in the short term and where that will leave you in the long term. Most of our clients are experiencing a dramatic reduction in revenue. Use your assessment of the affordability of your workforce, capacity and capability requirements to see what you can do to be sustainable. Some parts of your business will be busy, while others are under-utilised, so look into transferring or seconding staff, focusing on your online business.

Establish a baseline, then consider your broader options, for example:

  • furlough
  • a voluntary reduction in hours
  • sabbaticals
  • secondments into other areas of the business or other businesses in your supply chain
  • phased annual leave
  • voluntary redundancy

Don't forget the long-term implications

Of course, you need to look at the short-term financial implications of your decisions, but what about the long-term reputational impact on your organisational and employer brand?

A reduction in outgoings could lead to a substantial profit showing in your annual financial report. Will the current and future talent market see you as a supportive employer given the coverage of your decisions? How will your customer base respond?

Putting employees on furlough during COVID-19

Where businesses choose to put employees on furlough, the government is offering to pay 80% of employee wages, up to £2,500 per month each, but that doesn't prevent them from working elsewhere. As well as the challenges in administering furlough, many of our clients are concerned that their staff may not return to their former roles once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Have you retained the agility, people and skills you need to scale your operations back up quickly?

Read next: Your questions about the job retention scheme answered >>

Protect

Maintain your engagement with your team

We're all feeling uncertain right now. Therefore, how you engage with your employees around your decisions, their roles and business priorities is as important as those elements themselves.

Keeping the tone of your communications in-line with your culture, values and employee value proposition will give a sense of authenticity and build a feeling of safety and trust. For example, a formal letter sent on managing annual leave and the process around the same will create mistrust in an organisation with a normally relaxed and informal culture.

You don't have to wait until you have all the answers before speaking to your people. They will be looking for guidance from you, but you can be open about where you're still developing your strategy. Offer them timescales as to when you'll provide more details.

Many of your employees may not be used to working from home and all of them are likely to have some concerns about the security of their position. Adapting your style to increase the intimacy of communications that replace face-to-face conversations will go a long way to offer them clarity and reassurance, as well as keeping them engaged in their work.

Talent and skills to help during COVID-19

Many of our clients are concerned with how they can keep their staff engaged without being face-to-face. Until now, certain types of business may not have had much experience in communicating with their teams remotely.

You may need to do a quick roll-out of new technology or upskill your people in the use of new software. Look at the skills of your team and see if you can empower employees who are more used to technology to champion the new normal for those who need help. It's important that leaders embrace the new technology and use it effectively for communicating with their workforce remotely.

The opportunity to develop new skills is even more important for staff on furlough. Offer them training and regular updates to keep them engaged. This situation will require fundamental, long-term changes to your business. Be sure they have caught up on the changes, skills they can acquire to support strategic objectives and add value to the business before they return to their roles.

Your furloughed workforce is entitled to work for other employers during this time. Therefore, supporting them is critical to retaining your top talent.

Relocating staff across international borders will be more common, whether as part of business continuity strategies or for personal reasons. This presents a range of people, logistical and tax issues to address. Employees currently on international secondments may wish to return to their home countries or need additional support.

Offer great leadership

To get your business through this, your people will need inspiring leadership, so be sure you have adequate succession planning in place. Does everyone in your leadership team have someone ready to step in should they become ill or take on caring responsibilities?

Good leadership will do a great deal to protect your brand during this tense time. Listen to your staff, take feedback on your decisions and be honest about where you don't have all the answers yet.

Restore

Maintain your agility

Many of us haven’t had the time to look at what the new normal may look like yet. We're still in a time of crisis and we must look at the immediate consequences for now. However, you still need to be thinking about the long-term consequences of your short-term decisions.

The best way to restore your business quickly is to ensure that your decisions today don’t limit your options and agility going forwards. Listening and continually reviewing plans and their unexpected impacts will help to ensure your solutions are as impactful as possible.

Choosing a direction

Many businesses will not return to the same strategic focuses, business models or ways of working after this crisis, as the necessary adaptations to the above will have demonstrated previously unexplored opportunities. In order to quickly and effectively re-engage your people in getting back on track against your new targets and plans, be sure to offer clarity in the direction of your business, and how you will move forwards.

Filtering your strategy down into the specific implications for each team and individual in your organisation will be crucial, as your team will be more aware than usual of the link between your business' success and their job security. Don’t forget to get them involved and show they can make a difference individually and as a team.

Review and learn

Starting now, it's vital that you look back at what you've been through and take your learnings forward. This isn't a good situation for our people or our leaders, but we can make the best of it. The key is to ensure you can use the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to make your business more resilient in the future.

Demonstrating continuous improvement going forwards will show your people that you intend to learn and grow in a post-COVID world, which will build their trust in you. In the future, this will not only strengthen your organisation, but also our economy and society as a whole.

To discuss any of these issues further, get in touch with Justin Rix.

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