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Look after your people and they'll look after you

Justin Rix Justin Rix

With the announcements that COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted by 'data rather than dates', businesses must rethink their plans for the next few months. Justin Rix looks at how they can take their people with them as they continue to adapt through further potential disruption.

Over the past six months, you’ve demonstrated your ability to adapt as never before. Now, as the return to work is getting underway, the government has stated that the plans may change at any point if there's a resurgence of cases, leaving businesses in need of agile strategies to adapt.

With potential uncertainty ahead businesses need to put return-to-work plans in place; it’s vital to capture learnings from the past few months and build fresh ideas into HR thinking.

Our clients tell us their people have responded positively throughout lockdown, proving themselves to be agile and resilient. However, our most recent client survey (180 respondents) identifies several areas where business and HR leaders anticipate particular challenges ahead.

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Making sure your people remain focused on priorities

Many employees have now been out of the office for more than a year and a full return to traditional working patterns has been pushed further out. In the interim a series of hybrid working models will arise, with some employees in the office and some continuing to work form home. With this complexity, how can you keep your people focused on what’s important for the business?

In the past, managers could depend on seeing staff at their desks to be confident they were doing their jobs. But a different approach is needed now. Change how you measure productivity, including shifting the focus from inputs, like time spent at a desk, to outputs, such as activities completed and targets met. Where this focus was forced due to the restrictions, consider how your business can retain this shift even when employees are able to work in the office again.  Employees will need to be agile as they adjust to changing or new working set ups, so a clear and consistent set of priorities will be important to bring a level of stability to working life.

Trust has always been something of a barrier to home and flexible working. Coronavirus has swept this final barrier away. Most employees have shown they do get on with the job, even without the presence of a manager. Show employees you trust them to deliver by giving them flexibility around when and where they work.

Think about things from the employee’s perspective. How can you replicate support networks that people tap into when they’re in the workplace together that also remain fully accessible to those working remotely? Be proactive in creating the circumstances that enable people to ask questions and share ideas, irrespective of whether they're in the office or working remotely.

Consider managers’ training needs in this new hybrid environment:

  • Do they know how to use digital tools to enable remote management and how this will be balanced with in-person meetings?
  • Can they manage, motivate and include both home and office-based workers fairly?
  • Have they changed their communication style and activities to reflect the dispersal of their teams?

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Ensuring the right infrastructure to cope with agile working

Workplaces have to be coronavirus-secure as the economy begins to open up again. There are no short cuts on this. An outbreak of the virus in your business at any time would be a major problem since teams would be required to self-isolate and, therefore, be unable to do their jobs.

Once employees can begin to come back into the office again, think about what you will use the available space for. Office capacity will be dramatically reduced because of social distancing, so plan to prioritise activities that work less well in a remote setting: onboarding, collaboration, keeping culture going.

You should also reserve space for employees who are finding it difficult to work from home. In doing so, take care not to create a two-tier employee experience. Wherever they are working, employees are all part of the team.

When the time comes for a return to the office, communicate the safety measures you have taken clearly. This is essential to giving people the confidence to come back.

You will need to vary the message to reflect different requirements in different areas of the UK. Communication will not be a one-off activity. Adapt your messaging for different locations as the situation evolves.

Ensuring the right skills in the workforce for the future

The pandemic has driven a rapid change to business models. As firms pivot to do much more digitally, almost half (44%) say they have identified a digital and IT skills gap. This covers a wide range, from data analytics to digital marketing.

How can you secure these skills? One option is to go to the market and buy them, but with everyone chasing the same skills, this is expensive and risky.

The other option is to develop the new skills you need within the business. For example, if redundancies have become necessary, you may be able to keep employees on by training them for new roles that have emerged. If this is your chosen route, accelerate your workforce planning and assess opportunities for retraining now, as you can’t build skills overnight.

As you plan for future skills, be alert to the importance of diversity and inclusion. The commercial benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce are significant, but some businesses have been slow to take action.

Lockdown has launched a period of radical social change and demands for greater diversity and inclusivity are growing louder. Now is the time to take a proactive stance in developing a diverse and inclusive workforce that reflects both your customer base and wider society.

Taking your people with you

Every business will face different HR challenges. For most, keeping their people focused on priorities, ensuring the right infrastructure for agile working and securing the right skills for the future will be key to rising to these challenges successfully.

Overriding all of this is the responsibility to take care of employees’ physical and mental wellbeing. As one of our survey respondents observed: “look after your people and they will look after the business.”

For help taking care of your people as in these strange times, contact Justin Rix.

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