Coming back to work from Covid-19, so where do we start?

By Steve Williams

Coming back to work from Covid-19, so where do we start?

Covid19 has changed the face of business working! We now know the government have issued a brief roadmap for businesses to follow to get people back to work and enable the economy to slowly recover. So it is critical that every organisation now has their own clear plans to get their business fully operational and moving forward. According to McKinsey Covid-19 Global Health and Crisis Response April 2020 “we have to start with what we know, accept that the world has changed and that we have no choice but to change with it”. So how ready are you for getting your business and teams back on track both physically and emotionally over the coming months? Here are a few things to consider in your plans to return to work.

We know that trust, a sense of community, risk and security will be important and that ways of working will never be the same again. HR teams, business leaders and organisations will be judged on how people have been treated and if this is in line with your values. It is crucial to find the balance between keeping staff happy (which is operational) versus doing what’s needed to survive (more strategic approach). You may have had to think differently about the service you offer and the way you plan your workforce. The McKinsey study states that when everything is in chaos, a clear framework is helpful and so suggests a five-horizon framework for thinking through and acting on the implications of the disease. The challenge will be working through this framework:

• Resolve – address immediate challenges to workforce, customers and partners
• Resilience – address near-term cash management challenges
• Return – create a detailed plan to return business back to scale quickly
• Reimagination – create what your ‘next normal’ looks like and the implications
• Reform – be clear about how the environment in your sector could evolve

We have already seen substantial changes in flexible working approaches with many teams being forced to work from home at short notice, many for the first time ever and managers having to innovate the way they lead to keep these teams motivated. Some, however have seen a surge in demand for services and have found that teams are often stretched. Whatever, your response was you need to make sure you are gathering insight and running a lessons learnt in order to plan to move forward. Ask yourself what worked, what didn’t work, what do you need to change? Closely monitor and keep on top of what is happening around the globe as different countries are at different stages of their return, what are the lessons learnt from their experiences or approach?

Is it time to break some of those bad habits?

Productivity is an issue we had before Covid-19 so maybe now is the time to consider solutions to bring out the best in people whilst maintaining that sense of purpose and break some of those previously bad habits in your workplace.

1. How productive have your employees been? Measuring productivity will be key in deciding if the working day or week can be shortened. The average worker is productive for around half of the normal working day, so maybe it is time to split the work day or week.
2. How much time do people spend in meetings or travelling to them? Having seen first-hand the benefits of using technology such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams is it time to reduce the amount of senseless meetings that take place for the sake of it?
3. How much time is spent on useless emails? If the average worker receives 200 emails a day, many of which are irrelevant CC or BCC this could mean that half their time spent on responding to or reading emails is not productive!

Where to start and what do you know?

You will need data for insights to create a detailed plan to ensure you have the right people in the right jobs at the right time within an affordable budget.

Ø Business Strategy and direction – what is your current situation short term and what are your longer term plans? What business/customers have you retained or lost? What are the overall growth or contraction budget constraints? What are the plans for introducing or withdrawing services in certain areas or moving into new markets? What are the planned timeframes? Has your business model fundamentally changed?

Ø Workforce Analysis to identify any gaps – so what data will be helpful? Know what people and skills have you got still, where are they what work do they do, how many people have you lost and are any of them in critical roles? If you have laid people off will they be likely to return. What are the gaps now? Prepare your own playbook pack full of data and info that is irrefutable.

Ø Review structures - what has been effective, are you achieving workplace agility and flexible working conditions, how much of this do you want to retain? Has having people working from home been more or less productive? Have you discovered some hidden talent and found some are more suited to other roles or have been able to cope with the stretch in demand, but this might not have worked for everyone.

Ø Scenario Planning – think about best and worst case. Some are saying at best 60-65% of people will return to offices by year end, so what would this mean for you? Who will continue to work from home? Assume lockdown will not fully be over in a real sense until July or August but what if you had to go into lockdown again later this year, are you prepared for that? Prioritise risks in terms of their likelihood and their impact and test the different business and workforce plans against different scenarios. We’re in unchartered waters in respect of knowing whether there will be a second wave, so it is reasonable to assume you should be prepared. Above all make sure your contingency plans are robust enough going forward and test your assumptions.
Planning for getting back to a different normal
Implement every aspect of your planning but keep it under constant review as you shape your new normal.

Ø Phased return – consider phasing in people working on different days of the week or splitting shifts throughout the day, this could be by teams, departments or individuals depending on the size of your business. How about ditching the Monday to Friday norm and move to a 7 day operation? Whatever you do, you need to ensure you follow a fair selection process based on your business needs. Many people have found lockdown quite traumatic so be mindful of this, allowing those to come back when they are ready and giving them a variety of options.

Ø Restructure – do you need to reshape the hierarchy within your business or downsize if you have not already done so? Review your policies on redundancy and working hours to ensure flexibility. If you need to lay some people off permanently to preserve cash flow is this a last resort have you thought of what else could you do?

Ø Resourcing options – what can be outsourced? How might you entice back those who may have gone on to volunteer in other sectors? Don’t forget some of your staff may have returned home during lockdown and may have no means or plans to return to the UK. If you need more people can you tap into other sources such as; women returners (there are some good case studies examples from Amazon and Sky paid 6-month placement) or under considered previously excluded groups those with a disability or criminal record.

Ø Automate - as many processes as you can to save on admin time and effort. Technology has been key to communication so rethink how business/team meetings have happened and what you might do going forward to reduce travel or time spent in useless meetings. Maintain remote working where you can whilst increasing flexibility of desk or work space use.

Ø Re-boarding – think of this as a bit like your normal induction or maternity returners process. Many people will have either been furloughed or working from home how are you going to get them back on board with your company values and direction and what the ‘new’ business looks like.

Ø Upskilling – prepare to future proof your organisation. Have you made the most of this time to provide training for your teams even those on furlough by significantly increasing access to online training? How are you going to use digital tools going forward?

Ø Educate - your teams about social distancing in your workplace and what this means, (not forgetting practical things like screens, hot desks or sanitisers) or how to use common spaces. Do you need to install temperature scanners at your entrances to ensure people feel safe?

Ø Wellbeing - focus on a physical, mental and social level. How many have been off on sick leave and how will you plan for people getting used to being back at work? What plans have you in place to reassure them it is safe to return. What about those who may have suffered a bereavement due to Covid-19 how will you support them? Can you extend holiday or unpaid leave? What about those with underlying health problems do they need different support? Mental health should be on your radar from day one of any return.

Ø Social Responsibility – many businesses have encouraged volunteering or provided services not for profit to help out in the care or health sector or with food bank donations. Is there an opportunity to continue with this activity, creating that sense of community where you operate?

Whatever you plan to do, act as responsibly as you can and be empathetic.

Esther O’Halloran
HR & Business Consultant
11 May 2020