New working world post-coronavirus: Coming through the crisis

17 April 2020

The spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has undoubtedly brought twists, turns and significant ramifications to companies across the UK. With every industry impacted, the situation continues to develop and change and requires organisations to become agile and adapt accordingly.

In volatile and uncertain times, it’s not only important to have a well designed organisation in order to respond flexibly and quickly but it’s also crucial to consider business continuity moving forward into and out of the pandemic. With theories on what the ‘new normal’ will be, it’s an opportunity for companies to reflect and prepare on the following areas:

Remote working

The social distancing and shielding measures have already pushed millions into working from home. Even with government mandated rules lifted, the demand for teleworking and remote working is expected to skyrocket. The adoption of technologies such as video conferencing have been forced on both employees and employers alike. It will not go away once we’re on the other side of the crisis. Alongside its use for corporate meetings, its ability to bring colleagues together at lunchtimes, quizzes and much more has been rapidly embraced.

Working from home may become a more permanent arrangement as employees have discovered it can be effective. It’s also becoming common for companies to relax standards on employees and their ways of working during this time. Whether a dog is barking or a child interrupts, it’s a reminder that we’re all human and businesses acclimatise to acceptable and reasonable ways of working.

Although the trend of working from home was gaining incremental momentum over the years, the virus has brought a forced shift in work culture. Increased formalisation and company policy around remote working will be necessary for the shift to be successful. Implementing guidelines on aspects such as expensing computer equipment, securely accessing company files and appropriate working hours, can set the rules for both the pandemic and moving forward.

Wellbeing

With many worrying about COVID-19 and how it might affect your life, it’s important to recognise how this can impact mental health. Encouraging employees to maintain a positive work/life balance is key. In addition, managers regularly checking in with team members can help prevent feelings of isolation. Companies are prioritising wellbeing which is both beneficial to staff in the immediate future and in the long term. When the time comes for returning to ‘business as normal’, it’s important to have a healthy and motivated workforce.

Normalising conversations on employee wellbeing and having systems and tools in place to handle this is recommended. For example, offering benefits such as an ‘Employee Assistance Programme’ (EAP), introducing and embedding mental health first aid throughout the organisation and ensuring absence management policies and procedures relating to mental health support the timely referral of employees to specialist health where appropriate.

Workforce planning

Preparing for the future will be on many organisation’s agendas. There are operational considerations such as how a significant number of holidays have been cancelled and how to avoid an absence bottleneck down the line leaving businesses (particularly small ones) exposed. However, there are also wider considerations on workforce management.

In a background of complicated and fast-moving circumstances, important decisions affecting staff need to be carefully contemplated. Possible actions include looking to adjust employee roles and ensuring succession plans for key positions and critical roles are developed. It’s crucial to understand how the business will be in the best position to navigate the longer-term effects from the outbreak. For example, organisations may be required to undertake scenario planning for when provisions such as the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’  come to an end or as a broader consideration there may be a drive by the necessity to financial adjust and streamline resources to reflect the new environment.

Whilst organisations have been carefully balancing legal compliance, for example issuing furloughing agreements, managing sickness and absence arrangements, good employers will also have been regularly updating employees and communicating any changes promptly. This can ensure that employee engagement has been maintained through the crisis and helping them to prepare for the next phase.

If you have any concerns or questions about the above, or any people considerations you’d like to discuss, please contact Kerri Constable or Frankie Davis.