We find ourselves in challenging times. The Covid 19 situation has moved very quickly and Managers and HR Specialists find themselves in unchartered waters. Most organisations have both contingency planning measures – in theory – and a Remote Working Policy or cultural set of arrangements. But what happens when we get called on this all at once and are not fully geared up to respond?
Remote working is going to be the key to getting through this phase of our lives for many of us either in self-isolation or when we are asked to work from home. How can organisations support their staff through this time and ensure that productivity remains as high as possible?
1. Tell people WHY things are happening as much as WHAT is happening. Treat them as adults who can handle the truth. It is difficult as an employee to receive a blanket email from Management telling them to work from home indefinitely without some explanation regarding the thought process that has gone into this and the consideration for the impact that the decision is likely to have. We have also seen examples in the press about employers asking staff to take up to 8 weeks’ unpaid leave to see them through the crisis. I wonder how much detail was given as to the alternative here – what had been thought of rather than this? What would the impact be on job security if the company had chosen NOT to do it? It is easier to sign up to an organisational decision if the time is taken to walk employees through the rationale.
2. Companies should relax their rules on using social media at work - we all need to find a way to stay connected and get through this difficult time. Indeed, setting up your own channels - any internal media feed that allows your people to face time or stay in virtual touch – is going to be a good idea right now. It is very challenging making a quick transition from being in a busy office with co-workers to being home alone or locked down with your family and people are going to feel the pinch very quickly. It is helpful for HR professionals to send out some advice regarding the use of social media; clearly, anyone who abuses the system is subject to the same rules as normal!
3. Don't sweat the little things - we need to pull together right now. Productivity is not going to spike at the moment – as long as we keep the wheels turning then Managers need to exercise a little discretion in how work gets done. Think about advice lines for well-being, financial support and stress whilst at work - this is going to matter at the moment. People are finding themselves isolated with grave concerns for loved ones, the impact that the virus could have on their lives and job security. This does not breed contentment or high levels of work productivity.
4. Working from Home with Children. We have seen the school system largely close in recent days. This has meant that childcare provision for normal working families has shut down in the main. Working parents do not have the usual recourse to asking more elderly, retired relatives to step in at short notice due to the risks to health for the Over 70’s. What does this mean for remote working? Employers should try to offer as much flexibility as they can; working hours for many of us do not need to be 9am – 5pm, employers can ask that the hours get done but offer variance as to when that happens around shared childcare arrangements. Some individuals will ask for Dependents’ Leave or Holiday; we need to decide how much of this can be paid and, again, explain the balance of supporting the individual versus allowing the organisation to prevail through uncertain times.
5. Making the Tech Work. One of the biggest challenges and irritations of remote working is surely going to be the absence of solid IT infra-structures that support access to the company system remotely. Much of this was never designed for such mass usage so resources need to be stacked quickly into the IT team which will allow them to extend capacity; both is original set up and them remote helplines for those experiencing difficulties logging on.
How can we measure productivity whilst operating like this? We need to think more creatively about measures. Many companies have aimed for ‘presenteeism’; if I can physically see you sitting at your desk then I know that you’re doing well and the longer you stay, the more work you must be doing? This traditional approach was always a little naïve; physically being in an office means nothing when it comes to being productive. In fact, people often report that they get more done when working from home as they avoid some of the usual interruptions that occur in an office environment. We need to adopt a results-based performance culture to track work rates. Again, the key here will be communication – set out for employees what ‘good’ looks alike and ensure that Managers are talking to their staff and ‘checking in’ on a regular basis.
There will be a temptation within a business to cut all ‘non-essential’ spend; this usually means training, support and well-being initiatives whilst we attempt to keep to ‘business as usual’. I personally see this as a very short sighted measure. We might need to become more creative regarding how training and support is provided remotely at the moment but there could not be a more crucial time that people will need to think about their own approach to things and mental well-being. We just need to think about the long game whilst this crisis lasts.
In summary, the role of both HR colleagues and Line Managers could not be more crucial at the present time. We will all have done our emergency contingency planning now so let’s turn our attentions to keeping in touch and ensuring the welfare of the people who work for us. We need to keep talking.
If your business is need of HR support, take a look at the range of services we can offer here: Robinson Ralph HR Support
Beth Evans FCIPD