As the UK enters a new phase of activity linked to the Coronavirus (Covid 19), employers are increasingly coming under pressure to ensure that the health and safety of their staff is at the forefront of contingency planning.
With increased numbers of workers now being asked to ‘work from home’ and limit all but essential travel, as meetings are cancelled or switched to tele-conference or other online activity, it’s clear that there will be a material and, as yet, unknown length of disruption that organisations will have to contend with. All parts of an organisation are likely to be impacted – front and back line staff, field-based workers as well as broader stakeholders within the supply chain. Disruption is here, how far-reaching the implications will be is yet to be determined.
So what should organisations do to look to minimise disruption amongst their workforce when people are required to ’work from home’ (albeit that minimising disruption may be a relative concept)?
Clear and Open Communication – Internally and Externally
If not already in place all organisations should have a clearly defined and well-briefed ‘response team’ on standby. This team, typically comprising senior managers, should have accountability for both internal and external issues and be ready to mobilise at short notice and stay abreast of developments within what is likely to be a highly fluid situation.
Whenever crises strike, questions arise from multiple standpoints; and organisations should be able to respond quickly and clearly in respect of these questions. Questions are likely to arise from three key groups of stakeholders:
- Employees within the organisation
- Customers and Key Suppliers
- Other external stakeholders
In all cases responses should be planned, well structured, achievable and clearly transmitted. This is a time for leaders to step-forward and demonstrate that whilst there may be significant challenges ahead, the organisation has robust plans in place to deal with different outcomes and eventualities. Plans must reflect the need to escalate the response as the situation evolves.
Effective Utilisation of Technology
For many businesses it is likely that many workers will already be familiar with working from home and will have the appropriate technology on hand. However for others, ensuring that workers are able to contribute to the objectives of the organisation whilst at home may take some planning. Key activities:
- Configuring laptops and ensuring that staff have access to the requisite systems
- Ensuring that people understand how to maintain data security
- Relevant training around applications that may be new to some individuals – and there are many!
With some forethought, there is no reason that many workers who are able to undertake their work from home cannot do so productively.
Training & Development
Whilst some employees may move smoothly to a home working environment, many may not. Whether due to the nature of the work they undertake or the fact that only some activities can be performed remotely, it’s likely that many businesses will see employees at home who are limited in what they can achieve. For some organisations it’s an ideal time to further develop individuals. Coaching, training and other forms of learning can all be successfully delivered remotely via different forms off media. It’s a worthwhile investment as well as an insurance against the future to take the opportunity to enhance the skills of your workforce during any periods of ‘downtime’.
…and don’t forget the Social impact
Working from home can be isolating, so look to maintain regular connectivity through Skype, Zoom or other forms of virtual meetings; or even via frequent telephone catch-ups. It’s a key aspect of maintaining team cohesion and allows people to retain that sense of togetherness that all good leaders should look to foster and encourage.
Sharing ideas, maintaining dialogue and providing ongoing feedback are just as important now as they ever were in an office environment. And on a final point, ensure that your ‘home workers’ are taking regular breaks and maintaining an appropriate work life balance – as any home based worker will tell you, the temptation to ‘jump on the laptop’ is an ever-present when it’s sitting in the corner of the lounge or in the home office.
We are in a unique situation at the current time and whilst there are clearly challenges inherent in changing the business set-up, they are certainly not insurmountable and, with appropriate planning, can be overcome. As ever, those organisations who are most able to adapt and change against what is a continually changing picture will be those who are best able to minimise the damaging long-term impacts on their businesses.