Reprioritising HR in light of COVID-19
COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work, there's no denying it. It has huge impacts and many ripple effects for individuals, families, businesses, and whole cities. Australians are now preparing for self isolation, not knowing how long it will last. Adapting to working from home, having a remote team, and not seeing other humans for an indefinite amount of time is a lot to adapt to all at once. Here's our guide for helping to reprioritise as a HR practitioner.
Ensuring the health and safety of your team
Before we get to the meat of this blog, we want to iterate that above everything else, the safety of your team comes first. Our VP of People, Mona Aikiki, says “it is really important to understand that guidance changes constantly”, and to check for updates from your local, official source of information.
On a basic level, make sure you and your team practise good personal hygiene, washing hands, using and disposing of tissues quickly, and keeping a distance from others. Where possible, stock your workplaces with hand sanitizer, soap, sanitizer wipes for desks and computers, and increase the frequency of your cleaning. Washing hands regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to combat COVID-19.
It’s important to take any concerns around the health of your employees seriously. If an employee feels unwell, even to a minor degree, it’s best to send them home and where possible get them to work from home until it’s deemed safe (as per official advice) for them to return. Again, check your local health authority for more detailed guidance.
“Although your team might feel that they’re low-risk, they may come into contact with high-risk individuals, and it’s best to act quickly and maybe even jump the gun a bit, rather than risk spreading the disease,” says Mona.
If you haven’t already done so, the following action items are worth looking into
- Asking staff to limit their face-to-face meetings with external parties
- Contacting your building manager(s) about cleaning schedules and restricting access to non-staff
- Cancelling any business travel plans your staff are booked into for the next few months, and requesting that they reconsider any upcoming personal travel
- Checking with contractors or vendors to see if they expect their services to be interrupted
- Make a plan for your staff to work from home, where possible, at short notice
- If your team are required to work from the office, setting up flexible hours so staff can travel in at off-peak times
It’s not just physical: Looking after mental health in isolation
If your team is working from isolation, they’re already reducing their risk of physical illness. But, working from home and away from your team can be hard, especially if you’re not used to it. Aside from challenges around productivity and focus levels, there’s also loneliness, cabin fever, and more serious mental health concerns.
To help your team avoid or minimise the negative effects of being in isolation, remind them to set a schedule, take their lunch break, create a separate zone for work (no working from bed!), and contact their peers throughout the day.
Organise group video calls, check in with your team one-on-one, increase your frequency of communication, and encourage the team to do the same with each other. Remind them they’re a team and that communication is a two way street, and it doesn’t have to be serious all the time! Keep up the banter and antics!
Remind your team to keep up their regular home schedule outside of working hours. There are plenty of at-home alternatives to popular activities like going to the gym, and basically everything can be delivered now, so your team should continue their hobbies and interests.
For those struggling, meditation is a useful tool. There are plenty of free guides to meditation online, you can also schedule a time to do it as a group! We also recommend and are partnered with the app Calm.
Making and communicating tough decisions
It is the responsibility of an organisation’s leadership team to make difficult decisions and communicate them to all team members, whether they’re impacted or not. Rather than taking a ‘need to know’ mentality, business leaders should adopt a ‘no such thing as over communicating’ approach. It’s also timely to remember that businesses who respond quickly and decisively are the most likely to minimise impact on their teams and business.
Here are a few ideas that we’ve pulled together to help you navigate your way through making and communicating these decisions.
Choosing ‘right’ before ‘easy’
What’s ‘right’ for your business is not always what’s easy, or what will make the individuals in your team happy. When weighing up your options, it’s common to be distracted by the ‘easier’ option. Don’t let yourself fall into this trap - picking what’s ‘easy’ won’t fix the problem, so make sure to pick what’s ‘right’.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Truly dynamic leaders look into the future before deciding on what to do in the present.
Whilst nobody really knows what is in store, try to look forward as much as possible. The most important thing is to instil a feeling of confidence and to push forwards with as much gusto as possible. Think about the short, medium and long term. Break down the uncertainty by mapping a strategic plan for a variety of different scenarios. And remember - everyone is in the same boat!
Be firm, but allow for flexibility
Keeping your word and sticking to your guns is an important part of making tough choices – especially during difficult times.
However, it’s important not to be rigid either. In unpredictable situations, another quality that leaders must utilise is their ability to adapt well to change.
So, when faced with a situation where you need to ‘undo’ a decision that’s already been made, make sure that your motives, reasoning and acknowledgement of the change is communicated well.
Communicate tough decisions empathetically, but clearly
Once a difficult decision has been made, it then needs to be shared with the team. In this kind of global event, if you only communicate with the individuals affected by the decision, it can lead others to wonder what’s happening and build uncertainty in the business.
As difficult as it might be to hold difficult discussions, empathy, clarity and conviction are essential in conveying the message effectively.
As for the method of communication, again there’s no such thing as over-communicating. Sending the decision through all of your channels - email, Slack or Teams, in your Whatsapp group, in person, and however else you communicate - is the best way to make sure the message doesn’t get missed or misunderstood by anyone.
Keeping business as usual
In order to keep the business running as close to ‘normal’ as possible, leadership teams will need to reassess what they consider to be ‘essential’ to the business. If you’re currently experiencing a quiet period and retaining key clients is essential, you may decide to spend more on them in an effort to retain them. If your staff’s productivity is essential, you may decide to invest into training or team building exercises.
On the other hand, if you’re in one of the few industries that are booming, you will need to plan for growth, whether it be hiring, procurement, or systems and processes.
Regardless of the position you’re in, you’ll soon be navigating big changes in your organisation.
This can place an enormous amount of pressure on business leaders to be a strong role model even if they might be struggling. Perkbox CEO Saurav Chopra says in order to transition smoothly, “support needs to come from the bottom up as well as the top down, and this is achieved through clear communication, transparency, and a culture of trust”.
Each of these points will be touched on in greater detail below.
Re-committing to and reassuring your employees
We encouraged you to invest in your staff above. This might seem counter-intuitive when considering cutting costs, but it reassures your staff that their jobs and the organisation is stable. Your team are the one constant in the midst of this uncertainty. If you care for them, they’ll go above and beyond to look after each other and the bottom line of the business, so look after them!
Your team will perform at their best if they are feeling stable, secure, and reassured. Giving them peace of mind and something positive to look forward to eases the burden on them and gives them confidence to focus on work while at work.
Throughout our years of working with thousands of businesses all over the globe, we’ve found that making a commitment to your employees can reassure them that you’re looking out for them and have their best interests in mind, which in turn strengthens the team and their performance, helping the business through tough times.
Reassure your team that while COVID-19 doesn’t have a concrete end date, it is a temporary event and ask them that they remain committed to seeing the success of the business.