As too many are saying, these are unprecedented times. As much as we may have been preparing to ensure business continuity and preparing for worst case scenarios, I don’t think any of us were ready for how drastically Covid-19 hit our day-to-day.
For those who are dealing not only with their personal lives, but also trying to protect their employees and businesses, these days are being even more trying.
It seems fit to say, particularly in our current situation, each person has a responsibility to treat others as they would wish to be treated. I like to expect the best from people, and I’ve seen truly inspiring acts of kindness from communities and individuals. But when it comes to entities, such as companies, there are different and opposing forces at play.
Everyone would love to keep running business as usual, paying employees and waiting for the storm to pass, but unfortunately, many companies are forced to make difficult decisions. It’s exactly these moments that show how important it is for you to have put effort into ensuring employees know they can trust that your response will be timely, efficient and with their best interest in mind. Sounds hard to say, when you might have been facing layoffs, redundancies and furloughs, but the way you deal with these difficult situations will be remembered.
You need employees to trust in your company’s reaction to any turn of the tide.
To ensure trust, you need to be communicating decisions in a timely manner – for example by giving information from the Government in various locations, explaining steps taken and giving context around key decisions taken. Great examples, during the early days of this health crisis have been plans publicly shared from companies like Lattice, Coinbase, Snyk and many more (good list by Amplify Talent here).
Clearly, an email or Slack to @all is not enough. The lines of communication need to be kept open and flowing, ensuring everyone is being kept well-informed about updates to their company’s Covid-19 policy and approach.
Make small adjustments that matter
What matters most, is that people feel safe carrying out their role during these times. And whilst for many tech companies adopting a fully remote model has not had a big impact on their employee’s day to day, many other sectors have had to completely revolutionise their approach.
It’s been impressive to see how real estate brokers, accountancy firms and so many more “brick and mortar” businesses have stepped up to this challenge. There are also instances of sectors or businesses where this has not been possible, an example that hits close to home is my aunt in Canada working as an accountant. Their clients are mostly individuals or small businesses which tend to have their monthly accounts reconciled by providing paper invoices for their transactions. Unfortunately, now it is also tax season – which means thousands of paper invoices are being delivered to my aunt’s office. She is absolutely terrified of contracting the virus, and has been self-quarantining for the past month, but due to business needs has had to leave the house to pick up the papers many times. It made me laugh when she told me she has been quarantining the papers for 48 hours before touching them.
I tell this story lightheartedly, but it’s small things like this that don’t make people work with a calm mind. In her case, if small adjustments like having the papers sterilised at the office and posted to her house directly (where possible, and at the expense of the company) would have made all the difference. For similar situations, I would urge companies to consider reasonable adjustments, even though in normal settings they might be considered less than ideal.
This will surely help employees, not only know you are there for them, but also help them better deliver their role, not having to constantly worry about things that should not be on their minds.
Consider different needs
I’ll start by saying that not everyone has the privilege to remain employed remotely and stay safe at home. If both these statements apply to you, congrats – you are part, like me, of a privileged small percentage. I think we should always keep this in mind.
Of course, if you are a business that can have employees working from home you expect them to deliver results – what would be the point otherwise? But, being these (and I’ll say it again because rule of seven) unprecedented times, some level of flexibility is required and expecting the same level of productivity during this time of extreme anxiety is just foolish.
Many people are worried for them or for their families and friends, and this has a huge impact on one’s levels of concentration. Keeping up with the same deadlines and goals can add an enormous toll on people already trying to cope with the social increased demand. Managers should not expect instant results, and be more than ever empathetic and up to speed with their report’s personal lives.
Value communication: don’t waste time on meetings that could have been emails, but also don’t turn into emails conversations that should have been meetings.
New habits take time to build. Not everyone is used to working from home, using technology to communicate or having their kids around all day! Work requires concentration, which, especially when you are trying to balance with childcare, can be hard to find. Employers should go above and beyond, given the circumstances, to allow employees to take care of their loved ones – not only offering options like taking sick leave or unpaid leave, but by evaluating each situation individually. We recently had a parent whose partner is currently busy working for the NHS, having two children to take care of, they had come to the conclusion it was down to them to choose between work, and the kids. In this case, we agreed to offer them, instead, the option to reduce their working days during the time their partner needed to work and being flexible with their working hours. Of course, this is not possible for all situations, but considering these solutions instead of a plain layoff or furlough is a good way to ensure you give your employees a choice on their employment, and the business a chance to retain its employees.
With great power comes great responsibility
Companies have a duty of care towards their employees – meaning they have a moral and legal obligation to ensure their safety and well-being. Demonstrating, their health and well-being are on the top of the agenda can be done at a business level, by assessing and reviewing risks and putting in place emergency procedures policies; at team level, ensuring managers have the appropriate information, training and freedom to check in with their reports, and providing them with the necessary help and advice; at an individual level, by enabling each person to understand their health and safety responsibilities, and allowing them to know where to raise concerns or queries they may have.
It’s important people know what your stance around sick pay and unpaid leave is. Grey areas around how much time off is available and how to request it, leads to high levels of uncertainty, which someone who might be facing symptoms or even just wishing to self-isolate should not be dealing with. Make sure they know their health is paramount and what policies are in place to help them through it – keeping in mind that during times some policies can be bypassed to fit specific needs.
Now more than ever, supporting the mental wellbeing of those who are working remotely, means taking proactive steps to reassure and support your teams during these uncertain times. Sharing more details around what your health insurance covers, what your Employee Assistance Programme can help them with and generally what services are accessible can take the stress of looking for this information away. You’ll be surprised to see how many people give up speaking to a counsellor just because simply the step of finding one is something they feel they cannot deal with.
And don’t forget, it’s hard on your management, finance and HR teams to be actioning these decisions. Take the time to consider how these conversations are impacting them and their mental wellbeing and ensuring they have all the knowledge and visibility to do what is best for the business and, therefore, its employees.
Be mindful of financial uncertainty
Financial concerns are another very delicate but very relevant matter, one people tend not to want to talk about, but which is more recently becoming less of a taboo. Seeing how it impacts performance and productivity of their workforce, already in “normal scenarios”, businesses have been investing in financial education more actively in the past years.
Right now, as people are worrying about whether they will still have a job tomorrow, and therefore an income, you cannot expect them to be performing at their best.
Job security plays a huge role when it comes to people’s performance – if you want to help people be at their best, you need to ensure they know what to expect. It is the unknown that we fear the most.
The path between denial and layoffs is often a short one. In order to keep the company running, you might have to make quick, unpopular choices – but what really counts is being clear around the possible scenarios you are considering. There is nothing worse than keeping employees guessing – as they will generally go for the worst possible scenario, and the moment that happens, there is no way you’ll manage to convince them otherwise. Don’t go for comforting but empty words, but show them you have a plan even if this may require sacrifices from the whole team. Salary cuts, “forced” holidays, furloughs and even redundancies will be seen differently if people know what is about to happen and why.
To sum up:
- Build trust: by ensuring people have confidence in your company’s response and approach;
- Act quickly: by making sure you provide a clear action plan and timely communications;
- Provide context: by keeping people well-informed about each step the company is taking along the way;
- Be present: by helping employees feel safe in their role;
- Be flexible: by providing employees with flexibility to deliver their work;
- Care for your employees: by making sure employee’s health and wellbeing are at the top of the business’s agenda;
Let's all ensure we treat everyone to the best of our abilities, plus one.
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