• Kathryn Hume

Five ways to respond right now

It is difficult to imagine anyone who has not been affected by the rapid spread of COVID-19.

What is interesting is the varying impacts it is having.

From where I sit, it appears for a large majority, this pandemic will be devastating. Businesses unable to operate are having to part with masses of capable employees because they no longer have a need for them.

Our unemployment queues are as long as I can ever remember them being.

This scale of this disruption is unlikely to have been anticipated by many, so I can’t imagine anyone had a disaster management plan to deal with this.

This has left us with little choice but to come up with new solutions to what we did before. Or maybe even to do something new. To move into a completely new industry, but draw on the skills that can add value.

I don’t think I am being too overdramatic when saying, this is about survival.

Five things organisations can do to respond:

1. Workforce data and information

For many businesses, the workforce has is a significant determinant of their success or failure. An agile workforce will enable a faster response. Roles may need to be redesigned and employees may need to be redeployed.

Implementing this quickly relies on having a comprehensive understanding of the current workforce. Knowing how many employees are available, where they are located, what skills they have, how they can be contacted.

Utilising the workforce now will require the collection and analysis of information, collaboration with stakeholders to consider opportunities and strategy development to move from the current to the desired future state.

2. Organisational Culture

Organisations with a culture built on a common purpose are more likely to benefit from strong employee engagement that is required to think and behave differently. Trust will be critical as employees are called on to respond to change. It will be difficult to include all in decision making that affects them, but the value of keeping them informed cannot be underestimated.

In uncertain and volatile times, organisations need to provide some level of comfort. Even if this is merely saying ‘we don’t know what will happen, but this is what we are doing to work it out.”

Keep employees informed and remind them that they matter.

3. Capability development

Role redesign and redeployment are likely to require some level of capability development. Training is being conducted virtually and this may be new for many. The ability to learn is absolutely critical.

Training and capability development requires a bit of thought and planning to ensure it doesn’t add to employee anxiety.

Start with identifying the absolute essentials. What is it they need to be able to do? Focus on that.

Provide learners with the opportunity to practice. Allow them to interact, collaborate and reflect. Space learning events to allow then to apply learning to the role, then return for further development once that is mastered.

4. Wellbeing

With the business as usual option no longer available, organisations will be relying on their employees to try new ways of working.

Right now, employees are facing dramatic change in their own lives. Home schooling, scarcity, uncertainty. Three things they are likely to never have thought they would have to encounter, at least not to this scale.

Organisations must reinforce the importance of employee wellbeing, especially as this is unlikely to be a short term situation. Set up a buddy system so everyone is on someone else’s radar. Agree on what is expected and adjust for the new normal. Be contactable. Run weekly social interactions as a team to remind them they are part of something bigger than themselves.

5. Longer term perspective

Organisations who are calling on their workforce to operate differently to what was originally agreed should ask themselves whether their current operating models are temporary or permanent. If temporary, this needs to be stated clearly.

There needs to be an equal amount of give and take to sustain these relationships long term.

For example, if employees are being asked to work from home for the benefit of their employer right now, will they be permitted to work from home in the future at their own request?

Right now, we have a very real opportunity to impact the outcome. Forgiveness levels are high as people understand the limited preparation time available. It is a great time to take some calculated risks. To move outside our comfort zones, to learn and innovate and build supportive cultures for the benefit of us all.