A national rise in Covid-19 cases or further local lockdowns would be another blow to companies. With many businesses starting out on the road to economic recovery, the prospect of further disruption is worrying.
Employers need to remain flexible and have a clear plan in place should the worst happen. They should be prepared to effectively communicate any changes that need to be made, temporarily or permanently, and encourage cooperation from employees. Those who repeat mistakes from the first lockdown will find employees far less forgiving and far less accommodating.
So what do business leaders and HR professionals need to consider to ensure that their workforce is ready to respond in the event of another lockdown period or nationwide rise in Covid-19 cases?
It is imperative to know what you would do in the event of another spike or lockdown.
Consistency of communications
It is crucial to ensure you have the personal phone numbers and email addresses of all staff on file and that your privacy notice states that you will use these for business purposes where necessary.
Many businesses did not have this information to hand when lockdown was imposed in March and struggled to communicate with employees about alternative working arrangements or furlough.
Continuing to communicate effectively with a remote workforce is key. The Edelman Trust Barometer Trust and the Coronavirus special report found that employer communications were seen as the most reliable source of information about the pandemic and, in eight out of 10 countries surveyed, respondents felt their employer was better prepared to respond to the virus than their country.
Employees expect regular updates on the pandemic from their employer, with 63% requesting daily communication and 20% looking for updates several times a day.
Regular company briefings will not only be crucial to employee engagement and wellbeing, but will also mitigate employee claims from any measures implemented to respond to a lockdown or spike.
Alternatives to redundancy
Across the UK, we have seen many employers react to the financial cost of the pandemic by making redundancies where jobs are not sustainable in the longer term.
A rise in cases or local lockdown could exacerbate the situations faced by employers, something made harder with the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme due to close at the end of October.
It is therefore imperative to know what you would do in the event of another spike or lockdown. Could redundancies be avoided by implementing alternative measures such as short time working, salary reductions or requiring staff to take holiday?
Many of these options would require variations to employee contracts, which may be easier to obtain if an employer is seen to be proactively seeking to keep ahead of the ever-changing challenges of this pandemic.
Preparing for staff sickness
Even if there isn’t a local lockdown, if an employee becomes unwell with suspected Covid-19, all employees who have been near that person will need to self-isolate.
To assist with business continuity, you may wish to split teams into groups. That way, if one group becomes unwell, the rest of the team will be able to carry on the work. For many companies, such as those in food production or hospitality, the response to sickness will be business critical and vital from a reputational perspective.
It would also be sensible to ensure your sickness policy, or a Covid-19 supplement to that policy, states clearly that staff should self-isolate if they have Covid-19 symptoms or if they live with or have been in contact with someone who has symptoms.
You may also wish to check how much sick pay your business is willing to offer employees over and above statutory sick pay, as this can be an incentive to staff to abide by the rules and stay at home, avoiding the spread of the virus among your workforce.
Although we are regaining a sense of normality, companies are not out of the woods yet.
With more employees working flexibly, companies will need to consider whether they need to purchase additional equipment to enable more staff to work from home more effectively on a longer-term basis. Now is the time to put orders in, so that staff are properly equipped if restrictions are re-imposed.
A skilled workforce
Using learnings gleaned from the last four months, HR and L&D professionals will need to develop training programmes that help staff adapt to a hybrid working model and ensure that the company is prepared for another period of widespread remote working.
In most businesses there will be some staff who cannot work from home. If these employees are not required in the workplace, employers should consider whether there is anything else they can be doing, such as any free online training courses, which will aid their personal development and make them more valuable employees when they return to work.
Build back better
During the lockdown period, business leaders and HR managers were forced to think of ways to stay connected with their remote workforce, boost engagement and monitor wellbeing. These learnings were a positive thing to come out of an unsettling time for businesses and should be carried forwards.
Although we are regaining a sense of normality, companies are not out of the woods yet. Employers must continue to work to maintain high levels of trust and understanding with their people, as this will determine how well their company will cope in the face of future change.