People Strategy for Organizations’​ Response, Recovery and Renewal Throughout Covid-19

by Amr Ismail

Covid-19 places risk and crisis management atop every business leader’s priority list for the foreseeable future. Large scale disruptions like what we witness today threaten business models, employees’ well-being and workforce productivity to say the least; what, in fact, is at stake here can’t be described in lesser terms than the business’ own survival.

People in every work domain are fretting with uncertainty, suffering from fear and anxiety, and looking for immediate answers to never ending questions. Managing employees’ concerns and questions is becoming one of the most time-consuming activities in today’s workplace.

Employees worry about much more than their physical safety; they worry about social and political change, disruptions to their own work function, and are questioning how successful the organization is in managing its operations. 

Start with people

Global HR teams need to provide timely and accurate information to local teams and let local HR teams evaluate triggers for actions and make their own time critical decisions. Find global mobility and expatriate services alternative solutions. Plan for absenteeism, protracted period of disruption, set clear guidelines for communication, response times and deadlines, and role responsibilities.

Key to impact analysis is to determine which roles are necessary for the organization to function. Identify key business functions and key roles, activities and skill sets. Check the maximum level of absenteeism to operate efficiently, assign employees with multiple duty capabilities, speed-train remote working skills, and continue to build and upgrade the infrastructure needed to support home-based employees. Generally, safety measures, flexibility and transparency can help ease the transition for employees starting to return to the workplace as COVID-19 infection rates flatten. 

Embrace the uncomfortable zone

Organizations can collect and monitor a host of new employee data to direct a return to workplace policy. Be informative about what information is collected and why. Work closely with legal and IT teams. This will aid measuring and monitoring the employees’ engagement level, mindset and feeling of comfort as they return to the workplace and continue to monitor for few months following their return. Government guidance, nature of work, employee competency and preferences determine how employees return, stay and function during this transition.

People analytics are used to sequence phases of return and to make employees more comfortable to work and commute. Top down efficient communication channels, two-way communication channels, One-on-one meetings, informal channels, and remote channels to listen and allow employees to speak up freely are integral to building trust and getting the right feedback.

Identify and formalize remote working best practice

Constantly review best practices. Measure employees’ effectiveness in working remotely and capture processes, practices, innovative solutions and behaviors that are contributing to high productivity and formalize them into best practices for teams and workstreams.

Take stock of all digital tools available, their impact on productivity and their cost benefits, and speed up digital learning initiatives, virtual conferencing, learning and interviewing.

Bolster remote work policies and set expectations for behavior and ethics. Start now by evaluating long-term plans for remote work and by crafting strategic plans for new communication channels and office space. It’s not enough to put in place safety measures, and it’s not enough to think of remote work as a temporary safety measure; employees need to feel safe, and home working communication is the way forward. The focus should be on outputs not processes, and it is important to acknowledge the impact of non-work stress on employees as employee experience extends beyond one physical location.

Formulate new risk and cyber security processes

As we are now operating in a completely different environment and with a different mindset, incident response plans and protocols may be obsolete or need a full review. Walk through all remote access capabilities as you test and secure endpoints used by employees.

As Organizations collect employee information, there is a need to ensure the security of all private information related to employees. This information should only be disclosed when required by law, within the organization on a need-to-know basis, and for managing Covid-19 measures during a transition.

Scrutinize your idea of goal setting

No need to elaborate much here but let us consider goal setting away from simple driver for motivation. So, instead of using over-the-counter goal setting prescriptions, we need to conceptualize goal setting as a carefully measured dosage given with less supervision, more empowerment, room for team improvisation and creativity, and data driven human development. Embrace decisive decision making far beyond the Covid-19 transition and measure its effect on business bottom line. Avoid kicking the can down the road.

Exhibit candor and clear communication

Play hard ball with the crisis management communication lifecycle playbook. Have open and regular communications with all stakeholders and put employees in the loop. It is true that speed is key yet showing empathy and dealing with transparency regarding all mental health issues are the key ingredients for a successful transition beyond Covid-19. Every communication is a good opportunity to reiterate the organization core values and to boost morale. Under-working is emerging as a an unavoidable side effect to the rewiring of supply chains and it must be dealt with swiftly while avoiding layoffs at all costs to steer away from negative repercussions on morale which would typically outweigh the short-term margin improvements. Less than optimal performance is to be expected under the circumstances and deserve some leniency. However, using this time to assess the overall competence of the organization will help identify best performance, level of organization resilience, best practice succession planning and chart the strategic direction for the short to medium term.