When lockdown hit the UK in March 2020, organisations were immediately forced to reassess their way of working. Since then, people across the country have adopted different ways such as pay cuts, furlough and reduced hours to support these changes.
As a result, HR departments have had to quickly navigate extensive new guidance and legislation, interpreting it as best they can to select the right options for their organisation. There have been short-term plans implemented at speed and an increased need for all paperwork, communications, and payroll to be executed with razor-sharp accuracy.
HR has also needed to balance the needs of their people who may be anxious about their roles and future; managers who require coaching through processes and legislation; and technical and financial skills to analyse management information and help their organisation with accurate resource and scenario planning.
This has called upon a number of highly tuned skills, which may not have been utilised for some time. Not only that, HR managers nationwide have needed to be brave and confident in their decision making and analyse risk when applying the furlough scheme or negotiating pay cuts to save jobs.
But how can we prepare for the future if we don’t know what lies ahead?
What changes to expect
With a huge influx in the need to anticipate changes and respond immediately to queries when new information arrives, this is HR as we’ve never seen it before.
And with news that we can start bringing furloughed employees back part-time from July, HR has both an exciting opportunity and a challenging future planning exercise to undertake.
Ultimately, nobody can tell the future and even the greatest business minds in the world will struggle to forecast what’s going to happen in the next 6, 12 or 24 months. When thinking to the future of our workforce, we need to be asking questions such as:
- When will client or consumer confidence return?
- Will there still be the same need for our products or services?
- How will our employees deliver this safely whilst social distancing is required?
Every business will have a different answer to this as there are so many variables, but from an HR perspective, how can you ensure you have the right people in place, while maintaining financial stability for your organisation?
What’s truly vital here, is ensuring strong employee relationships, and open communication so that your organisation is ready to flex and adapt as and when required.
Maintaining strong employee relationships
Even if we can effectively predict, it’s important that HR considers any challenges their people have, such as shielding, childcare or concerns about travel – especially if they use public transport to commute. Perhaps they will demand greater flexibility such as home working, alternative hours or part-time working?
And when considering who to bring back to best make use of the changes announced last week, it’s worth finding out individual circumstances of your people to see if you can match your plans to suit their needs.
This is especially important in bigger teams where some may be happy to work from home or work reduce hours and others may be craving their time back in the workplace.
You need to ensure you’re in a position where your key players are ready to return as and when you need them to, but failing to maintain a strong relationship with them during this time will put this at great risk.
Change of processes
As with any period of uncertainty, creating guidelines and boundaries for your people now, even if you’re still working on the detail, may help them understand what to expect. Think about what you know and can share today.
- Can you explain that people will be given a certain amount of notice before they are expected to change or end furlough arrangements?
- How can people expect to be notified (e.g. consider if telling people to expect a phone call may prevent them from needing to check their work emails constantly);
- Can you tell them now, that if certain circumstances are met, you’d need them to return and in what capacity?
All of these things should help your teams to plan their own circumstance and raise any concerns before you rollout any plans.
Whilst you may have been rushed off your feet, there will be people anxiously checking their phone and emails for any news of what’s happening. And those staff working and covering others will be keen to know when pressure may start to ease, and their colleagues start to return.
When to make the change
There is a delicate balancing act to be had in most industries around how far to cut or how long to wait. HR can’t wait so long that we seriously impact business sustainability, but not going far enough to mitigate risk of redundancy may mean your valuable resources are snapped up by other companies before you can rehire, leaving your remaining workforce under resourced.
It’s sensible to plan what your new workforce will look like now and start to consult on changes. You could consider new technology, combining job roles due to capacity changes, or retaining employees to utilise transferable skills, on either a temporary or permanent basis.
Be honest with your people if you need to trial things, or flex duties. The more you can prepare your people for the flexibility and change that may be needed, the less resistance you should get if you need it.
Last minute communication, short notice changes and errors in payroll processing may all start to affect morale even if the intentions are good.
Steps to take right now
- Explore how you can maximise the Government support to retain your people
- When managing change consider the organisation, people, technical and financial elements
- Ensure you have robust tracking and record keeping
- Communicate as soon as you can, confirming what you can – some knowns are useful for people
- Reflect on what you’ve already helped your business and people to achieve through one of the most challenging times most of us in the profession will ever experience.