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Identifying transferable skills in the wake of the pingdemic


Despite changes to rules for people using the NHS COVID-19 app, the pingdemic continues to cause business disruption. Just this month (August), the popular restaurant chain Nando’s was forced to shut 50 of its restaurants due to suppliers being short-staffed because of self-isolation alerts reportedly linked to the app. 

Admittedly, the chaos is not so widespread as in July when more than 689,000 people were sent self-isolation alerts by the app in a week, meaning they had to stay at home for 10 days. For many businesses this was a severe blow after all they had been through during the pandemic.

The rules have changed so that instead of a ten-day quarantine, people who are 'pinged' are advised to take a PCR test. People will not need to isolate if they have received a second coronavirus vaccine dose more than 14 days prior to contact with a positive case.

But the threat of having multiple employees self-isolating remains significant. So, what can businesses do to reduce the impact of self-isolation requirements on their operations, and how can they learn from the impact of the pingdemic to avoid issues in the future? 

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Closing the skills gap fast

To avoid the need to temporarily close a business due to staff issues, rotating employees into different roles and areas will be crucial. Inevitably, every employee will have some transferable skills which they’ll have developed throughout their lives, school, in social life and at work, so a lack of direct experience is not necessarily a barrier to adapting to pick up a colleague's role if they are required to isolate.

What many people forget and what actually matters is whether an employee can communicate well, work as part of a team, solve problems fast, or even demonstrate empathy. HR leaders should be reviewing employees’ experiences and understand how to map out and transfer these skills to ensure success on their post-pandemic recovery journeys. 

A limited approach would be to look at employees’ performance reports and engagement surveys which help HR managers make these decisions and identify team members’ strengths. However, businesses with more advanced HR technology can take advantage of their access to up-to-date employee profiles and spot capabilities that require a quick burst from a colleague.

An even more progressive approach would be to work with the existing workforce by embracing and using HR technologies to understand the hidden skills that current employees have which may not be required in their day-to-day job. Those hidden skills could be a competitive advantage for an organisation which is looking to succeed following the impact of coronavirus. 

However, one of the main challenges is that due to the unpredictable nature of being ‘pinged’, enrolling employees in lengthy training programmes is not currently the most efficient option. To tackle this, HR leaders should consider producing short and digestible training videos so that employees who are stepping in for self-isolating colleagues can get a much-needed overview of the new role and confidence to carry it out.

Giving online access to training material and equipping employees with the right digital tools can help employees upskill at short notice.   

Communication is key

Effective and open communication between managers, HR professionals and employees has also never been more important. Workers need to know why they are being asked to change their schedules or work with a different team. For example, employees with experience in opening and closing premises may need to be spread across different rotas so that if told to isolate, other staff can step in to take on that role.

Talking to employees directly about where they think they could contribute their skills the most can also be beneficial to HR leaders as it saves their time in identifying the skills.

Alongside open communication with employees, it is also vital to facilitate an honest dialogue with customers. Setting realistic expectations can make a huge difference in how they perceive their experience with a particular business during the pingdemic.

As the virus continues to affect businesses, HR leaders and line managers have an important task on their hands of trying to fill roles temporarily emptied by self-isolating workers. Promoting open communication across the business and taking advantage of resources, such as online training videos for upskilling employees or staggering shifts can help ensure smooth and efficient business operations during this pingdemic.


Andy Davies is HR expert at MHR International