One key outcome of the coronavirus pandemic has been the widespread recognition of the value of the (incorrectly) so called ‘low-skilled’ workers who have been essential in enabling society to function.
Quite rightly we are visibly and volubly acknowledging NHS workers and, somewhat belatedly, carers, but there are also all those in retail, distribution and warehousing who enable us to continue to get food and other essentials.
Organisational development director at one of the world’s largest fresh produce providers, €6bn revenue Total Produce, David Frost says his role during the pandemic has become one of “communication conduit”. With many of its employees still actively working at its sites, health and safety is of utmost importance.
Register to hear his insights, tips and techniques today on:
- Pivoting an international retail and foodservice-based business at speed
- Handling different job security schemes across the globe
- Tips for executive team communication
- The three phrases of employee sentiment during COVID-19
- Techniques for virtual working
- Preparing for return to work in a factory environment
- Plus, get exclusive downloadable resources during the live webcast
Miglani is talking to us as governments across the world start to relax lockdowns, with mixed results. In the UK, prime minister Boris Johnson has said people who could not work from home – including those in the manufacturing and construction industries – should return to the workplace but avoid public transport.
This led to professor Trish Greenhalgh, a healthcare expert from the University of Oxford, telling the BBC that we could find ourselves in the "worst of both worlds," by both trying to move forward and kickstart the economy while maintaining the lockdown is effectively still in place. It’s the "have cake and eat it" approach, she says.
Employees appear to agree. According to research released on Saturday from the UK’s CIPD, 44% of employees feel anxious about returning to their workplace because of COVID-19.
This comes hot on the heels of research from Ipsos Mori showing more than 60% of would be uncomfortable about going to bars and restaurants, or using public transport. Some 40% would be reluctant to go shopping or send their children back to school; and more than 30% are worrying about going to work or meeting friends. It is clear that managing the next phase of the pandemic is going to be challenging.
Given this, how can HR start to prepare for return-to-work across different sectors? What techniques in terms of communication, remote working, health and wellbeing and leadership are working for them in this new environment – and which are not?
How is HR dealing with the accelerated nature of work change, and how are employers pivoting their businesses? How is HR helping furloughed workers use their time productively and keep their skills sharp? How can you protect your employer brand? And what are HR leaders’ own coping mechanisms during this challenging time?
These are all questions I will be putting to some of the best HR leaders in their sectors over a series of focused, daily webcasts we are running at The People Space this week in conjunction with management consultancy 10Eighty (11-15 May, 16.00 BST/11.00 ET). These are designed to give attendees practical, actionable tips and insights directly from those ‘doing the job’.
In advance of the sessions, I spoke to the participants to get their views on the impact COVID-19 is having on them, their HR functions and their organisations.
“The biggest role I have now is how to motivate the 80% of people that are at home at the moment,” says Eugenio Pirri, chief culture and people officer at international luxury hotel group Dorchester Collection. With nearly all the employee population furloughed in a sector that is likely to be one of the last to return to some ‘normality’, whatever that may mean going forward, engagement and safety are top of mind for Pirri.
“We suddenly realised we had built a whole new HR organisation,” says Nalin Miglani, EVP and CHRO of $1bn revenue New York-based operations management and analytics company EXL on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic at his business. In fact, not only has EXL successfully done this but it has seen productivity increase over the period of the pandemic as it shifted its people to remote working.
At the other extreme, award-winning UK pub and microbrewery chain Brewhouse and Kitchen has shut its doors entirely. Hayley Connor, head of people and learning, says keeping talent staff motivated is front of her mind, together with developing ways to help people prepare and plan for continued uncertainty.
What is clear is this pandemic has accelerated change in business and HR. What will the post-pandemic economy look like? Yes, many are calling for a return to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible. But I would like to think we won’t just go back to the ‘old ways of doing things’.
We have an opportunity to use this situation for long-term transformation. Just as it is unlikely consumers will ditch new purchase behaviours (think online shopping and streaming), so employees are unlikely to want to go back to these old ways of working. And as we know, those companies that capitalise on these new trends faster than their competition will be the winners.
Michael Moran, CEO and founder of 10Eighty who I am interviewing on Friday 15 May, believes COVID-19 has unleashed the power of people. “If we try to go back to the old ways of working we’ll face a people revolution,” he says. Vive La Revolution!