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COVID-19: Preparing your business for the ‘new normal’

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest business challenges of our time. Now, as businesses tentatively work towards reopening in part or full, it will be important to thoughtfully plan for this next phase and for the return to the workplace.

It is not just thinking about the actual and physical return of staff into the workplace, but ensuring that the business is operationally fit for the future? This is about ensuring your business resilience; even down to knowing whether it can afford the wage bill going forwards.

What are some key considerations for business owners and employers?

Engage and Communicate.

Ensure you put engaging and communicating with staff at the heart of everything you do. Staff will naturally be anxious and have lots of questions so ensure you keep them updated throughout everything you do.

As well as keeping staff per se updated, ensure you engage with individual staff regarding their personal situations, for example caring responsibilities, wellbeing issues and any relevant personal circumstances.

Do not forget to extend this to your customers, clients, and wider network. Let them know of any key changes or things you are doing.

Workforce planning

Carrying out a workforce planning exercise is a great way to future proof your business. Analyse the current workforce, determine future workforce needs, identify the gap between the present and the future, and consider implementing solutions so that the business can achieve its mission, goals, and strategic plan.

Going forward it is going to be important to get the right number of people with the right skills employed in the right place at the right time, at the right cost and on the right type of contract to deliver the business’s short and long-term objectives.

The benefits of workforce planning are:

  • achieving the correct workforce deployment and flexibility.
  • being able to identify and respond to changing customer needs.
  • Knowing where the business inefficiencies are.
  • Improving employee retention.
  • Improving productivity and quality outputs.
  • Improving employees’ work-life balance.

Identifying skill gaps and Skillsets for the future

The workforce planning exercise will enable the business to identify where there is a gap in the skills needed for the short, medium and long term future. A particular skillset may not be required right now, but it will give the business the ability to identify it and plan it in for when it is required.

Upskilling existing staff.

It is not just about identifying what skills are missing or needed but being able to translate that into a set of actions that will develop and build on the existing workforce to meet the future demand.

That will not necessarily mean you have to go out and employ more people.  Knowing your staff’s existing and potential skillset can mean you can use your people more effectively – do more with the same people!

You can consider upskilling existing staff or moving them to other areas of the business.

Updating any training or skills that may have lapsed.

This is a good opportunity to update any required training that has lapsed or any skills that need refreshing.

Remember that staff who are currently on furlough can undertake training.

Is there a need to restructure?

Examine the structure of your business. If things in the business have changed over the past 12 months, you may need to consider whether you need to restructure all or part of your business.

Your workplace planning exercise will determine whether you have right number of people in the right jobs. It may highlight whether you have too many people and therefore redundancies are required.

It may highlight that there is no longer a need for a certain role in the business, or no longer a need for that role to be carried out on a certain number of hours. You may also need to consider pay cuts.

If there is a need to undertake any restructure process, you must do so in line with any policy you may have and ensure you consult with staff.

Please ensure you seek expert help. Hill HR can advise and guide you through this process.

Putting safety first

Ensure prior to returning to the workplace, you have carried out the required risk assessments and considered all health and safety implications.

Keep risk assessments up to date and ensure you communicate them with all staff.

Be able to respond to any concerns and worries that staff may have in returning into the workplace. This may also include getting to work if staff have to use public transport.

Consider staff who are classed as vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable and maybe shielding and staff who are pregnant.

Remote v onsite working.

Almost overnight, many businesses and their employees became homeworkers. Businesses were forced to accommodate working from home if they wanted to survive throughout the lockdowns.

Many businesses are now considering whether they want or need to go back to onsite working or work in the way they did before. There are benefits to home working such as :-

  • Less staff in the office at any one time,
  • Cost savings,
  • Less requirement for office space. We are seeing some businesses giving up their office space.

Rather than considering permanent homeworking, businesses are considering a hybrid approach. This could involve some days attending the office and other days working from home, or another remote location. Adopting this hybrid approach recognises the value of having staff working in the office together, but also offers a more flexible and agile way of working which some staff will enjoy.

Be mindful that if you wish to consider either permanent home working or a hybrid approach, this may be a change to staff’s terms and conditions of employment. This would require staff consultation and changes made to the contract of employment.

Other considerations would be having a home or remote working policy, health and safety, are all roles suitable, expenses, IT usage and data protection.

Do you have updated personal details for staff?

Prior to returning to the office, take the opportunity to review the personal details you hold and check they are still correct. Details such as name, address, contact numbers and bank account details.

These could have changed, especially where staff have been on furlough for the past 12 months.

Remember to hold them in accordance with GDPR regulations.

Role of Leadership

It will be so important for staff to see strong and visible leadership at this difficult time. Leadership that will navigate the company out of difficult times. 

Revisit and update company goals

Clarify your company goals, objectives and value proposition is important now. They may have been set a while ago pre-covid, or the company may have changed over the last 12 months. Now is a good time to review them in line with the company now and going forwards.

How are your staff are feeling?

It is important to know exactly how your staff are feeling and be able to respond. This could be their feelings about the pandemic, about returning to the workplace, are they suffering stress or anxiety, are they feeling burnout by the increase workload, volume of video calls or having had to juggle home schooling and work.

Getting a temperature check will inform you about how your staff are feeling.

Hill HR offer employee engagement and culture surveys or temperature/pulse checks to find out what is going on across the business, or within certain teams. You will receive an action plan. Contact us if you wish to know more information.

Is your HR documentation up to date?

Finally, ensure your essential HR documentation is in place and up to date.  

If you do not have employment contracts in place, now is the time to get them drafted.

If you have contracts in place, but they have not been reviewed and updated in at least the last year, take the time to review them.

Where you have future proofed your business in other areas and ensured its resilience and effectiveness, it is important that your essential HR documents, (employment contracts and staff handbook) also reflect any changes to the business model.

Hill HR can carry out a free initial review of your documentation and inform you of any updates required and costs involved.