How HR Can Support Business Continuity in Current Uncertain Times With Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Adapting to the disruption of Covid-19 presents a challenging task ahead

The Covid-19 outbreak has everyone from communities, to Governments, healthcare organisations to business leaders coming together to implement changes that will slow down the spread of the virus. The resounding impact to the way of life & work for millions around the globe, has been seismic with immediate term measures including travel restrictions to the EU block for 30 days, the closures of museums, cafes & restaurants, to the cancellation of sporting events, conferences and most recently in the UK, the closure of schools for almost all school age children. These unprecedented steps, coupled with stepped up Government guidance on social distancing and strong recommendations for companies to move to home working, are all having a significant impact on the world of work.

Businesses across the globe are now faced with tough choices on how to ensure the continuity and indeed survival of their businesses. With the call to action, trickling down rapidly to Human Resources to step in, support and galvanise the response measures being put in place.

We’re beginning to see the business ramifications of COVID-19. While we don’t yet know its full global impact, HR leaders are preparing for what’s next.

Directives from HR in response to Covid-19 have ranged from the cancellation of face to face meetings, restrictions on non essential business travel to an increased move towards remote working. These steps have all required HR to generate faster, more frequent & robust internal communications to keep employees informed as the changes happen.

Communication is Key

Changes are happening thick & fast in response to the latest Directives from HR. With many businesses citing via their website & PR briefings that plans are in line with the latest advice received. It’s therefore essential that HR steps up their communication response, which is likely to include changes to everything from employee’s working hours & locations, through to company policy revisions.

The single most important action we can all take in fighting coronavirus is to stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives

It’s essential that HR is engaged on all crisis communications, working with the CEO on what these look like from a people impact perspective, and ensuring that communications are aligned with the framework of employment law and good best practice, particularly where the impact of proposed changes, could result in changes to or subsequent losses of employment. 

It’s critical too that HR ask tough questions of their CEO about how the company will absorb the impact from any proposed redundancy measures from an employer reputation perspective. Remembering that the ways in which companies support and handle employee relations during this time, will have a long standing impact on business reputation with those employees who remain employed and prospective future employees long after this crisis has passed. 

Emma Dawson, Managing Director of Stitch, a Deloitte communications company, specialising in employee engagement has offered the following advice to HR and business leaders on how to communicate well during this unprecedented time. 

“Authenticity is key, it’s essential that communications during this time are trustworthy, inspiring confidence in your people. Ensuring you’re using your own voice, whilst being really clear, using simple language, with simple sentence construction. Avoid corporate, complex terms and communicate as you yourself would want to be communicated with.” Adding “empathy is also essential, yes it’s important and the right thing to focus on business continuity, whilst putting yourself in the shoes of those who are going to be receiving the messaging.”

Review & revise remote-working policies

Many companies are making the move to a fully remote working model in response to Government guidance on how to best maintain business continuity whilst prioritising a halt to further spread of Covoid-19. As a result, many companies are having to reconsider, review & revise their remote-working policies. 

For Human Resources, this may offer an opportune time to implement enhancements to flexible working policies, resulting in the performance of employees being evaluated on output, rather than time spent or indeed the time of day that a task is worked on or completed. 

Employers and employees should be practical, flexible and sensitive to each other’s situation when working from home because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

As your company makes the switch to remote working, it’s important to facilitate the company in managing its duty of care towards employees. For many, working from home has become a standard component of their working life. However the challenge for those who haven’t previously experienced working from home, will be far greater than those well versed in the practices of home working practices. HR will need to support managers in checking in with teams in addition to ensuring that the latest ACAS best practice guidelines on home working are also being followed. 

The health & safety of your employees now or soon to be working from home, is also a key consideration for HR. Good practice includes assessing what equipment employees will need to work from home effectively and either providing that using provisions from your existing office environment, or allowing employees to purchase equipment directly and expense back to the company. 

Display screen equipment (DSE) workstation checklist
Display screen equipment (DSE) workstation checklist

Whilst it won’t be possible to perform physical checks on the home based working environment of employee’s, it is important that HR provide employees advice on how to perform their own basic assessment at home. The Health & Safety Executive offers legally compliant advice on home working practices, along with a workstation helplist, that will support HR in coordinating and facilitating the equipment requirements in place.

Adapt & Update Sickness Absence Policies

Reviewing, adapting and updating sickness absence and employee leave policies should also be prioritised by HR now. If your company doesn’t currently have a paid sickness absence policy in place, it now offers a solid opportunity to petition your leadership team on the criticality of having this employee benefit in place. 

Ultimately, your objective is to ensure those employees who may need to self-isolate for a period of time feel supported and in a financial position to take the correct steps and time to both get themselves back to full health, whilst protecting the health of their fellow colleagues. 

If your company currently operates a tiered structure for paid sickness absence, one where employees receive full pay for a period of time, reducing dependant on time served with the company, now may also be a time to make temporary changes to the structuring of this policy. 

Again, the objective is to ensure that those employee’s requiring time off, do not make attempts to attend work due to concerns they won’t get paid. Where working from home is an option, then this should be explored more fully to prevent unwell employees being tempted to come to the workplace. Equally these arrangements are also well worth considering in the event of an employee needing time off to look after someone.

Providing Support for Employees

There’s no question that this is HR’s time to step up, by taking leadership and implementing a quick Covoid-19 response plan. Whilst the plan will inevitably change, having a robust response action plan is essential for the overall health of the company. 

Firstly support needs to remain compliant with current & upcoming employment law frameworks. Secondly, scaling your response may also provide useful measures in communicating support plans to employees, i.e detailing where we are now, what we have planned in the event of X, what we are planning for this date. Which in turn provides employees with a clear line of sight into what they can expect to have happen and when. In turn, this will help proactively allay additional concerns. 

Currently, employees who have been continuously employed for more than one month must be provided with a written statement of terms within two months of employment commencing

Creating a FAQ to share amongst managers and their teams, as well as internal communication channels, will also proactively address questions arising. By doing this, in addition to scheduling regular virtual ‘HR surgeries’ for employees to have questions answered directly, whilst seeking further guidance is a vital step in providing employee support. Ensuring continuity and clarity of plans amongst your people and wider management team, will also help ensure employees have access to the right information at the right time. 

6 Crisis Communication Plan Examples & How to Write Your Own [Template]
6 Crisis Communication Plan Examples & How to Write Your Own [Template]
Where possible, if you have a communications team handling crisis communications, working closely with them to align messaging will be a worthwhile step. In the event of crisis comm’s falling to HR alone, resources on good crisis communications planning like this from Hubspot could prove useful.

Considerations for Mental Health

These are uncertain times and it’s during times of uncertainty that business leaders look to HR to provide support, stewardship and leadership for their people. Businesses are having to evaluate the possibilities of how to continue operations, whilst riding out the storm of a challenging few months ahead. 

With reductions to business custom, particularly for those operating in leisure, hospitality, travel, entertainment and the arts, who have already been instructed to close until further notice by the UK Government, the uncertainty of the time faced ahead will be weighing heavy on thousands of employees up and down the country. 

And whilst the Government has committed to providing comprehensive support packages to businesses and their employees during this time and the Bank of England has urged businesses to consider support first, ahead of making any decisions on staff redundancies. Concerns for how business can possibly continue to operate as usual, in the midst of such significant changes happening at a breathtaking pace are both valid and understandable. 

How to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem
How to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem

HR in response, must raise the priority of supporting good mental health practices for those who now find themselves working from home, those at risk of potential redundancy, those who are self isolating or experiencing anxiety in the wake of ongoing concerns relating to Covoid-19 and for those who are classified as key workers, and therefore required to continue working as normal during this challenging time. 

Where mental health considerations haven’t previously been factored into HR planning, resources to support these essential efforts can be found at Mind and CIPD.


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Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Jade is the founder & CEO of Inspired a people & talent consultancy working with the most innovative early stage companies worldwide. Founder & CCO of Inspired Talent Media Ltd and contributing writer for Sage HR where Jade writes about people, leadership, work/life balance and change.