30th March 2020
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement this week, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has meant that many businesses have now put measures in place to allow staff to continue working at home. But with this, individuals’ health and wellbeing should be at the heart of these challenging times.
For many, the phenomenon of working away from the office may be new, and working away from colleagues, resources, and office routines may take some getting used to. Employers and employees should be practical, flexible and sensitive to each other's situation when working from home.
If your organisation’s premises are one of the few remaining open, you should follow government guidelines to help ensure you are keeping your workers safe. Please see the government guidelines here.
BE INFORMED AND PREPARED
Protect your business
- Employers should develop a contingency plan to prepare for a range of eventualities regarding the business impact of the virus. On the CIPD website, you can download helpful templates from the Coronavirus: support materials page and a homeworking questionnaire to prepare for a widespread move to working from home.
- Consider creative resourcing solutions like staggering shifts so fewer people are in the workplace at any one time – this may help people avoid being on public transport in rush hour.
- Appoint a pandemic coordinator or team to prepare plans and keep on top of official advice.
- Ask employees to work from home where possible, in line with the latest Government advice, this might involve doing things differently and not assuming a role cannot be based at home. Consider making laptops available for staff who wouldn’t normally work from home.
- All team working / external meetings should be done through video conferencing. Make sure there’s the right IT support in place for people, that they’re able to cope with potentially increased demand and that they can support employees remotely.
- Keep up to date with Government and public health advice: This is a very fast-moving issue. Employers should keep up-to-date daily with the situation as it develops, and refer employees who are concerned about infection, using official and expert medical sources such as GOV.UK, the National Health Service and NHS 111 online coronavirus service. Government information is being updated daily.
LOOKING AFTER PEOPLE’S WELLBEING
Employees’ wellbeing during this pandemic should be paramount. Employers have a statutory duty of care for people’s health and safety, and to provide a safe place to work, but there’s also a strong moral responsibility to ensure that employees feel safe and secure in their employment. Employers’ duty of care for the health and safety of their employees includes anyone who is working remotely.
- Line managers should be trained and confident to spot any early warning signs of people experiencing stress. Ensure that they know where to signpost people to for further advice or support, including employee assistance programmes and/or counselling if they are anxious. Mind offers guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing whilst staying at home. Also check the ‘Duty of care to employees’ webinar from GC Business Growth Hub, which invites a panel of expert speakers to explore the challenges that COVID-19 raises for employers to ensure that they are prioritising the health, safety and welfare of their workforce, whilst managing the day-to-day challenge of running a business. Additionally, ensure that they’re aware of the NSH Mental Health Helplines.
- Make sure you have regular meetings with people (by telephone or using video conferencing technology) to ensure they are coping with any extra demands or workloads. Keep checking in on people’s workloads and stress levels and offer support where possible. If you can, adjust targets for employees who remain working and be flexible with deadlines. Here are 10 top tips for effective online meetings.
- Many people will be concerned about the risk of infection and will need reassurance. Communicate clearly to employees that they need to take basic hygiene precautions, such as effective hand-washing, and avoid all non-essential travel and social contact to help reduce the spread of the virus. Follow official public health and medical advice closely and advise them on what to do if they think they may have caught the virus, or are at risk of contracting it.
- Some could start to feel socially isolated and/or anxious about the situation. Make sure you listen to any concerns, and that they take care of their mental well-being. Mental health charity Mind has published guidance on coronavirus and well-being.
Following the closure of all schools, employers should expect some disruption to a person’s ability to work as normal. Employers should consider flexible approaches to how people can carry out their role, for example reducing or changing their hours of work in consultation with the individual.
Alternatively, some may choose to take this time off as holiday, so normal processes and pay apply there. If an employee is unable to work from home, hopefully many employers will continue to pay their salary as normal. Alternatively, this could be granted as emergency time off or unpaid parental leave.
As you will know, the Prime Minister recently announced a Job Retention scheme available to all UK employers - regardless of their size or sector, which will cover 80% of their employees’ salary (up to a cap of £2,500 per employee per month). It is designed to support employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) and where employees would otherwise have been at risk of redundancy. Details are still emerging. We have posted the latest available information on GC Business Growth Hub - one of Group’s websites - and would suggest you register for further updates.
SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS
Changing to homeworking may be a challenge for many managers and employees, particularly if they're used to working together face-to-face. It's important to build up a healthy relationship of trust and confidence. Employers and managers should make sure that everyone working from home knows what's expected of them.
- Agree ways of working. Make sure every team member is clear about how you will work together remotely, how you keep each other updated, and how frequently.
- Show the big picture but prepare to flex. Remind your team about the big picture and how their work fits into it. Review short-term goals regularly and adjust as needed. If some members can’t carry out all their usual work, consider other skills they can lend to others to meet team goals.
- Set expectations and trust your team. Be clear about mutual expectations and trust your team to get on without micromanaging. Focus on results rather than activity.
- Make sure team members have the support and equipment they need. This includes any coaching they might need to use online systems or work remotely. Keep your calendar visible and maintain a virtual open door.
- Have a weekly virtual huddle. This is essential for keeping connected as a team, to check in on each other’s well-being and keep workflow on track. It doesn’t have to be long, but regularity is key.
- Keep the rhythm of regular one-to-ones and team meetings. This maintains a sense of structure and continuity for all.
- Share information and encourage your team to do the same. Without face-to-face interactions, opportunities to pick up information in passing are more limited. Share appropriate updates or learnings from other meetings and projects and invite your team to do the same.
- Tailor your feedback and communications. People can be more sensitive if they’re feeling isolated or anxious, so take this into account when talking or writing. Communicate regularly, not just when things go wrong, whether it’s information, praise or feedback.
- Listen closely and read between the lines. Not being in the same room means you don't have extra information from body language or tone to get the sense of what people are thinking or feeling, particularly in more difficult conversations. Hone in on what’s not being said and ask questions to clarify your interpretation.
- Help foster relationships and well-being. Make time for social conversations. This increases rapport and eases communication between people who may not meet often. It also reduces feelings of isolation.
SUPPORT AND RESOURCES
As part of the Growth Company, we have put in place some helpful advice via our GC Business Growth Hub which might be of some support to you at this time. GC Business Growth Hub delivers support to businesses and works in partnership with HMRC and BEIS.
Visit the site here
You can also view the latest government guidance to employers and businesses here.