During challenging times, many businesses activate business continuity plans to protect their employees and mitigate the impact of any crisis on their business operations. In maintaining business continuance, there are a number of people-related issues to consider, including how to manage a cross-border workforce and changes to employment.

Employee wellbeing

In times of crisis business continuance is the objective and the safety of your people your first priority. Once that is secured, your thoughts need to turn to managing costs to protect the business and preserve jobs through the challenging economic times ahead.

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In order to ensure both the physical and mental health of your employees, communicate with them so you know where they are, how they are doing and whether they are safe.  

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Communication

Monitor and maintain regular communication with your employees, providing them with regular, up-to-date information on the state of Covid-19 and the processes you are implementing to protect them and maintain critical operations.

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Running meetings, presentations or conferences virtually is not the same as running them in person. Virtual meetings need different and more engaging facilitation than in-person meetings. You will need to plan out your meetings in advance and make sure you are keeping your participants’ attention. Limit virtual meetings to 30-45 minutes or less and try to incorporate different ways to attract attention and interactive content to encourage participation.

Some useful guidelines to follow include:

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Effective leadership to ensure business resilience

Employee relations and respect for employee rights are as important as ever in maintaining trust and business continuity. Ongoing communication with your employees is critical to your business. Employees may have urgent questions about evolving work arrangements and some may voice concerns about the potential for job losses. Be accessible to all employees, including those with heightened concerns or situations specific to their individual circumstances that will require your insights and guidance. 

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Provide a support system for your employees. Working from home might be difficult for some employees and they might start feeling overwhelmed. Be mindful that working from home blurs the lines between work and personal life. Your younger employees may face difficulties adapting to working in shared accommodation. Your older employees may have children or others to look after. You must be the leader that keeps the team together while respecting the needs of every employee.  

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Crises can affect leaders as well. To address and prevent burnout in leadership ranks, it is critical for your business to re-establish expectations and resourcing for top-level leaders, making sure they have everything they need to do their jobs, and manage their emotional and psychological challenges amid times of ambiguity.

Dealing with crises

The pandemic has forced leaders to dramatically realign their priorities by accelerating their businesses’ digital transformations and ensuring their talent pipelines can adapt to new demands. Your business needs to set up crisis response plans and communicate them to your employees. 

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Performance management in times of unforeseen events and crisis

Re-evaluate how performance is measured and adjust objectives or performance targets that are affected by the change in pace or nature of remote work and the general uncertainty around the pandemic. Communicate changes to performance objectives to your employees. 

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Even though the times are challenging and employees have been dealing with change and adjustment, employee performance meetings and related conversations remain important. You still need to provide honest feedback when required. When meeting with employees, empathise with them, consider the circumstances they have been working in and start with the assumption that they have done their best in the situation. 

Alongside implementing new performance objectives, consider creating new performance targets within the business. Develop a more long-term strategy for performance measurement. 

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Retaining employees in times of unforeseen events and crisis

During times of crisis, business operations change fast and often and some businesses may even struggle to survive. You might be forced to consider laying off some employees, but it is in your best interest to try to retain as many employees as you can. After the crisis has passed and business operations go back to normal, you will be grateful that you do not have to spend time and money recruiting and educating new employees. 

Explore how to leverage government support programmes and focus on all factors that contribute to the value proposition your business provides to your employees, including compensation and rewards, development and advancement opportunities and work environments.

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As you navigate through the Covid-19 challenge, people will remember how you treated them during these uncertain times. With high unemployment, some employees may be grateful just to have a job. But as things settle into a new normal, your employees’ options will increase. Those businesses that prioritised their employees will be rewarded with retention and healthy recruitment. Those businesses that compromised on their values may pay a long-term price.

Redeployment of employees

In order to retain employees and avoid the need for future recruitment, consider redeployment and reskilling of your current employees. These strategies are key to transforming your business in the long term.

Start by determining which activities are critical for your business and which can be paused. For critical activities determine which skills need to be cross-trained to be able to continue to deliver the work if team members fall ill.

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Communicate with your employees before making any formal decisions. Some employees might express interest in being redeployed to other business areas while some might not be open to the idea. Forceful redeployment will not benefit your business, as the affected employees will be dissatisfied and decreased productivity may result. 

Look for government initiatives and support programmes to help you fund and support employee reskilling. 

Illustrative example of reskilling and redeployment of people


A small local retail shop was faced with declining business and needed to lay off some employees. In order to keep the overall business running, the remaining employees had to take on multiple roles. For example:

The manager of the store now also assists on the till as a salesperson.

The existing cashier helps stock the shelves and supports the manager in keeping track of inventory and orders of new stock.

The owner has taken on the role of logistics and picks up and delivers some goods personally.

The owner has taken over any additional shifts and roles depending on the business needs.

This reskilling and redeployment of people facilitated business resilience even though they had two fewer employees than before, as the business had to lose one warehouse employee and one delivery person. The reorganisation was possible because the owner had existing experience of all the positions when the employees were undergoing on-the-job training. 

The on-the-job training included working with existing employees for a couple of weeks in every role in the business to gain an understanding of the overall business. The small size of the business was beneficial in this case as it allowed every employee to experience every role and task in the business. This practice is also helpful to manage any cases of sick or absent employees where the business owner would have difficulty quickly finding substitute employees.



Redundancy during challenging times

While work-from-home policies are being advocated and implemented widely during these times, some businesses, lacking a formal remote working policy, will be addressing this staffing issue for the first time.

One possible way of reducing costs during turbulent times is to put employees on unpaid or part-paid leave. If this is used appropriately, employers can reduce costs while reducing the need for termination and sourcing talent once the business environment returns to normal. Investigate government furlough or employee support schemes which may cover some or all your costs.

As a last resort in difficult economic times, employers may be forced to consider lay-offs. In addition to the operational challenges this may present, both at the time and in the future when circumstances improve, this can have employment law, tax and immigration implications.

Before making any formal decision, check the employee’s contract. You do not want to deal with litigation issues in the future due to unforeseen obligations.

Employee development

The pandemic has changed the way many businesses operate and the tools they use. Some of your employees may not be ready to switch to virtual working or may simply need extra training for new tools, platforms or channels adopted by your business. Consider the following means to help your employees through these hard and uncertain times. 

Webinars and events

Find any industry webinars or events that can help you gain information and skills to support your business and business operations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Up-skill or re-train employees 

Pandemic or no pandemic, the adoption of new technologies and ways of working is likely to continue to reshape the world of work. Ensure your employee skill sets keep pace and that they are flexible enough to adapt to the changes that lie ahead. 

Be prepared to deliver training and education programmes in a virtual environment when, in situations like the current one, traditional face-to-face training environments are not accessible.

Employment support schemes

Where available, employee support or furlough schemes can help you during challenging times by preventing redundancies and in some instances co-funding some operational costs until your business is out of crisis. 

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Consider all the available options and apply for any programmes or relief that will best benefit your business. Some might be mutually exclusive, so you should research all the options in detail before applying.

Smooth transition to the ‘new normal’

To smoothly transition to a ‘new normal’ working environment, develop a plan underlining the new policies and guidelines your employees are expected to follow. Here are some of the steps you can take to prepare for the transition:

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Return to work

Create a back to work checklist that will help you and your employees return safely back to the office, and communicate it to them ahead of time. These guidelines should be aligned with any current government regulations in place and create a safe space for your employees and, if relevant, customers. 

Once your guidelines are in place and all the requirements have been met, inform your employees that it is safe for them to return to work.

Working from home – health and safety at home

Plan for the possibility of alternative ways of working. You might need all your employees to work from home, or only the ones most affected. Having a plan in place will make this transition smoother for you and your employees. 

Remote working

Businesses started implementing remote working out of necessity in order to keep their employees safe, but remote working can be very efficient if done correctly. Businesses may need to implement changes, invest in new technologies or change their business processes. 

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Clarify the working from home processes. Businesses often implement a rushed work from home strategy in response to a sudden challenge of this nature. However, it is important to develop this strategy properly prior to implementation and consider a number of key questions such as:

Do my policies and procedures allow my business to transfer employees seamlessly from an office or business premise to working from home?

Will I be able to maintain mission-critical operations with the majority of my employees working from home?

Will my employees continue to be paid their full salaries?

How long can I maintain mission-critical processes with employees working from home?

Are all employees equipped with laptops? If so, do I have a list of steps employees need to complete in order to work from home, including fundamentals such as connecting to a remote VPN?

Do I have the authority to provide all employees with remote working licences and will my infrastructure support the increased load?

Engaging employees and providing appropriate technology should lead to the same level of productivity through working remotely from home and improve the overall effectiveness of your team. However, this will probably not happen overnight. Your employees might need some time to adjust to the new working conditions. 

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Communicate regularly with your employees and make sure they are aware of all of the technology and tools available to them. It is also important that they know how to use them. By communicating with your employees you will be able to identify any weaknesses in your current systems and areas for improvement. It is important for your business that your employees have good and sufficient tools so that they are able to efficiently perform their tasks. 

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Consider any local legal requirements that you may need to follow in order to ask employees to work from home. 

If remote working turns out to be just as productive or more productive than working from the office, you may consider this option more permanently. Permanently shifting some positions to working from home on either a full- or part-time basis could save you money. However, bear in mind that some employees might not want to relocate fully to a home working environment. 

Health and sanitary considerations

Businesses should follow guidelines and regulations published by government authorities, review protocols for avoiding contamination and organise alternative working methods, such as work from home or work in alternating groups. 

How to keep your employees safe during a pandemic

If employees are in the office, raise awareness of the need for frequent hand washing, sanitising and disinfecting. Implement social distancing in the office. Ensure all employee workstations are at least two metres apart in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus and consider erecting plastic barriers between office spaces. 

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Managing confidential information

As a manager, you are responsible for creating a safe working environment for all of your employees. This includes keeping employee information confidential and protecting employees from any type of discrimination. During the Covid-19 pandemic, employees who become infected may be obliged to tell you, but you may not be allowed to share their identities with other employees within the business unless they give consent. 

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Make sure you are not sharing any misinformation regarding the Covid-19 virus and anything related to it. Only inform your employees of necessary and valid information in line with any government notifications.

Travelling

If employees are in the office, develop a reporting system your employees can use to report any personal travel. This will help you determine if your employees have been exposed to any type of risk during their travel. For example, if employees have travelled to any countries with high infection rates during the Covid-19 pandemic, you might want to request that they isolate and work from home for a period before returning to work. In this way you will be protecting your other employees from potential exposure risk.

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