In the coming weeks and months, businesses will experience what The New Normal will look like. In the early stages, it will be like waking up the morning after a marathon. It will take a while to get moving and rehab your aching muscles.
The methods you use to engage with your team, and your clients won't be foreign concepts, but there will be unique differences. For one, the health and hygiene measures you will need to employ will be starkly different from what you ever would have imagined would be the case just six months ago. Also, you are going to be faced with a wide range of people and culture difficulties that you need to navigate your way through.
We have identified seven key HR challenges that we predict will be encountered by business leaders. Let me share my recommendations for how you may overcome each.
It is difficult to predict how employees will react to the changes in the way we live and how we work, not to mention the broader threat of the coronavirus. Resilience and adaptability are traits which vary greatly from individual to individual, which means each individual's productivity, relative to previous levels, will vary greatly too.
Those who are looking after themselves both physically and psychologically will be much better placed to be productive. Ensure you have robust policies and initiatives in place around wellbeing and make a particular effort to support employees from an emotional and psychological perspective so that they feel better equipped to cope and therefore are more able to contribute at their usual level.
Set and communicate clear expectations in terms of output or deliverables, and have regular check-ins to support and coach your team will ensure higher productivity.
2. Flexible workforces
A tremendous positive out of this situation is the fact that more businesses realise their ability to operate with remote and flexible arrangements. While it's not ideal to be forced into these work practices without sufficient time to prepare, it has made companies realise that teams can thrive, no matter where their workforce is located or how the employees are managing their schedules.
That said, flexible workforces need to be carefully set up and monitored with clear policies, regular communication, and reliable tools and technology in order to be successful. Get it right, and you will reap the rewards, but if you don’t invest in having optimal structures, it could cost you greatly in lost time and productivity.
3. Employee engagement
Stress and anxiety about the COVID-19 landscape, perpetuated by all the negative media saturating us, is likely to result in teams being less engaged with work than usual. The ongoing concern about their health and job security will inevitably be diluting employees’ engagement; for many, it will be their lowest point with your company.
Engagement can be even more challenging when your employees are not physically in front of you all day. More than any other time, businesses need to have employee engagement as a top priority. Employees need a manager who cares about what is going on with them, who checks-in with them regularly and who keeps them focused on their goals and objectives.
Don’t think that 1:1s or performance reviews are not important anymore - in a COVID-19 landscape, they are even more critical than ever. Organisations that focus on the mental and emotional health of their employees at this time will be much better armoured than those that don’t.
Proactive and frequent communication is what will separate aligned teams from disconnected ones. Just as our Premier and PM regularly update us on the number of coronavirus cases and the progress of restrictions, so should you with your employees and critical business information.
Do this en-masse and individually and never under-estimate the team’s desire for thorough and regular communication.
5. Robust HR policies
If you don’t have easily accessible, robust HR policies and processes, this is the time to get them organised.
Many organisations will be facing difficult situations, including stand-downs and redundancies, pay adjustments, role changes and employee mental health issues. Having clear and concise policies ensures employees know precisely what they need to do in specific situations as well as protecting the business from any ambiguity or non-compliance, which reduces exposure to penalties or employee claims.
6. Employee mental health
The mental health of employees will be a precarious issue for the foreseeable future as we all come through the isolation fog. There is much that organisations can do to reduce the impact of this on productivity and engagement levels.
Education and training on maintaining positive mental health, providing access for employees to counselling services and having clear policies and procedures to ensure that issues can be dealt with promptly, sensitively and appropriately will be essential.
Additionally, showing genuine care and compassion for your people is invaluable. People want to feel heard, understood and supported as they navigate their return to normality. Check-in frequently and ensure your leaders are trained in how to meaningfully connect with their employees to ensure they get the best out of them.
7. Prepare for the worst, plan for the best
If the coronavirus crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know what the future will hold – for the economy, the job market, industries or individuals. While it is important not to be overly pessimistic, having a realistic view of the future and planning for worst-case scenarios is simply smart business management. Of course you hope to be one of the lucky ones that can arise from the COVID-19 rubble relatively unscathed. But many won’t.
Planning for all scenarios and outcomes will ensure that you have done what you can to prevent any negative consequences, and if the worst does eventuate, you know you did all you could to save the ship. This means considering potential cost management strategies such as role reductions or stand downs, freezing salaries, restructuring, thinking about new product or service offerings or sub-leasing your office space. Many businesses are not just being strategic but also creative in their business planning during this time which is creating new opportunities that may have otherwise lay dormant.
The most important part of your role as leader of the team right now is bringing the team together regularly to ensure they all still feel like they’re part of something and are not just wallowing away by themselves at home. Start every day with a virtual get-together at a selected time like 9.15am. Find out how everyone’s doing, what’s on their "to-do list"; do they need help? How are they coping? What have they been watching? Have they been cooking anything amazing? Have they been having Zoom calls with friends?
Share relevant information about your business and the industry you’re in, let them know you’re proud of their efforts and for fronting up each day, even though they might’ve preferred to stay on the couch. It’s vital that we feel connected right now and as we navigate forward, however that’s going to look.
As a business owner or manager, you’ll know better than most how much there is to think about right now. When stress levels are raised, it’s even harder to take a step back and gain the ‘helicopter’ view of your business, to see what’s needed rationally.
The first point to take away from this is you’re the leader of the team. That doesn’t mean you need to do all of this yourself. You’ve got a team to help! Ask your team what’s worked and what’s been challenging about working from home. They may have loved getting a couple of hours back in their day without the commute. Consider whether this is something you can put in place permanently – a combination of remote and office based work? Some of your team may have realised that they are more productive and happier working this way. Imagine what the cost-benefit impact could be on reducing office rent, increasing productivity and optimising employee engagement!
Several silver linings are appearing in this The New Normal. There is just a bit of work to do to truly harness them. But if you start early and attack it in achievable bite-sized pieces, then before you know it, you will begin to transform the way you do things – and it might just be better than ever!