Covid-19 was not expected. Never before have we been told that we have to stay inside, only shop for essential items, exercise once a day and stay further than 2m away from each other. Some are embracing the quarantine; some are finding it difficult and some are probably somewhere in between. It’s safe to say this epidemic will change the world as we know it, in both our personal and working lives. Businesses have had to dramatically change the way they operate just to try and survive this crisis. Thousands of people now work from home, some have been furloughed and some have, unfortunately, been made redundant. Many including small business owners and workers are having to make choices between financial ruin and risking their own and others health.
With both our home and working lives hugely impacted, we’ll all be experiencing a range of emotions. Our initial priority will be how to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. Then as we start to acclimatise to this temporary way of life, we’ll have a raft of additional worries; is my job safe? How will I pay my bills? Will my job exist when we go back to “normal”?
For a lot of people, working from home all the time, will be new to them. From an organisation’s perspective, this will bring both positives and negatives and raise questions. Being forced to ask workers to work from home where possible, proves how easily many jobs can be carried out from home, especially with the tech now available to us. However, processes and procedures will need to be in place to support staff throughout this time and into the future. In addition to this, while businesses will be focusing on the essentials to keep running, it will highlight areas which may not be required in the future.
For furloughed colleagues, communication and support is essential. When society goes back to “normal” these people will be called upon to return to work. If businesses miscommunicate or fail to provide support to their furloughed workforce, people will be more reluctant to return. In some industries there are already shortages and whilst some companies may not survive shutdown, coming out of the crisis will create a competitive and buoyant recruitment market. Months of furlough will naturally erode levels of loyalty from employees. Lucrative counter offers may be highly attractive to those who are facing financial hardship after the lockdown. Although these colleagues will not be allowed access to internal platforms, organisations can still provide communication and learning content as long as this is not work. By doing this, colleagues will feel engaged with the business, have a sense of loyalty and be more likely to return.
It’s crucial that organisations communicate their plan of action clearly throughout this period. Miscommunication can cause immediate and long-term damage, which may end up in businesses not being able to recover. For a lot of people, working from home will be a new thing to them, this brings both positives and negatives.
For colleagues who’ve unfortunately been made redundant, being clear as to why this is happening and being understanding is essential. Use of social media is heightened as it’s one of the only ways people can communicate. We’ve already started to see that some companies who’ve not dealt with their redundancies well have started to receive bad press.
People will start to reflect on their lives, from what they spend their disposable income on to their careers. Peoples lives have been forced to slow down and have been restricted. This means people are having to adapt to a new way of life. For now, Friday night in the pub, means shop-brought beers and a night in the living room on the Houseparty app. Eating in a restaurant simply isn’t allowed, so more people are cooking and baking… although take-outs are still allowed! This change to life will make some people think about their careers too, do they really want too busy at lifestyle? Or do they want a humbler life with those who matter?
Organisations can use this time to really change the dynamics of how their businesses are run, make them more agile and reduce the impact to business in a time of crisis. However, when communicating with home-workers, furloughed and even ex-employees, it’s essential that their communication and support is clear, concise and useful, otherwise, some people simply won’t return or it will cause bad press.
What happens next?
When lockdown does begin to lift life will look and fell different. At this stage it is impossible to know how different. Will returning to work, mean returning to the office, or will working from home be what people now expect. Will companies facing financial hardship look to make savings by consolidating office space? We can speculate as to what will happen, but one certainty that we do have is that managing the return to the “new normal” will be equally as important in maintaining employee engagement and trust. We will return to the subject in coming weeks to look at what can be done to manage the return process.