With the World Health Organisation declaring the coronavirus crisis as a ‘global pandemic’, it goes without saying the coming months will be challenging for both employers and employees alike as we all grapple with emergency response plans to change the way we work and set up triage work from home plans.
That’s not to say we should be living in fear – as governments, scientists and medical experts around the world are repeating, with the necessary precautions in place, we can reduce the risk and workplaces can continue to function – albeit differently than before.
Businesses have an important leadership role to play throughout this crisis. It’s critical they step up now to avoid rising panic in our workplaces and communities.
If we want our workplaces to remain as productive and safe as possible, then employees need reassurance and confidence their workplace has a solid health response plan and effective communication channels in place to allow them to do their job as best they can, however they can. Employees need to know how their leave and pay will be impacted if they can’t work.
For this to be effective, workplaces must adjust to be more flexible and agile to respond to the changing needs of the crisis and that of their employees – particularly those caring for a family.
There is a unique opportunity for employers to review their business operating model and working rhythms to ensure they’re more efficient – and good work-from-home response plans can deliver a productivity uplift if implemented with care.
7 tips for employers to support their employees in the coming months
1. Have a ‘work from home’ plan. To help limit the spread of the disease, many organisations have already implemented emergency arrangements that allow employees to work partly, if not fully, at home. For companies that have concerns about having an empty office, have a test day or week first – allow employees to work from home and put systems in place that help people easily interact with colleagues remotely. Then assess the situation to see what worked and what didn’t and adjust your plan accordingly. Take note that should an employee be diagnosed with COVID-19, the office will be closed for a minimum of 14 days or as prescribed, and the premises will undergo a comprehensive health-certified cleaning – so a work from home plan is imperative:
- Technology - take laptops home every day in case you need to shut down. Ensure the team can connect easily and access their programs.
- Collaboration and communication are essential - ‘a group chat’ (eg. Slack, IM) to replace incidental comms; video (eg. Zoom, Hangout, Webex, Skype) to replace meetings. Trello is a good outcomes-based tool for teams - to ensure everyone is working to the same priorities. Work out loud to capture the golden nuggets which get shared in office banter, like client anecdotes and mini wins.
- Connection for your employees is important with loneliness and mental health issues related to isolation being a risk. Encourage your employees to take breaks — and transition in and out of work each day as if they were coming to and from work. ‘Daily standups’ and ‘channels’ for team issues are great tools for this.
- Manage your risk. Ensure you have covered off OH&S work from home requirements, have a remote work policy and flexible work policy. Get in touch if you need support.
2. Change the way you meet and travel. Like with any infectious disease, it makes sense to limit large gatherings or situations where it can pass from person to person. This can impact business significantly, where for many, days are filled with face-to-face meetings, events and business traveling. Instead, use videoconferencing where possible, and if unavoidable, hold meetings in open, well-ventilated spaces. Postpone large gatherings and assess the risks of business travel. Ensure your employees have adequate home internet connection for easy communication – be prepared to invest in data plans or provide allowances for better home internet access plans, for example. Don’t cancel meetings - change them to video. Keep momentum of the business.
3. Have back-up childcare plans in place – especially as Easter school holidays loom. Working parents and carers are going to be one of the most impacted groups, especially if more schools and childcare centres start to close, or family members become unwell. The juggle of work and family can be difficult enough as is, and employee absenteeism will become a major issue if businesses do not have alternative support for parents and carers in place, especially over the upcoming school holiday period. Normal vacation care and school camps may not be open. Consider a back-up childcare policy that includes employees being eligible to 10 days of backup childcare a year through a licensed provider for both in-home and centre-based care.
4. Prioritise and re-design work roles. Who’s going to do the work if the schools close? We need to keep our businesses in business. If we want the work to be done, we need to give our employees more flexibility to figure out how, when and where they do it. It is unlikely that they will be able to retain full time loads if their kids are at home seven days a week. If employees need to reduce their hours, you’ll need to prioritise and re-design their work. Ensure that everyone is given access to these options, not just Mums. Even people without children will have nieces and nephews, elderly at-risk parents and friends to care for. We need to be realistic about what can get done. Parents will need to share the care. Calendars are your friend. Families will need to have schedules with availability / care. Teams will need to do the same. Think ‘Christmas skeleton staff’ - what are the critical business and client needs - what can be done outside regular business hours?
5. Ensure your employees know your business response plan and leave options. In times of uncertainty, clear communication is key. Share any company plans you are implementing with employees in a very clear and thorough way. Outline the human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits that are available to them. Maintain open and honest communication, and ensure you are passing on government and medical guidelines to your employees around the virus. Think creatively about what flexible work options you can offer: leave, unpaid leave, part-time, sabbatical, etc - and consider the employment law requirements.
6. Be flexible with current policies. This isn’t a usual situation, so we need to allow for unusual circumstances. Allow some flexibility with your company policies to ensure best support. If unwell employees normally need to provide a medical certificate to validate their illness, consider wavering this to reduce the impact on already busy medical centres. Provide additional carers’ leave if an employee needs to care for an elderly, unwell relative. Allow employees to leave work earlier if their children are unwell and they are struggling with childcare alternatives. Be conscious that these unusual circumstances will not be forever, and it’s important that we give support and flexibility to employees at an uncertain time.
7. Be intentional. And plan for the benefits! Don’t just see this as a problem to solve. It’s also an opportunity to challenge the way we do work, optimising work, productivity and providing the flexibility your employees need.
Parents At Work is currently offering free consultations to businesses on how they can best support employees at this time including putting together emergency work-from-home plans, family wellbeing packs, manager training and work life coaching. Please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org for support.
Beam helps companies tap into the power of flexible work - using job design, productive work tactics and flexible team co-creation through toolkits, online learning and workshops. Beam also represents a hidden talent pool of people looking for part-time work, so organisations can tap into these highly skilled, diverse workers. We partner with employers to provide our clients with phone-based employment law advice.
Authors: Emma Walsh, CEO, Parents At Work and Stephanie Reuss, CEO, Beam Australia