Why HR is key in an age of coronavirus

HR has a vital job to play in the current crisis, in leading and communicating clearly about what is happening and reassuring and supporting workers so they can get on and do their jobs effectively.

Woman working at home


HR has a huge role to play in the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday, People Management ran an article where people blamed HR managers for a failure to interpret the Government’s key work guidance clearly, with businesses asking people to come into work who are clearly not critically necessary.

Yet many in HR are doing a great job, leading by example and providing clear, calm advice and giving people time to settle into the new normal. We will be highlighting these over the coming weeks.

The coronavirus pandemic is a huge experiment in flexible working and some will come out of this better able to cope with any future disruptions – and there will be future disruptions – while some will emerge having had a bad experience of remote working and having potentially put line managers and others off the whole thing.

So leadership is critical. Absolutely key is clear and consistent communication of what everyone is expected to do, even if everything is changing all the time.  All you can do is work on the information you have currently.

Countering anxiety

For most of us, this pandemic is a source of huge anxiety and uncertainty adds to that feeling. That means having good engagement networks so you know what employees’ concerns are and can address them, even if you don’t have the full information you need, for instance, on how government policy might affect them. You can at least spell out what you do know and make clear what you don’t, but are seeking clarification about or what you think is probable. Clear, regular, truthful communication will help ease much of the anxiety people are feeling and build trust.

Mental well being is a huge issue in the current circumstances. People who are working remotely for the first time will need time to get used to the new set-up and regular check-ins [make sure these don’t come across as check-ups].

Encourage regular breaks and physical activity to break sedentary periods and use remote communication tools not just for purely work purposes, including career development check-ups and feedback and company/team news, but also for connecting socially with colleagues, sharing tips on how to manage homeschooling and homeworking, for instance, and how to get by in the current lockdown situation. Humour is vital for mental health. For more on mental health click here.

People first

People are at the heart of what HR managers do so any change in how you operate if you are moving to a remote model needs to start first from people. That means making them feel involved in the process of moving to new ways of doing things, asking them what they need to get their jobs done and what your clients need and expect [and how you communicate this to them]. It means ensuring that line managers are aware of the particular pressures individuals in their teams are facing at this time so that these can be taken into account and a pathway forward negotiated. For instance, they can find the best times for conference calls or check-ins if the person is also managing caring duties.

Employee networks, if you have them, are a great way to share ideas for supporting groups facing similar challenges, such as carers [whether they are live-in or otherwise] and parents, whether that is on homeschooling, keeping in touch with vulnerable relatives who don’t live with them or sources of support. They can communicate on remote channels such as slack. Ambassadors can also fulfill that role in smaller organisations. Line managers could be encouraged to make any regular communications more personal, acknowledging the struggles people, including them, are facing. Role modelling is vital to building a sense of empathy and trust.

Best practice

Lastly, many organisations already allow a lot of remote working and have learnt from trial and error what works, for instance, when it comes to remote training and mentoring. Clearly each organisation has its own challenges, but there may be much in what they have done that can help you. So take this opportunity to read up on best practice and develop your own responses.

We published our Best Practice Report in early March and there are many ideas there. Our white papers are also available to download for free and the website is full of examples of organisations that have become more agile and flexible, how they have done that and the business benefits of doing so. We will be checking in with many over the coming months to see how they are coping and to share their experiences, including on virtual recruitment and onboarding.

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