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Imminent measures that required HR action such as the IR35 and the gender pay gap reporting have both been delayed until next year. HR agendas have quickly had to prioritise remote working and rolling this out across organisations that have not offered this before.

Provisional results from our UK Reward Management Survey, which surveys HR and reward professionals, indicate that 80 per cent of respondents have been very involved in formulating business continuity plans. Here we discuss key issues HR are being tasked with tackling and outline some examples of where companies have hit the ground running in offering remote working.

1. Managing remote working

One of the key challenges facing employers is how to manage employees working from home who have not worked remotely before. 100 per cent of respondents to our UK Reward Management Survey have answered that they are offering working from home to reduce the potential impact of COVID-19, complying with government guidance. Some employers are purchasing home workstation equipment.

According to recent research by Employee Benefits and our own poll about flexible working, many employers are hopeful that the pandemic will make employers see the value of flexible working. However, we would caution at this point to truly examine if flexible working is in operation across your workforce as lockdown continues. Beyond the physical aspects of supporting the health and safety of a remote workforce, what many employees are currently experiencing is not working from home in the truest sense of the term.

2. Making flexible working work for each individual

Setting boundaries between work and personal life can ensure that a true blend is avoided. Defined spaces to work and set hours enable employees to avoid burnout, as there is a clear understanding about what is required from the employee and when. Early or late starts and finishes, part-time hours and job shares should all be agreed upfront with the employee to ensure they can manage their time and that the business can hand over trust to the employee to be as productive as possible as both parties have reached an agreement. Trusting staff to make the right call is at the heart of flexible working arrangements that are thriving.

The current challenge is accommodating people’s childcare situation which is likely to see them currently working around their children, something that typically would not be a feature of flexible working outside of this pandemic. Whilst 87 per cent are offering flexible working hours to try to accommodate this, 47 per cent of employers do anticipate that productivity will decrease. A careful balance needs to be struck between not pressurising employees at an already difficult time and ensuring that employers are offering the requisite support for employees to be able to continue their role as far as possible in the circumstances.

3. Identifying which employees to furlough

Ahead of preparing for lockdown, understanding customer demand and managing this has been central to identifying which employees can work from home and which roles could be furloughed to ease pressure on pay budgets.

Employers are taking a holistic view when it comes to assessing the right approach, which will differ for each company. Bank of Ireland has instead offered to retrain any staff wanting to support teams seeing an increase in demand, such as contact centres or covering volumes or absences through illnesses. In contrast, furloughing workers has avoided redundancies for companies such as BrewDog who have furloughed 70 per cent of the workforce globally. Some staff are asking to work on production lines instead of being furloughed from the head office, targeting resources and ensuring the business is preserved and protected.

4. Managing mental health and wellbeing is critical

In addition to the lockdown creating challenges such as juggling home, childcare and work demands, isolation from colleagues and loneliness are also at risk of damaging people’s long-term mental health and wellbeing. Many organisations are reporting that they are acting with agility that would have normally taken them months. However, the extraordinary circumstances have meant that businesses that are thriving have embraced the challenges and fast-tracked occupational health assessments, identifying vulnerable workers and facilitating remote working where possible.

Bank of Ireland have launched a new wellbeing app for staff on their personal devices. Launched at the beginning of the year, this unites the workforce who can access the support they need on any device and have partnered with a wellbeing expert to offer employees a programme covering mental, physical and financial wellbeing through sessions, seminars and live feeds. This is an example of the creative ways businesses are making their people feel connected and supported through challenging times. Whilst promoting employee wellbeing has been a key priority for HR professionals particularly over the last year, the pandemic is reassigning this as a top priority for many employers.

5. A collaborative approach

HR professionals are also embracing sharing lessons learnt globally, as different countries are at different stages of coping with the pandemic. The Bank of Ireland have been monitoring practices of banks in Italy and Spain and talking to HR colleagues there, driving sharing and learning to help devise effective strategies for managing the situation as it unfolds. Businesses are taking creative approaches to how they can contribute and support local communities during this period. BrewDog has shifted distillery production to make free hand sanitiser for local hospitals and charities, whilst Siemens has ramped up production of vital blood gas analysers, lent ventilator expertise and given paid leave to staff volunteering for the NHS.

6. Employee safety

Collaboration and education also extends to customers themselves. For key workers in supermarkets and banks, ensuring that customers understand what distancing means has been a key challenge in protecting employees. Employers have installed clear screens in many customer facing roles and markers help customers uphold these measures. On its production line, BrewDog has enforced social distancing within the factory and provided face visors for production staff to ensure staff feel safe in the brewery and distillery. All signal clear steps that are upheld to reduce the risks to employees whilst trying to achieve business as usual as much as possible.

We’d love to hear from you

Get in touch if we can help with any of your top priorities as we navigate through the pandemic. In return for just 10-15 minutes of your time, you can contribute your views on how the pandemic is shaping your strategy in our UK Reward Management Survey and receive a free, anonymised report into fellow HR professionals’ approaches.


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