Learning from top employers: opportunities for HR beyond Covid-19

Written by
Phil Sproston, country manager UK & Ireland, Top Employers Institute

21 Apr 2020

21 Apr 2020 • by Phil Sproston, country manager UK & Ireland, Top Employers Institute

The strong response to disruption by leading employers gives us a positive glimpse into a post Covid-19 future, says Phil Sproston, country manager UK & Ireland, Top Employers Institute. 

At a time when many organisations are understandably making short-term decisions about the way they organise their workforces due to the spread of Covid-19, it is easy for us to overlook longer-term challenges and opportunities that are arising for HR. The impact of coronavirus, and of subsequent lockdowns, on our individual and collective behaviours has been drastic, yet business has an opportunity to innovate during this time of disruption.

Shifts in technology, society and the labour market will all affect the dynamics of our return to work, when the time comes. A look at the current research and best practices of certified Top Employers in the UK can perhaps give us a glimpse into a post-Covid-19 future.

The opportunity for HR

Prior to the pandemic, research conducted with 1,600 Top Employers worldwide showed most were already offering the sorts of flexible working initiatives that are now belatedly being practised everywhere.

Certainly, in the UK, 76% of our Top Employers consistently offered flexible work schedules, while 60% offered compressed working hours; 78% time off in lieu; 70% opportunities for telecommuting/working from home (70%), and 52% allowed staff reduced company travel obligations.

The big opportunity for HR in the weeks and months to come will be around recalibrating workforce flexibility in the post-Covid-19 workplace. The impact of flexibility has become broader than the logistics of working from home. 

For example, medical and travel security assistance organisation International SOS has made a clear commitment to support its teams during difficult times. This goes far beyond facilitating flexible working for non-keyworkers and includes guidance around the nature of remote working itself, expert advice around the anxiety being experienced and support for those who have caring responsibilities.

The importance of communication

Effective communication within organisations has never been more crucial. Prior to the pandemic, we noted a sharp increase in the number of managers being trained in the benefits of communicating effectively with their teams, with 78% consistently undertaking training in this area - up from 62% only a year ago. 

The response of Tata Consultancy Services to the coronavirus crisis is an example of best practice around communication. It has been working hard to safeguard and maintain the IT infrastructure for its critical business clients such as banks, healthcare providers, pharmacies and grocery retailers across the UK. Meanwhile, it has simultaneously launched an extensive communications plan, driven by its leaders, around the impact of the virus for the business and its employees, through its intranet and internal social media.

Reassuring your employees

In the current climate of uncertainty, it is vital for organisations to be seen to limit risks to employees and provide reassurance around job security. Prior to coronavirus, the vast majority (94%) of our Top Employers, consistently cited “limiting risk to employees and their job security” as key factors when making strategic decisions prior to the pandemic.

The agile response of facilities management and professional services company Mitie is a blueprint for others to follow. It has established a national Critical Incident Team (CIT) to assess and mitigate risk to individuals, and to co-ordinate and respond to disruption when it occurs.

The CIT includes senior management from its cleaning, security, risk, engineering, energy and landscaping operations, along with its internal infrastructure and operations teams. The energy team, for example, is working with customers to optimise power usage for the many buildings with fluctuating occupancy rates.

Preparing for recovery

Despite the immediate challenges of Covid-19 and its aftermath, HR has a long-term opportunity to improve by studying and emulating best practice modelled before and during the crisis.

Employers will need to be ready for the recovery phase. And when that time comes, they can use the many examples of humanity within organisations that has emerged from adversity to underpin their next steps.