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Coronavirus – we are entering unprecedented times

In my previous blogs I have addressed some issues relating to the challenges employers are facing with the current pandemic (Coronavirus blog and Budget blog) but how can you manage now the advice is impacting people in a much more extreme manner?

The aim of this piece is to pull together some suggestions that organisations can consider to help them get through this very difficult period for both business owners and employees alike. Not all organisations will be in a position to adopt the suggestions but it may trigger business owners and people managers to think of different ways they can manage their people and keep their business and people as safe as possible during these unprecedented times.

I've already touched on some of the home working issues in my blog on Dealing with the Floods so I won't cover this again.

Firstly, if you are in the position to keep paying your people even though demand for your product or services has reduced to a degree where it impacts your ability to provide the normal work opportunities, consider whether you can engage your people in activities that you never normally have time to carry out. This could include training/continued professional development (possibly online if you want to keep your workforce separate), reviewing workplace risk assessments, plant maintenance or clearing out that storage cupboard that you keep meaning to empty but never have time.

Another option for some smaller operations where the activity involves using specialised work equipment, you could operate separate shift patterns to reduce contact between your employees where people come in to carry out their activity at different times of the day.

Where you provide a product in a retail environment and you have regular customers, are you able to contact them to see if there are opportunities to still provide that product to them? Time slots or home deliveries could be an option. Can you combine with retailers close to you to continue to provide your customers with products and share the activity connected with this such as joint deliveries?

See if your people have other ideas that might help your business stay afloat – I never cease to be amazed at the creative ideas people can come up with if they are given the opportunity.

If you are able to continue to provide work to your people, remember to do some form of risk assessment of the activities and exposure to COVID-19, communicating any safeguards to your people. I would advise that you keep these risk assessments regularly reviewed as the position changes. And don't forget that pregnant women have now been included in the categories who have been advised to stop 'non-essential' contact with others.

If none of these are viable options and you have no work for your people, how you manage this could be crucial to keeping your people engaged once this is over. It's a conversation no manager wants to have with their people but clear and regular communication is the key.

Once you have taken the difficult decision to temporarily cease the majority of your activity, you need to communicate this to your people and discuss with them the options for managing the difficulties you are facing. Wherever and while ever you can, you should communicate in person or via video calls – written communications at this time will not help to land your message in an effective manner. Having said this, once you have concluded your approach, there are some formal written communications you will need to follow-up with.

The first and key point you need to get across is that any action you are proposing is designed to protect the business and, therefore, their future employment. Be clear about how the situation has impacted on your ability to provide people with work and the finances of the business e.g. 50% less orders over the last two days.

Provide people with all of the options you have considered and then have a discussion about whether they have other ideas to provide both the business and your people with a positive way of getting through this. Try to reach agreement on the course of action and be clear on how and when you will review the position.

Be careful if you reach an agreement for reduced pay – the national living wage still applies and you can't agree with your workforce to pay below this.

Finally, be clear that if the situation worsens, you may have to change this position but that you will do everything possible to avoid this.

These are unprecedented times and the picture is moving quickly – keep yourself updated with the changing advice and alter your course of action if it is no longer appropriate. The suggestions above could become unworkable if the advice changes and there are further measures are put in place by the government.

If you need any support during this time, get in touch. 2020 HR can help with designing training including online tools or with formally advising your people of the changes you have agreed. We can also provide you with further information on what you are able to do based on your own employment terms and how to communicate with your teams effectively.

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