Workforce Challenges for Leaders During COVID-19 Crisis Recovery and Transition
We should not lose the potential benefit of the natural reflection everyone is now beginning to go through. If ever there were a time for transparent leadership, it is now.
A safety manager called a meeting for workers on a team to inform them that three of their colleagues tested positive last night for COVID-19 infection. He announced the company protocols that is being followed to care for them and to curtail the further spread of the virus within the facility. He did his best to answer as many questions as possible and to calm nerves before leaving.
About two hours into the day, one of the workers had cut himself. The gash truly needed surgical incision, and a case for workplace injury was opened on his behalf. The truth is that few minutes after the meeting this worker had confided in a colleague that he did not feel safe anymore and he needs to take a break. The company entered its new fiscal year that week and so one could apply for regular vacation. Therefore, this worker injured himself enough to find a way to stay off-work for some days. This sounds extreme, but it is possible when people feel unsafe.
This transformational period still carries great uncertainty and invisible threats. People will challenge their confidence in the information to assess personal trust in their leaders.
Changing Workplace and New Cultures
The COVID-19 crisis has dislocated so many workers at different levels of the company. For example, team members working in various sections of this disaster recovery agenda are coopted on an ad-hoc basis. The implication is that others have had to fill in for them on their regular jobs somehow. The change in shift hours for some, the need for others to work from home, and all other forms of deviations from the norm as its toll in shifting organizational time schedules and people management. Hence, as the chaotic crisis management phase is settling down and you unveil a new phase of business recovery, it is important to take stock of the concerns of the people, the company’s greatest asset.
As mentioned earlier, the worries of the crisis management phase still linger in the hearts of the employees. Concern is still rife about job security and personal futures. Hence, clear communication is paramount policy directives continue to be shared with all levels of staff. For example, did you offer some pay increase at the height of the crisis in order to help employees weather the economic challenge that they faced in their personal lives. Take unexpected childcare costs that overtook some as an example. Now that employees are used to higher figures in their checks, are you going to withdraw such subventions just because it is a temporary relief. How is the workforce responding to the idea?
The workforce sub-committee becomes saddled with the task of identifying critical areas of business operations that must continue to operate, along with any additional ones ready to come on-stream along with their timelines as the crisis peters out. This review must include determining the availability of the required skills to get those jobs done. If the sub-sub-committee identifies any skill gaps, does the company have plans or abilities to accelerate the upskilling of capable staff or profitably contract out the services?
New Business Modalities
The workforce sub-committee may have to device ingenious solutions to solve business issues. For example, when the COVID-19 crisis struck a retailer with its abruptness, the company was just beginning to see some profits from its massive investment in drop-ship technology designed to save the failing company. Management decided that collapse of the drop-ship directorate meant the collapse of their existence. Somehow, they agreed to let their workers in the logistics and customer service departments go home with their tools in response to the remote working policies that became fashionable. The gamble included giving online access to sensitive material without physical security to workers who otherwise did not have remote working privileges. It turned out to produce efficiencies that saved many jobs. The company is currently considering assigning these work tasks permanently to home-based workers in the future as it ramps up its cybersecurity technology to support the concept.
Such transformations can be difficult for food manufacturers and photographers for example. Yet, many technology firms are already considering how to acculturate future interns to the company psyche within one to three months through a combination of on-site and off-site experiences. This task commonly requires physical presence at meetings over six months to a year.
Will Business Travel Continue?
For businesses with satellite locations a review of employee locations becomes necessary. This includes those in constant transit travelling to locations. People in vulnerable territories may have to be repatriated. Travel plans need to be reviewed to determine what can be cancelled, revised or rescheduled. If people are absent, could that be due to illness or a need to care for family members. How will the company absorb such necessities? There will always be considerations for lengthy school closures even as Fall 2020 school schedules are being reviewed. In addition, what taxation issues do employees in foreign lands face for overstaying outside their home countries?
Liquidity For Job Security
Despite its abrupt onset, the corona virus pandemic rapidly engulfed the world paralyzing essentially every human activity in every industry. Six months on, it promises to be endemic as the world struggles with finding solutions to eliminate the invader and mitigate its effects. The seasonal flu and HIV episodes offer little guidance as models. This incident remains unique in character. The economic impact on business has been so far reaching that new patterns of consumer behavior are becoming obvious, intensifying uncertainties for business recovery. Liquidity concerns force businesses to employ various forms of restructuring including furloughs, layoffs and outright terminations in efforts to stay afloat.
Some of these decisions have been difficult to make complicated by the confusion hitting in the first quarter of the year, throwing off all the preparations planned for the new financial year. The initial impulse was for businesses to keep her people, hoping that government interventions would reduce the potential of sliding the world into another economic depression. Unfortunately, the persistence of the virulence has forced new thinking and new ways of life that continue to force those companies that survive to adopt business models that reduces direct human interactivity, hence, terminations and fewer open positions.
This transformational experience has sensitized people to be more and thoughtful. They will desire more transparent information on a broader range of issues. If new plans are to succeed, transparency will be key to earning the right to be in business or lead.
Noah Omoluabi, author of Target The Executive Suite is a Business Advisor on management of culture of the workspace. Noah Omoluabi speaks professionally on workplace culture management for career leadership and, the social media management of Christian evangelism. His major theme is ‘Graduating Into A CEO’ in messages designed to ignite the fire of ambition for a legacy in young business leaders.