So here we are, emerging after weeks of COVID-19 isolation. Some businesses are getting back to work while others are still waiting to understand what each new alert level will mean for them.
We find ourselves looking at a post-lockdown economy that will be radically different to the one we left. For most companies, these are challenging and uncertain times. Sadly, many businesses will fail (or already have). Others will return to business as usual - or more like business as unusual - over the coming months or year.
If COVID-19 has taught us one thing, it’s that people and collective effort really matter. So as we rebuild, it’s a great time to get your people processes right, build team culture, and be ready to seize opportunities as they arise (or respond to any future disruptions).
At MyHR, we’ve been flat-out helping companies respond to the economic impacts of COVID-19 and lockdown. We’ve seen a 800% increase in staff restructures, compared to our normal monthly average. We stand with many kiwi businesses at the forefront of these changes, so we thought we’d share some key areas where we think you can focus attention and rally your efforts.
Retain your good people wherever you can
In normal conditions, your talented employees are integral to the success of your business. Right now, they could prove lifesavers.
Your best employees know the business, and can work with you to identify opportunities and act on them quickly. They can help you make sound, speedy decisions if the business needs to shift focus. Or these people may be your hardest workers, so they’ll be at the forefront of your business recovery.
Keeping your ‘A team’ together and focussed will put you in a much stronger position to weather the current downturn and to bounce back. You also won’t lose all their experience and knowledge and then have to start from scratch with new people.
Work your budgets however you can, but do what you can to keep the stars.
It’s hard to be sure of much right now, whether that’s what the next few weeks will look like or what will happen over the next 6 months, so making commitments to the good people you want to retain might seem hard. But don’t forget, they’re also facing uncertainty. The job market will be tight and unemployment high.
While it is a cliche, we are all in this together. Be honest with your people and talk to them about the company situation. They will have a good sense of the state the business is in, and will be able to help you work on solutions.
If you can’t afford them on their current terms, consult with them about what you can afford. If both parties can agree on changes such as reduced hours or pay, then you might be able to hold on to people.
Share recovery plans, give everybody some skin in the game. If hours need to be reduced for now, what is the goal for a return to full hours?
Be creative with your planning & structures
We’ve been talking to lots of businesses about making personnel changes to keep them viable, and we encourage exploring every option, even things you normally wouldn’t consider.
What short-term tweaks or interim structures could you implement? Your employees might be willing to explore reduced hours or temporary pay cuts and then slowly increase them as business picks up. You might be able to make roster changes to be a little more flexible than usual.
Everyone needs to be open to possibilities. If you and your team members come up with a number of options, and everybody is invested in finding good outcomes, you have a much better shot at success. It’ll also create a strong sense of loyalty in your staff.
Set a timeline, make some commitments. If the changes are intended to be permanent, you should expect that some of your employees won’t be able to accept a reduction in pay, hours, or benefits. Give these people the opportunity to present their reasons. If you cannot agree, then redundancy may be the outcome.
Make tough choices quickly and correctly
Hopefully, your business has enough work to keep your team together or you can make it through the current instability using the government wage subsidy or other assistance.
But once you’ve explored all the options and find there is no way to avoid reducing staff numbers, then don’t miss the opportunity to set up a better business.
We all know restructure and redundancy occurs for commercial reasons, not individual performance reasons. The current situation presents very compelling commercial reasons to look closely at the way your business is structured and make changes for a quick recovery and better long-term future.
Do you have the right roles? Doing the right things? While reducing positions in order to cut costs, you should also be exploring whether your business is structured in the best way possible.
We always advise businesses to step back and look at the whole business and its future first. Too often, redesigned organisations are developed by only looking one or two steps ahead. Jobs are cut, new roles created, and everybody hopes things will work out. Instead of this approach, start by defining (or redefining) your company strategy and objectives, which will define the work that needs to be done, which defines the roles required to do that work.
So strategy > work > roles.
Now more than ever, there is a chance to reset. Keep the good people, focus on the new future and prepare for growth.
Remember, a restructure is as much (if not more) about the people left behind as it is about those who are leaving. If you treat departing people with honesty and respect, act in good faith, and honour your contractual obligations, you’ll minimise the risk of grievance while demonstrating to those left behind that you are a good employer.
This is where MyHR provides help to hundreds of businesses. Don’t feel you have to wade through these tricky processes by yourself.
Top tip: Employment law hasn’t changed
The process for doing restructures or making any change to the terms of a person’s employment is the same as it was before lockdown. The government has been very clear that there is no newfound shortcut for employers who need to make changes.
COVID-19 and the associated business downturn might give you the commercial justification to restructure, but all the normal rules of good faith, fair and reasonable process, and consultation with your team members apply.
Your time frames might be shorter given the urgency of the situation and the speed of change, but the process is still the same: investigate, propose, consult, consider, decide.
Use outsourcing to your advantage
Never has there been a more compelling time to consider outsourcing non-core business activities such as HR.
Credible, quality outsourced providers give you flexibility during times of downturn as well as times of growth. You not only outsource the work to committed experts, you also outsource all the staffing hassle. Outsourced options are more cost-effective too.
If your business has been running throughout Alert Level 4, then your people will be accustomed to working in different ways. They may have got used to working remotely, with different ways of doing things or different routines, and they mightn’t be so keen on being tied to the workplace or office hours anymore.
Technology has made this easier and people are often more productive and motivated if they have more flexibility and better work-life balance, so look at ways to accommodate these things. Workplaces are going to need to maintain some form of physical distancing for the foreseeable future, and you’re going to need people’s best efforts and results more than you’ll need them to be wed to routines.
HR technology, coupled with video-calling apps, can allow you to undertake all people processes seamlessly while maintaining legal compliance, so you can easily and effectively monitor performance, sign documents online, seek advice, and engage in consultation on most employment matters.
Build up company culture
In tough times like these, it can be easy to forget about your company culture, but a good culture should rise and help carry the business through.
All businesses are social systems that work best when they are united and communication is open and honest. Your people should feel invested in helping the company find a positive way forward.
If you have the basics right, with good systems in place, your team can focus on the work at hand (and what lies ahead).
Motivate and drive performance
This could be another thing that’s easy to overlook at the moment, but examining what you do as individuals and as a group, and how you do them, can help you focus your efforts.
What are you good at? What things could you do better?
Foster a climate of safety and trust so your people can feel confident in contributing their ideas and efforts. Work on setting clear objectives and follow up with regular check-ins. Smart systems that people can easily understand and use will make this much easier, so you’ve got an unobtrusive platform rather than a time-consuming hindrance.
A good HR system will also help keep your staff connected and engaged, which is especially important if all or some of them are working from home.
Deal with any issues
Just as your performance management shouldn’t stop, nor should your issues management. There could be all sorts of things cropping up for your employees right now. Some people may not feel comfortable returning to work. Many will be under serious financial pressure. Others may have got used to the different pace of lockdown life.
While you should be understanding of this, you need to address any obvious drops in performance or bad attitude before anything gets too major and requires more formal resolution.
If you uphold your obligations, endeavouring to keep your employees safe and treating them fairly, they should respond and apply themselves to doing what’s needed.
Remember: Be compassionate! Look after your people
Most of us have been affected one way or another by this event. Just as business owners are worried about the viability of their companies, employees are worried about losing their job and having to find a new one in this tough environment.
As an employer, it’s essential to be kind and supportive in times like these. People may be stressed and anxious. Maintain your compassion and put your team members’ wellbeing at the centre of your decision-making. Doing right by your people is always the right thing to do.
Retain your existing Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services if you can. If you don’t have them, it may be worth getting. Talking to a professional can help people deal with times of stress (that includes seeking support if you need it, as well).