Article written by Philippa Chappell (Manager: Advisory Services, ContinuitySA)
The management of human resources during a crisis is multi-faceted and typically managed in three parts of a holistic business continuity management response. The initial emergency response focusing on the immediate need for the safety of staff. The business continuity component which focuses on operational elements, providing additional staffing through multi-skilling, cross-skilling, or temporary outsourcing of critical roles within the organisation. And crisis management which looks at how we communicate with staff and, although strategic in nature needs to assist with aspects of their well-being with provisions such as counselling for staff and families and other types of support to cater for the needs of individual staff members.
Initially the response to COVID-19 played out largely in the IT space as companies moved towards mobilizing their staff where possible to alternative recovery sites or more generally to working from home. However, the direct management of human resources has had to remain a focal point within executive crisis teams to ensure alignment with new government regulations and to support operations and so the voice of human resources (HR) in those teams is vital and has needed to become louder.
During a crisis we typically can never be 100% sure what to expect. However, we are learning valuable lessons about HR from the current crisis and how it can be managed more effectively. These include great adaptability and understanding around the following issues:
Leave policies – Clear messaging is required here with regard to policies on what happens within a lockdown and the implications for forced leave, policies when a partner or child is infected etc.
Labour relations – Naturally the financial pressures from a crisis such as this varies dramatically by industry. Cost containment becomes a very serious reality. Where staff cannot be paid, how can HR help with UIF applications. What happens as businesses need to make retrenchments or move into business rescue.
Training – As the workforce moves to a more digital approach, new technologies are introduced, and staff need to be provided with training. Equally they need to be managed and supported while working from home and balancing that with the required business outcomes.
Directives published in association with OHSA – Considerations need to be given to social distancing, hygiene controls and specific government requirements in returning to the workplace.
Staff productivity – As staff are working remotely how do we measure and manage their productivity.
Work from home policies – Policies need to be reworked to adapt to this new scenario with flexibility for parents who are home schooling children at the same time.
Communication – Communication remains vital especially as we look to drive structure and direct cohesion in teams and build or maintain company cultures.
Employment equity – How can companies ensure no discrimination against any staff found to have tested positive.
Well-being support – How can we provide assistance to colleagues, what is the impact on morale and how can we support ‘Zoom fatigue’ in the new every day virtual meetings.
Inherently all crises are abnormal and present unstable situations which place exceptional demands on the management teams. The crisis management plan provides a structure and high-level process used to identify, respond, and manage the crisis. The success of the response though hinges on rehearsing and testing the robustness of that plan by exposing different scenarios in simulations with different levels of complexity and with varying pace and tempos of disasters.
With all that said we cannot overlook the need for all of us to show compassion at these times. While we may all be in the same storm we are definitely not in the same boat and many different ramifications abound. Leading the way by showing kindness and understanding to all will play a big part in staying safely afloat and riding this storm.
COVID-19 has been very different, challenging executives by the extended and evolving nature of a situation over which they had very limited control. What has strongly emerged is that HR can no longer take a back seat at the crisis management table and will need to be taken more seriously in the future.