Putting People at the Centre of the Recovery

This engaging, motivational and highly inspiring session was held by Sir Ian Cheshire, Chairman, Barclays, Natasha Adams, Peter Cheese and Valarie Todd at the CIPD Festival of Work. It is certainly one of the highlights of the Festival of Work.

The current circumstances have allowed us to really bring things into perspective, we’ve learnt a lot about collaboration, priorities and key focuses during this time. Flexible working and wellbeing are critical as this crisis has presented so many people with varying concerns which employers need to acknowledge and respond to. Some people may feel disconnected, others have embraced and welcomed the new normal, mental health and wellbeing was part of the HR agenda, however going forward it needs to remain a priority for employers.

Change, collaborate and listen!

Collaboration has improved, we have been brought together in a completely different way; gone are long stressful commutes which impinge upon work life balances and we are now in a period of true presence. People are becoming more productive but are also seeing the workplace in a completely different light.

How do we help people to recover from this crisis? We need to reflect on what the crisis has taught us, each employer would have responded differently at the announcement of lockdown. Overall, most UK businesses have responded and adapted to change at a rapid speed which is something we haven’t seen before; the challenge now is how do we achieve the best of both worlds.

Virtual meetings and telephone calls have impacted upon human connection and contact, so flexible working and working from home may be a way of achieving an appropriate balance between the two. We have learned so much during this time, leaders are reaching out more to their employees, trust is increasing as prodctivity rises, so now we need to take those positive things forward into the new world of work. All of these things can enhance the business strategy, produce more open and supportive cultures and generating more proactive approaches; more people than ever have pulled together which are outside their usual role remit.

Natasha Adams described that Tesco had a three year plan, they then had to triple their online capacity almost overnight to adapt to the demand presented by the crisis. For the company, this has shown a much more human approach to leadership; people have let go of the typical corporate view of suits and ties, all swapped for working from our kitchen tables in our pyjamas with dogs barking in the background!

Valarie describes the diversifying of Siemans Technologies; ensuring that people are able to work from home effectively using various platforms and this couldn’t be achieved without people pulling together from all ares of the business. They also found themselves working with people they had never worked with before; learning new skills and developing new products in a very short space of time. Leadership played a lot in this; accountability, trust and stepping back – not everyone could be involved so supporting people in the right way was critical for their involvement in supporting the NHS with ventilator equipment.

Skills have always been crucial, they will just be used differently going forward; this has been possible by the adaption of technologies; it is a challenge to connect with people in new ways so we do expect a shift as we begin to recover, but we need to build upon the lessons and experiences we have faced throughout the pandemic, it is time to raise the standards and carry this attitude forward as we work our way through the recovery period.

The path to recovery

The recovery process will not be a walk in the park, there are tricky roads ahead, more than 11 million people were furloughed; around 12-15% are expected to face redundancies and this is the step we are moving into now. Given the economic issues, these decisions are painful for many employers especially when many had plans for growth; whilst this may be the case, we need to ensure that these situations are handled sensitively and with high degrees of empathy. Clear communication, engagement and support mechnaisms are essential to ensure any redundancy processes are undertaken inclusively, in a supportive manner and this needs to be factored in when making these decisions.

Good planning helps us to make better decisions for the long term but allows us to support more effectively in the short term. The leadership qualities that we have seen during the crisis needs to continue; flexibile approaches to adapting roles differently within organisations could be a possibility, this would enable more people to remain employed. This leads to more sustainable and responsible employment practice that employers could be proud of; to achieve this, employers need to look at what can be done differently.

Focus on wellbeing

A lot of anxiety around job losses; Peter Cheese states that this should be a priority to all employers when it comes to their people; mental health has been significantly affected by the crisis when it was already desperately overlooked previously, this needs to be at the forefront of the return process. Leaders need to step up and actively talk about how they intend to incorporate wellbeing into the culture of the organisation.

We have an opportunity to change things. By organisations shifting from the bottom line and thinking more about upskilling, developing, building capability, increasing diversity and creating change, this will support both businesses and the economy alike. Cost savings in the short term may be justified however, this will have lasting impacts upon the culture and employees who may be left behind.

Some employees may also be concerned about returning to work, by making provisions, preparing the workplace and asking employees what their ideas are can make suggestions that the leadership team may not have heard of. It generates inclusion, improves company culture and helps in the assistance of returning to the new normal with a fresh take on our organisations.

What can HR do?

We need to be embedded within organisations to make a true impact; allowing leaders to lead, away from he command and control mindset and moving into a more fluid way of working. Building trust and capabilities for starters will enable visible returns such as increased productivity but from a leadership perspective, this allows a greater understanding of our workforce to drive the business forward.

Reviewing diversity and inclusion policies is also another priority; given that people are working flexibly and beyond the 9-5 the traditional barriers to employment should no longer exist, this is an opportunity to tap into a previously untouched recruitment market, bringing new skills and experiences to the workforce.

Finding purpose

If the crisis has taught us anything, it has shown us what our organisational purpose is, bringing a sense of pride within organisations which is shown by those who work for them. Tesco are just one of the employers who are openly proud of their employees and all they have achieved during the pandemic crisis. Stepping up, working hard and often supporting roles outside of their remits have been the key to successfully distributing essential supplies throughout the UK.

What are you doing differently?

How are your organisations embracing the changes as a result of the pandemic? Have your business priorities changed? Do let me know what your future workplace looks like in the comments box below.

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