The long-term impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) will not be known for many months. However, the outbreak is already having a significant impact on staff welfare – their mental, physical and financial wellbeing – as well as business owners. How you help protect the health of your workforce, and your own, could prove vital to the health of your business this year.
One of the biggest changes for many will be the switch to working from home, or working in reduced groups on rotation in the workplace. If this kind of flexible working is new to your business, it will create a number of challenges. Even if it’s not, the prospect of employees working remotely from each other for weeks or months on end will create technological and social challenges.
If your business is providing a vital service during the outbreak your staff could be working harder than ever. This will create different pressures as overwork and tiredness could quickly become a problem.
There are a number of things you can do during this time to prepare your employees, help them cope with the disruption coronavirus will cause, and ensure that they can continue to work productively.
We have rounded up expert advice on how to support your employees during this period. The government has also announced a wide range of measures, both to protect worker health and to provide support for those facing unemployment or other hardship.
Got 2 minutes? Check out our 5 things you can do right now
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5 things you can do (right now) to boost your staff welfare
(1) Sort your software
If your employees need to work from home, you need the right software in place so they can access systems in the same way they could in the office. For many office-based businesses a virtual private network (VPN) will be one of the first things to sort out. This enables access to your company’s servers and documents, no matter where you are. Video conferencing and chat software may also be useful. There are a wide range of programmes available, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack, that fulfil these functions. Many offer a free service with less functionality than the paid versions, so it’s worth shopping around.
(2) Keep in contact
Research shows that remote workers can become less productive if they’re not in regular contact with managers. This can also lead to feelings of isolation and have a big impact on mental health over time. Think about how often you want to speak to staff, such as through daily team calls, establishing virtual lunch groups and scheduling one-to-one calls with employees on a regular basis.
(3) Make sure employees understand what sick pay and leave they are entitled to
Some of your employees might be looking after family members, self-isolating, or they may have children who can no longer go to school. Ensure they understand how they can use their annual leave, under what circumstances they can apply for sick pay and any other ways you are providing support. You can find all the information you need on sick pay and leave from the government advice service on work, Acas. You should also check the government Business Support page which has details on the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme and Statutory Sick Pay support.
(4) If you’re not switching to remote working, introduce flexibility elsewhere
Many businesses will still be keeping their doors open during the outbreak. If this is the case, then consider letting your employees start work later than usual. This will help both with any childcare arrangements they need to make, and avoid busy periods if they use public transport to get to work. Minimise face-to-face meetings as much as possible and host them in areas where staff don’t have to sit closely to each other for lengthy periods of time. Some businesses might also be able to introduce staggered shifts so that a reduced number of staff are on site at any one time.
(5) Encourage as much normal behaviour as you can, within social distancing guidelines
Exercise is something that research continues to show has positive mental as well as physical benefits. While gyms and other sporting facilities have largely been ordered to close, the government has not banned exercise. In fact, it is encouraging people to do it, both indoors and outside. Make sure that your employees know they can take time out during the working day to exercise, talk to friends, and step away from their duties. This applies just as much if your premises are still open as it does for workers at home.
Find out how other SMEs are responding to the coronavirus crisis. We spoke to business owners across the UK about the decisions they’ve made with staff, suppliers and more – listen to the responses here.
Staff welfare: where to go for ideas and advice
In this section we’ve put together a wide range of advice available on helping your employees during the coronavirus outbreak. We’ve listed ideas from HR lawyers, charities, the UK’s trade association the CIPD, and best practice from other businesses here and across the world.
Not sure where to start on this issue?
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is the professional body for human resources in the UK. They have created an excellent employer response guide to coronavirus which lists some of the basics to follow. It also provides extensive suggestions on how you can protect your business in the short and long term.
Want to check your responsibilities as an employer?
The Federation of Small Business has put together a useful guide to key information for employers on roles and duties during the pandemic. It also includes a list of frequently asked questions.
Need to understand how sick pay works if employees suspect they have coronavirus?
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) is an independent public body that receives funding from the government. It can answer all of your questions about the sick pay rules on coronavirus and what to do if an employee needs time off to look after someone. Its documents also show you how your employees can get a sick note if they are self-isolating due to suspected or confirmed symptoms.
Looking for tips on tools and best practice to help you stay connected with employees?
This Harvard Business Review article is a good place to start. It takes you through some of the challenges employees might experience during remote working and some systems and tools you can easily (and inexpensively) introduce to keep you connected. It’s written by three academics with longstanding research into this topic. The British Safety Council, together with the charity Mates in Mind, has also put together a guide for adapting to working from home. If you’re concerned about how to look after your furloughed employees, Acenet has put together some recommendations on what you can do to stay connected.
Want to read up on how coronavirus will change working patterns?
Cambridge University’s Judge Business School has published a piece on the broader implications of coronavirus for the workplace. It covers the impact of remote working, changes to management style, employee mindsets, and other aspects of the “new normal”.
Want to support employees’ mental health but not sure what to say?
The Mental Health Foundation provides tips for employers and leaders about how to communicate with staff on coronavirus. There’s lots of advice on ways to support their mental health whether they are working from home or not. Remember, some employees might enjoy working from home, especially in the first few days when it might feel novel. For others though, it can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which in turn may mean employees become disengaged. Workers who are still working on site rather than at home might have their own fears about commuting or being around colleagues for long periods of time. There’s good advice here on that too.
Worried about keeping employees engaged and productive?
Gallup, a consultancy which uses data to help businesses improve performance, has created a series of webinars available for free (you have to sign up via email). These provide advice on coping with coronavirus, including guides for leaders, managing remote employees and keeping worker wellbeing high.
Need to find out if your employees are classed as key workers?
To keep vital services running, the government has specified a list of industries and jobs that it now classes as employing “key workers”. If your industry is included on the list published by government, your employees’ children may be prioritised to still go to school as normal, so that your employees can continue coming into work. Not all roles in a given company may be eligible though, so it’s worth checking.
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