About 11 million people have stopped working in the UK since March and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has many employees under furlough where the government covers 80 per cent of their employees’ wages, up to £2,500 a month.
The hope is that this will dissuade employers from making mass redundancies and help to keep the economy afloat until it is safe for people to return to work.
Yet many organisations now face a dilemma that is entirely without precedent: how do we keep so many of our people positive, engaged and motivated during these difficult months?
Keep communication channels open
You might feel awkward, even guilty, about what has transpired but staying in constant dialogue with your teams is paramount.
Furloughed staff are banned from doing any work, which means that they can’t answer emails or take any work-related calls. But that doesn’t mean you have to cut all ties with them. Leaders should schedule regular well-being calls to find out how people are coping and to provide an update on the latest government advice.
Many people will be bored, while some might even be suffering from poor mental health. Social distancing can be a lonely and suffocating experience, especially for those who are alone or away from loved ones.
Remember to ask furloughed staff about what they are doing to pass the time: are they exercising, reading anything interesting, or watching any new shows on Netflix?
Use available apps
Use videoconference tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts for catch-ups. These apps will help you to maintain face-to-face interaction and prevent psychological distance from developing between colleagues.
Leaders can make the well-being catch-ups a social event, too, by organising quizzes or games of ‘Guess who?’ The web is full of great suggestions for fun things to do.
Benefits to employees
Regular well-being catch-ups will help furloughed staff to stick to a routine. Deciding when to wake up, when to eat breakfast, when to stop for rests, and when to call it a day suddenly becomes much harder when people are cooped up at home.
Remember to schedule calls at the same time every day, for example, to help people maintain structure in their days while also having time to plan different activities around these events.
Encourage learning and development
Leaders should encourage their people to figure out which learning and development programmes are available and best suited to them, whether that is in marketing and comms, business development, finance, HR, or other sector-specific areas.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak a huge number of learning providers have gone digital full-time and are offering discounts on all sorts of online courses. Employees who stay active through training will be ready to hit the ground running when they return to the office.
Be ready for when working from home ends
Business leaders – with the help of their FM and workplace teams – must prepare the office for their teams’ return. Although people may yearn for a return to office life at first, it is likely that this crisis will convince many employers and employees that they can do more of their work remotely.
So organisations will have to take stock of their workplaces and reconsider what their people need from these spaces, and identify the design and management methods that will support these changes.
Employers can ill afford to have a workforce failing to fire on all cylinders when they return to the office because they have felt untethered from the organisation. So now is the time for all of us to change our approach and work together in a way that we have probably never had to before.
Angela Love is director of Active Workplace Solutions