The way a company handles its decisions and its staff after COVID 19 is going to make a huge statement on its brand!
As we settle down and wait out the mandatory thirty days of self isolation, employers and employees need to brace themselves for post COVID 19. Business owners are faced with a multitude of disruptions to contend with such as no production, operating costs ie rent, utilities, contractual commitments and no revenue streaming in.
This is coupled with constant staff costs from salaries and determining essential positions required to keep the business afloat.
The following are key points that employers have to consider
Automation of processes
The increased use of technology for holding virtual meetings and conference calls will highlight with clarity to business owners the advantages of automation and efficiency attached to it. It will show that certain positions can work offline and still deliver excellent performance. Furthermore, it will also indicate the menial jobs that can be automated, thus leading to layoffs. This could also lead into decisions around rental space and whether all the office space is being used cost effectively. This could lead to savings on office rental space.
Working remotely from the office has not been a common practice in Kampala offices, with most companies interfacing with their employees daily
Imagine the inconvenience of working from home to the employees that do not have internet facilities such as dongle, laptops, smart phones. This means that they are disconnected from their fellow colleagues. Chances are high that some employees do not have 24/7 access to electricity and live in shared accommodation with large families, so there is no privacy or place to sit and carry out work effectively. Others have young children that are demanding for attention and making noise as they work. These are factors that will affect their performance and timely delivery of tasks.
Post COVID19, employers may be faced with requests for remote working going forward.
The request for remote working will be as a result of employees experiencing a reduction in fuel and time costs incurred from travelling to and from work. This enables them to spend more time spent working instead of sitting in the traffic jam and thus getting more work done. This option for a flexi schedule may mainly occur amongst the highly experienced workforce at managerial level. Employers will therefore need to ensure that the company has flexible policies in place. They will need to make adjustments to the employment contracts that these employees have.
The challenges inherent in remote work include lack of face to face supervision where there is concern from both the supervisor about efficiency while the employee may feel disconnected or isolated from the team. Lack of access to information from co-workers may also be a challenge especially in situations where there is slow responsiveness to emails and telephone calls.
It is important to be clear on your policies on remote work, where they apply, how they will work and when they will be reviewed. The need for additional explanation should be anticipated.
The COVID19 disruption has highlighted the need for digital learning in this rapidly changing world. Zoom is now a popular name in households.
The increased use of technology for business conference calls will reduce travel and accommodation costs for the regular traveler. This will bring face to face interfaces to a bare minimum.
Employers will need to concentrate on online training modules to impart knowledge and skills to their employees so that they are abreast of the global trends.
Outsourcing of services
During this lockdown period, the employer will gauge the business performance with just the critical positions and this may result in the elimination of some non essential staff and call for restructuring of the organization. The low skilled employees like drivers, cleaners and clerical staff will face the challenge of businesses opting to outsource these services. This will eliminate the staff benefits expense for this group thus lead to savings of operational costs.
Employers need to plan for the casual laborer, a necessary part of the production process. Casual laborers will lose their jobs especially those in affected industries like hospitality and manufacturing etc
During turbulent and uncertain periods, the business owners’ immediate decision is to lay off staff or cut wages or force staff to take leave. All decisions concerning staff issues should not be done without applying the Employment Act, 2006 of Uganda. There is need to exercise due caution when effecting any staff related issue. Inability to follow the legal procedure could lead to labor suits due to wrongful dismissal especially since this is a global pandemic that has affected every business and household worldwide
Communication of these decisions of termination of contracts needs to be done with openness about the changing times and disruptions to business.
Employers need to plan for post COVID 19 counseling for their staff. It is important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns and empathize with their struggles. There will be need to provide continuous encouragement and emotional support throughout the difficult times.
The fear of what next amid all the changes in business processes that may lead to redundancies will require counselling sessions for not only those who are going to be laid off but also for the remaining staff.
Employers need not rush to send their employees back to work until the environment is safe. The way you treat your employees during this period will have an impact on the levels of staff engagement.
Business owners could put together a diverse crisis management team that will provide more ideas about potential solutions, especially if the corporate culture encourages expression of and respect of diverse perspectives. Beware of treating the crisis in a one dimensional manner as a financial or logistical problem only, and staff your team accordingly.
Resilience is a key driving force in unpredictable and challenging situations. It is prudent for business owners to envision plausible downside scenarios and test resilience under these circumstances. Taking a fresh look at worst case scenarios and develop strategies against each would help businesses cope better in times of crises
Regular and periodic communication to employees is of utmost importance to ensure engagement levels are in check. Employees will likely be exposed to conflicting information and feel anxious or confused about the best course of action.
Be sure to communicate policies promptly, clearly and in a balanced manner.
Furthermore, communicate information and the reasoning behind policies so that employees can deepen their own understanding and also take the initiative in unanticipated situations.
This will help strengthen their sense of identity and belonging to the company.
Reflect on what you have learned
It is important to use the crisis as a valuable learning opportunity. Even while the crisis is unfolding, responses and impacts should be documented and later reviewed and lessons distilled. Rapidly evolving situations expose existing organizational weaknesses like the inability to make hard decisions or an excessive bias towards consensus which constitute opportunities for improvement.
Ultimately, as an employer, be prepared to tackle the unchartered waters of the impact of COVID 19, bearing in mind the need to change the way you have been conducting your business. The increased usage of technology and need for digital learning will have a great impact not only on the business performance but also on the employees. The introduction of remote working may render some positions redundant and these are some of the decisions that each business owner will be faced with. Effective and regular communication of the way forward in the form of updates to employees will be crucial during this period. The way you treat or take care of your employees during the pandemic and after is going to define your brand for a long time.
Edith Nsubuga Kasekende
The writer is a Human Capital and Talent Management Consultant with Inspire Talent