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Coronavirus Q&A: How Can Organisations Lead Through Times of Uncertainty?

24 March 2020


“Put people first…let people know they are your priority and live up to that commitment."

In the outbreak of the Coronavirus or COVID-19, HR teams and organisational leaders have both an opportunity and responsibility to help their employees navigate the impact of uncertainty – this includes encouraging people to stay calm, providing consistent transparent communication flowing upwards, sideways and downwards, while finding ways to lessen the effects on wellbeing.

Our Great Place to Work® UK consultants, Petrina Carmody, Sara Silvonen and Dr. Gonzalo Shoobridge, have vast experience working with organisations that are going through times of change and uncertainty. They have shared some insight, tips and best practices for HR teams and leaders to utilise within their own organisations.


Q: How can employers ensure that their organisation is supporting employee’s mental wellbeing during this period?

A: Periods of strong organisational uncertainty can have a significant impact on stress levels and overall employee mental wellbeing. Especially for those workers who are not used to working from home and/or are unsure of the future of their job roles. To support with alleviating this stress, it’s essential that HR teams stay transparent, address employee concerns and keep communication consistent – this is not a time to keep quiet, but it is a time to continually reassure. Encouraging your workforce to take time for self-care is also critical. Simple acts such as scheduling regular ‘self-care’ reminder emails, having line managers hold ‘virtual check-in’s’ with their direct reports, and encouraging your workforce to proactively take care of themselves physically and mentally, such as going for a walk or run, getting some sunshine, trying a YouTube yoga tutorial or a guided meditation app, is essential.

In addition to this, encourage your colleagues to share tips and photos of how they’ve been coping with 'working from home' and the recent lockdown environment. These could include:

  • How they’ve structured their work day
  • Home gyms or workout routines
  • Cooking and baking activities and recipes
  • Anything arts & crafts related; painting, scrapbooking, sewing or otherwise creating something new
  • Games or activities with family and flatmates

Finally, it’s important to continue with positive initiatives that can easily be implemented over technology – for instance employee recognition, career and development check-ins, birthday wishes, sharing positive feedback and other personal or company news.

Coronavirus Q&A  - Indeed UK BPP

Indeed's 'Quarterly Care Packs' practice is something that can be translated for this current period of uncertainty where this is an increase in remote workers. Although food items may not be appropriate to include in a care pack during this time, HR teams can have a think of other care-related items that employees may appreciate and potentially send these through a digital channel (i.e document listing out best practices for WFH, recipes to try, creative break ideas etc.).


Q: What are the top priorities organisations should consider when communicating updates to their workforce?

A: It is important for managers to learn how to communicate probabilities. This is a much better option than staying silent. If you don’t know, no need to commit yourself to specific deadlines, key dates or targets, just communicate chances, likelihoods and possibilities. Remember, it’s not a question of only communicating, but rather ‘being active’ in the whole communication process.

It’s important to understand that many employees will not sit in quiet contemplation while managers wait for all the necessary information to fall into place for them to start building perfect plans, plans which no doubt will change during the implementation process. What managers should do is simply tell the truth and keep people up-to-date: ‘This is where we are today and at the moment this what we know’. This helps to build trust between leaders and employees. 

Q: What is your advice to leadership and HR teams that need to maintain their typical operational approach as much as possible?

A: Put people first…Let people know they are your priority and live up to that commitment.

Putting people first is the right and decent approach. It is also an approach that gives your team the best chance to focus on what they need to focus on.

We all know that for now our world has fundamentally changed. Carrying  on with core work will likely mean something different than it had before. That’s why it’s so important to be as agile, flexible and compassionate as you can be. On an ongoing basis determine what is required and expected from the old operating model both internally and externally.  Reflect on questions such as ‘What can change in how we work?’ ‘What do our clients need and expect?’ ‘What can we decently expect of people to protect our future?’

As with any operational change, clear, open and timely two-way communications are critical to maintaining the trust of your people. In essence, looking after your people is not only the right thing to do, it is also what will help employees look after the organisation you are all a part of.

Q: What are some things that should be considered for organisations that employ working parents at this time?

A: Waking up to new restrictions attempting to wage war on an escalading virus? We all need time to adapt to the new reality and plan ways to minimise personal risks. It is important that organisations are also mindful, providing support and flexibility for employees that have caring responsibilities for parents, other loved ones and/or children. Those looking after people they do not live with will need to plan out how to care for them, both physically and emotionally for the best chance of keeping everyone safe. 

Parents working from home will also need to help their children adapt to the new realities of the world. Whether that's explaining why they are are unable to attend school, or encouraging their child to complete a tricky maths assignment while also trying to ease their fears about the virus. Whatever their responsibilites are, your employees will have to take time  to adapt themselves and will need to support the psychological and practical needs of those around them. We urge employers to be kind while new working patterns are established.

One specific way organisations can support parents is through a framework that helps them simultaneously navigate the overlapping nature of working and parenting. We would advise organisations to share a 3-4 point plan that highlights the importance of sticking to a schedule, encourages open and frequent conversations with managers on what is realistically achieveable in the current environment and prioritises essential work requirements. We'd also recommend putting a designated ‘working parent’ ambassador in place to provide support, guidance and information.

Q: How can organisations help to support employee engagement, productivity and resilience during these times?

A: The standard principles of how to support employee engagement and productivity hold true now more than ever. Based on our survey data, we consistently see that the top drivers of workplace engagement, trust and wellbeing are values & ethics, communication and empowerment.

 In terms of the values & ethics driver, this is the clear underpinning of the ethical focus from the top. Communication is about sharing results from leadership as well as actively listening to the views of employees. Lastly, empowerment enables people to achieve and is naturally critical in terms of change and more remote working patterns.

 At a very practical level as working patterns change, organisations are flexing and innovating to make sure people have the tools and resources to be productive (whether from home or from their normal working location).  There is also an opportunity for organisations to support their people in this tough time by encouraging employees to care for themselves and develop resilience. We can’t control factors such as restrictions to our usual patterns (e.g. in travel or movement outside the home), the impact on the stock market and food supplies, but we may be able to respond with greater resilience to the consequences of these things. Encouraging employees to take the time to focus on aspects such as mindfulness, reflecting on events and having meaningful, compassionate connection with others is critical. 

 For instance, during this time at Great Place To Work® we are actively working to build social connection and reinforce compassion through leadership and HR practices that continue to reflect the work culture that we’ve built. It’s important to note that how workplaces respond during this challenging time has the potential to have a deep and positive impact on employees, enabling them to further build trust in their leadership team and overall organisation.


Great Place to Work® specialises in helping organisations build impactful workplace cultures. We are here to help support our clients during this period of uncertainty. If you are a client please reach out to your project team who can share the tools we have in place to enable organisations to measure and understand their current employee sentiments. If you’re not a current client and would be interested in learning about how we can help, then please contact us here. You can stay tuned to our blogs and social channels for practices, advice and thought leadership on how best to navigate this unprecedented time.


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