It may only be the 27th of September but with the change in weather today it’s certainly got me thinking about making plans for my clients and businesses this autumn/winter. In the media over recent weeks, we’ve seen the government starting to announce their winter plan and the potential discussions around ‘worst-case scenarios’ for businesses, it’s troubling for employers to know what may happen and what’s around the corner.
Specifically, the government outlined two plans-Plan A and Plan B. Plan A focuses on the vaccination programme which will continue and will extend to booster vaccinations, offering vaccinations to 12-15-year-olds (which has commenced) and the continuation of test, trace, and isolation. Something that we have all become accustomed to these last 18 months for better or worse.
Plan B then looks at the potential for overwhelming in the NHS and the possible return to mandatory mask-wearing enforced working from home for businesses and employees and adjustments to travel (now changed to the Green and Red List only-with the removal of the Amber list).
Now, this blog isn’t about government guidance or updates as you can find all of there elsewhere on a reputable source. This is about what sort of plans businesses need to be making ahead of the next few months – which in all honesty, is very challenging given that it’s a predictions game and no one really knows. So, what’s my advice to businesses? Quite simply- be prepared. Dependent on your sector and your type of work, you will need to have different plans in place, but if we start with organisations where traditionally pre-pandemic you would have had an office hub and employee working largely from that office space, with let’s hope a good mix of flexible working arrangements in place too. Here are my top tips:
- Make a plan and communicate it to your workforce as soon as possible – Sitting down with the board or seniormanagers and making a plan for the ‘what if’s’ feels basic, but consider what will be important to employees. Consider if government guidance changes-how will you react, do you have everything in place to work from home again foreveryone? Were there learnings from last time? Are there critical teams that will be permitted and should be in the office? Thinking about this now, having it ready and organising communications will put you ahead and prepared.
- Communication, Communication, Communication – I cannot say it enough, but communication escalation is key. Once you have a plan (which we know may change) consider how and when you are going to communicate it. Will you brief managers, will your CEO write or perhaps can you record a video now ready to go out? Thinking about how this will personally affect people will be critical. If you have an intranet, also think about what information you can share onthere too.
- Financial preparation – Probably one of the hardest to predict, but the very big ‘what if’ is around the continuation or reintroducing of the Furlough Scheme which draws to a close soon. Will you have the financial preparations in place if you have to close again? Do you know how many months or days you are away from taking action? If you have to consider redundancies, are you ready to be agile enough as a business to do this? Having that sort of plan in place, business continuity and Disaster Recovery not just for systems but your business will again place you in readiness. It isn’t a pleasant topic but it is a realistic one for some sectors this winter to be aware of.
- Employee Wellbeing – The winter months are always tough, the lockdowns this year up until Easter generally felt harder, because they were in the winter, the days are shorter, there is a long way until good weather and celebrations perhaps on the horizon. If you compare to the summer of 2020, everyone agrees that it just felt different. Scary yes, but summer days can bring more hope than a cloudy one sometimes and we all had a level of fatigue by January 2021 that we had perhaps never experienced. Considering employee wellbeing is critical this time around, learn from your mistakes, prepare for what you can do both in celebration of Plan A and all being well and Plan B and perhaps a new plan in place. Consider alternatives to perhaps Christmas parties and instead invest in some great treats for your employees and their families this winter. I’ve just heard of a company that took their entire £15K Christmas budget and instead gifted it to employees with a Christmas hamper of their choice or a day out with the family. Now that’s a sizeable budget, but even if you don’t have that sort of money, consider what else you can do, how can you engage with your workforce nearer to Christmas.
- Finally – Health & Safety – I can’t not mention it I’m afraid, but do keep on top of government advice around isolation and testing, vaccination guidance and really think about what impact vaccinations and indeed isolation or absence could have on your workforce. There are some test cases at the moment with employers enforcing that their teams have vaccinations and I think we are going to see more of these over the coming weeks and months. It’s a controversial topic at the moment and one which employers do need to think about ahead of the winter months. Focus on fact, education and reliable sources. Be very aware of personal choice as well and categories of workers that perhaps maynot be able to have a vaccination, not through choice. Line managers should be prepared in how to handle requests aswell.
So those are my top five tips this winter for businesses, there are so many more areas to think about but if you tackle these and nothing else, you will put yourself in a really good position and your workforce will hopefully thank you for that. In all of my years in HR, I’ve never found that employees dislike communication and being prepared, in fact, they usually thrive on good communication and feel empowered by their employer being prepared and being open about discussions. None of us have been through this before, so it’s a fine balance, but together we can walk the walk together and support each other. The last 18 months produced some landmark decisions, some steps in the right direction when it comes to flexible working and hybrid working, but it’s just the start of the journey.
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