Managing employees through Covid-19 uncertainty – 10 things to think about


By Faith Howe, Partner, Talent & Transformation at FleishmanHillard Fishburn

COVID-19 has now directly hit more than 100 countries and continues to spread, creating uncertainty on a global scale.

In response, organisations around the world are putting in place measures to protect their employees and ensure business continuity. But, is it possible to do this in a way that preserves engagement and mental wellbeing in a highly disrupted work environment?

Distilled from advice we’ve been providing to clients in these challenging times, here are 10 things that your organisation should be thinking about:

  1. Assess your people’s ability to be effective. Anticipate where you are likely to experience disruptions, determine what your people might be lacking and identify a plan to get it to them. Be it work tools, information or emotional support, how you handle their needs goes a long way when it comes to strengthening relationships with your team.


  1. Prioritize your managers. Immediate supervisors are your people’s most trusted and sought-out source of information. Equip them with the guidance, messages and resources to communicate effectively.


  1. Take stock of your channels. Besides managers, what are the best ways to reach your people? External channels, such as WhatsApp and Facebook, might be good options to reach those who are working remotely, for example.


  1. Communicate frequently. Regular status updates on the impact of COVID-19 on your business and the work-from-home solution are important, but so are stories that humanize your organization as you work together to manage the situation. If something does not work well as your people shift to remote working, talk about it with your team.


  1. Remind employees to communicate with you. Encourage your team to proactively reach out to you, even if just to check in and say hello. Communicate at the beginning of the work-from-home period that you need their commitment to staying connected just as much as they need yours.


  1. Foster team connectivity. People need information and resources to do their jobs, but sometimes they also just need interaction with one another to maintain a feeling of connection to the team. Virtual lunch-and-learn meetings or brainstorms — via web conference, phone call or even email — can foster that connection while also producing useful solutions to business challenges.


  1. Stay connected with HR. They’ll make sure you follow the right policies and procedures. Make sure employees know how (and when) to stay connected with HR, too. Your people may need to access company benefits for themselves or family members in the coming days, so brushing up on what is available may help you help them.


  1. Show empathy. Although COVID-19 is affecting all of us, it is doing so in different ways. If school is cancelled, employees might have young children at home while attempting to work remotely, or a team member may be preoccupied by the health of an ailing parent. Remember the value of patience and compassion, which can be less readily demonstrated when our colleagues are not in our immediate presence.


  1. Trust your people. Adversity can elevate the character of your people, not to mention spark some useful ideas that might not have occurred to you. Dedicate a channel to soliciting their feedback and ideas. And think about how to celebrate and promote the great ideas your people surface there.


  1. Weigh the alternatives. Companies will naturally wrestle with the financial impact their response will have on the business, but the health and well-being of your people should always be a top priority. Consider what you risk in employee engagement and brand reputation if you fail to protect them.