Understanding and maintaining critical capability and capacity is crucial in the COVID-19 environment. Organisations that are able to remain open need to think about how they build capability in critical skills, transfer skills across the workforce, optimise resource deployment and establish conditions to maintain productivity. In essential workforces where face-to-face contact is unavoidable, such as health care and human services, this might mean staggered teams so at any one time there is a reserve team who can step in. We would also encourage exploration of alternative local workforces who can be trained up to supplement the existing workforce.
“There are some great examples already emerging – from the rapid retraining of Scandinavian Airways staff as a COVID-19 health task force through to The Society of Hospital Pharmacists in Australia who have immediately accelerated their training offer for pharmacy students. As some businesses are forced to close their doors, there are some incredibly talented staff becoming available. For example, the staff in our recently closed sports and recreation centres are usually highly vetted, trained in first aid and skilled in working with people of all ages. A readily available talent pool!”
“Along with contingency planning for critical roles and backup resources, organisations need to plan for five or six layers of criticality,” says Sharp. “Strict schedules are crucial so that key staff do not become overwhelmed or exhausted. This is essential at all levels – from C-suite through to front-line.”
“We know many of our clients are really genuinely worried about their workforce. They don’t want to lay them off, but they know that they cannot maintain viability unless they do something about that. Understanding your workforce profile, modelling workforce and resource scenarios and adjusting labour costs is an essential first step.”
Finding a nuanced solution
With swift-moving workforce planning decisions being made in many organisations, the HR and personnel departments need to keep an eye on ensuring any changes are consistent with employer obligations and also with requirements of any enterprise bargaining agreements or the Fair Work Act.
At the other end of the decision-tree, many organisations have quite significant benefits schemes that they offer employees as part of their value proposition. “It is a good time to re-evaluate some of those benefits given that many of them cannot be acted on right now,” says Matt Lovegrove, EY Oceania Partner.
“A key now to future success is protecting your best, critical people. This may be counterintuitive, but there is a window and a time here to consider how you will adjust some roles, the critical roles, in terms of reward and remuneration.
“Finally, how will you measure performance in the future, what will happen to existing schemes and how do I look forward?”
For workforces that rely on skilled visas, this is a particularly complex moment, especially for organisations that may be thinking about standing down Australian workers. “It has impacts both on the individual but also on the employer's obligations,” says Lovegrove.
“It’s potentially quite costly for businesses to shut down and then ramp that back up when they enter the recovery phase. So understanding how that can play out and what the available redeployment options are is really critical as well.”
As organisations navigate the multiple government relief and support initiatives to assist business through this disruption, it’s easy to forget that existing requirements and regulations that are applicable to employers still need to be met or at least considered.
"This once-in-a-generation global event means difficult decisions will, and are, being made when it comes to jobs and people. To best navigate this so as to be ready for the recovery phase - and it will come - it's important to have a clear plan of action that addresses the immediate business viability issues while recognising the skills needed for that 'new normal'. And, to take any action in a compassionate and people-centred way."