3 minute read 25 Mar 2020
empty passenger train

Coping with an upset routine is about more than just tech capabilities

By EY Oceania

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

3 minute read 25 Mar 2020
Related topics COVID-19 Workforce

Remote work might be easier for consultants, or contractors, or those who juggle multiple priorities. But for many others the upheaval isolation brings is real, and a serious challenge for leaders looking to manage workforce wellbeing. 

As is already starkly apparent, no organisation’s workforce will avoid being affected by COVID 19. Unlike almost any other crisis, the virus represents a one hundred percent global workforce exposure.

How it affects different businesses and different organsations and different sectors will vary markedly, depending on demographics, geography, exposure, and the nature of the business. Some businesses have already shed up to 90 per cent of their workforces, while others are so in demand they’re rapidly scaling up their workforces. The virus will also roll through an organisation with varying intensity, impacting different elements at different times and different rates.

For businesses, their major workforce concerns need to zero in on these two questions:

  • what are the most important elements of their business that can be delivered; and
  • who in their workforce do they need to ensure is healthy so that happens.

Along with contingency planning of critical roles and backup resources, organisations need to plan for five or six layers of criticality. Many organisations are also genuinely worried about their workforce. But changes cannot be done in the dark, so understanding the workforce’s profile, then modelling workforce and resource scenarios and adjusting labour costs is an essential first step. With global and domestic border closures happening apace, this can be an extremely complex scenario.

Critical people issues for organisations to assess and address

Critical people issues for organisations to assess and address. Source: EY

At a human level, organisations need to work hard to ensure the physical and psychological wellbeing of employees. In mid-March, EY implemented mandatory work from home arrangements. It was done quickly, but sensibly, with time to prepare and help people translate their projects into remote working. 

But it's how the tech has been deployed and utilised that is seeing a new normal develop. Cluster-based models and extended use of Microsoft Teams have helped maintain connectedness and sense of teaming. In some projects, there is 'extreme teaming' where the commute time is used to connect on a daily basis as well as shared team singing and other light-hearted initiatives, sometimes including a check-in on how ill-behaved various pets have been. Water-cooler connections like this are critical, especially during periods of self-isolation.

We use the commute time to connect on a daily basis as well as shared team singing and other light-hearted initiatives.

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."  


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By EY Oceania

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Related topics COVID-19 Workforce