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Are you prepared to lead through a ‘second wave’?

One of the most difficult aspects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is that there is no clear end date to this crisis. With talks of ‘second wave’ infection rates on the rise, the best practice approach for many has been an ‘always on’ approach to risk management with a priority on the health and safety of employees, while maintaining operational resilience and mitigating any adverse impacts on businesses.

Using the lessons learnt over the last five months, it is clear that to achieve this teams will need a combination of strong and empathetic leadership, a close eye on cost management, agile business practices and flexible staffing strategies. With this in mind, here are a few questions to consider to ensure your business and workforce can adapt quickly through a second wave and help your teams navigate their way to the next ‘new normal’.

Are your operating procedures & contingency plans updated?
For many companies it felt like we had little warning when we first went into lockdown in March and companies had little choice but to react quickly. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, take the time to reflect on which policies and tactics worked well alongside those that need to evolve.

For example, how many plans need to adapt to accommodate local or regional spikes in infection rates or lockdown level changes? How quickly can your organisation pivot to effectively respond to fast-changing public health guidelines, and who would need to be involved in the decision-making? Having detailed answers to these questions could make all the difference in a second wave.

Are working from home policies formalised and communicated?
One of the rising requests we are hearing from professionals looking at new opportunities is a formalised policy on remote work. COVID-19 has seen a stir in ongoing work-from-home arrangements and the desire for more permanent flexible working, with 80% of respondents to a recent employee survey of ours indicating that they want to continue to work from home in the future.

Having a clear policy will ensure employees and line managers are supported in implementing work-from-home arrangements within the team for the new normal, but also how these might adapt for a second wave.

How are you prioritising employee engagement, morale & mental health?
More than 1 in 3 (37%) business leaders recently surveyed are aware that their employees are currently managing heavy workloads and on the brink of burn-out.

With this in mind, to retain key talent many businesses are increasing the frequency of staff communications by undertaking regular ‘pulse’ surveys to check on employee well-being. This combined with training, online collaboration tools, and a constant reassessment of workloads and priorities is aiding employee resilience, morale and mental health in these constantly changing times.

Have you embraced automation effectively?
Data and automated processes have proved critical to guiding decision-making for many businesses during Wave One – highlighting the importance of business intelligence for gathering and analysing both employee and customer/client data.

The global implementation of remote working protocols has seen a vast acceleration of digital and mobile processes to enable remote/distributed workflows. This presents an opportunity for companies to further streamline and automate their procedures, ultimately creating more efficient workflows – regardless of office restrictions – as well as maintaining productivity in the face of further change.

Are your talent strategies aligned with your drive for recovery?
Many business leaders have been planning what their future business will look like during Wave One, often pivoting rapidly to sustain operations in the short-term whilst analysing how to take advantage of new growth opportunities when they arise.

As you prepare for a potential second wave, look at where and how you can redeploy talent to ensure business continuity (taking advantage of the expanded talent pools which remote work brings) and/or, when the time is right, look to recruit new talent with the requisite specialist skills and experience needed to drive recovery.

Have you addressed holidays?
It is the height of summer (winter if you’re reading this in the southern hemisphere), and many of us are considering taking a much-needed break. With many businesses operating with reduced employee numbers, ensure vacationing staff leave comprehensive hand-over notes prior to departing and/or re-allocate tasks to employees who have sufficient bandwidth to safeguard business continuity over coming weeks. 

Health & safety remains paramount
As many businesses experienced during Wave One, adapting to evolving governmental guidelines during COVID-19’s second wave won’t just be a matter of locking the office doors and sending everyone back home. You need a strategic plan that safeguards the health of your employees, visitors, customers and vendors.

Be very clear not only about the appropriate protocols and their implementation, but also the communication of these in order to ensure that all employees realise their well-being remains the company’s top priority.

Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

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