By: Thomas Hughes

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve been speaking with our clients on a regular basis to help them navigate through these difficult times. We’ve found that, now more than ever, senior individuals from a whole range of firms are willing to come together and share ideas for best practice.

We’re organising several of these sessions, each focusing on a particular area of the market or within a business. For this conversation, we gathered together senior HR professionals from private equity investors, asset managers, property companies, and the big advisory firms to talk through what HR can be doing to make working from home as much like ‘business as usual’ as possible, and how to deal with the specific issues raised by Coronavirus.

Here are the key points that the discussion focused on:

Help protect the mental health of your staff: communication is key, but it’s crucial to remember that this is a two-way street. You need to be listening as well as talking – this means one to one conversations rather than sending out proclamations over email or a 40 person conference call. A one size fits all approach will not suit everyone: the parent needing to homeschool their kids will have very different needs to the millennial living in a cramped houseshare, or the employee with an underlying health problem. One of our clients has provided corporate membership to a meditation app, and others have funded employees to get the equipment required to work from home efficiently and healthily.

Make sure the technology works: for most firms, this has actually been very smooth. For smaller firms who don’t have one already, a dedicated VPN will likely serve your needs much better than a traditional remote desktop solution. Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been very helpful – our guests really emphasised the importance of face to face communication (even if it’s a digital face rather than a physical one!).

Prepare carefully for the really important conversations: one of our participants shared a story about a firm where a senior manager accidentally made the wrong employee redundant after calling the wrong Zoom number. He rectified the situation, but that is certainly a level of awkwardness that we all want to avoid. We are all going to be having some impactful conversations over the coming months (whether that’s performance management, supplier negotiations or interviews), and they are very difficult to get right, particularly when you can’t do them in person.

Review how essential your ‘essential travel’ is: of course, very few people in our industry are travelling at all at the moment, but our attendees felt that even after the impact of the crisis has diminished there will be more scrutiny on travel plans. Think about what you can do over the phone or video; if you really do have to travel (our clients find that there is no acceptable substitute for a site visit yet), do the whole team have to go?

Hiring is harder, but not impossible: Some firms have instituted hiring freezes for all but the most essential roles, and those that haven’t are certainly being more cautious. How can you get comfortable with a candidate without meeting them in person? Our panel was divided on this – some were perfectly happy to hire without meeting face to face, others wanted to wait until it was safe to meet in person, and one suggestion was to conduct a final conversation from a safe distance of 2m+ over a walk. What all agreed on, however, was the increased importance of referencing.

What are your HR team doing to combat the impact of COVID-19? What other remedies would you suggest?

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