Plates of vegan food

A #COVID19 #BusinessTalk webinar with Peter Hooley, Diana Gilmore and Sue Beeby

9 min read

We work in interesting times and while some businesses are powering up to respond to their customer needs and others are powering down; one thing is undoubtedly true, few of us are going into the office and many of us are having to make our shed, lounge or dining room table our workspace.

What does this mean for productivity, effective line management, employee welfare or just the reassurance that you are able to meet your deadlines? In this online BusinessTalk the University of Portsmouth will conduct a live question and answer session with academic experts, industry practitioners and firms on the front line.

Peter Hooley hosts the first webinar in this series with guests Diana Gilmore and Sue Beeby. Diana works with employers across the UK to support work-life balance and Sue is the Director of HR Department.

Below is a condensed version of questions and answers from our webinar for those who want a quick summary.

Quickfire summary

  • Sue: If you’re a manager, making sure there is a clear structure to your employees day if you’re sitting at home with a laptop it’s good to put it away after work hours.
  • Diana: Watching out for the risk of burnout, and looking at the risks of stress is important. Some of the members we work with train their staff as mental health ambassadors so they can look out for signs. When you’re working from home having those clear boundaries on when to switch off is vital. Make sure you schedule a time for people who can’t make certain meetings and de-brief with them after so they feel engaged and included.

  • Sue: Having a scheduled meeting where everybody drops in, e.g. a coffee morning where everyone gathers together to keep a sense of team. The line manager should have a check-in on a daily basis. Keeping the communication link on what is happening to the business e.g. x number of staff have been furloughed. So they aren’t worried about what’s going on.
  • Pete: How does a line manager deal with the fairness of some staff that have been furloughed? 
  • Sue: There’s nothing to stop you having a social meeting once a week with the furloughed team, have a catch-up on what’s going on in their private lives, what they’re watching etc.
  • Diana: Keeping aligned with you’re company culture is important. If you have colleagues that you usually go for a Tuesday coffee with, you can still do that virtually, to boost morale. Anything positive that can be shared is vital, as it gives that reassuring degree that business is still moving forward.

  • Diana: Normalising the fact that people need to duck out early, e.g. their child might run in or their dog might start barking and it’s making it not an issue if that happens. By making sure people are aware of that, there is no pressure. Encourage people to make use of video conferencing so they can make that human connection. You could have regular feedback meetings, you could have a wellbeing support group, e.g. sharing funny stories and anything positive. It reaffirms we are all in this together.

  • Sue: Any employee should take a risk assessment for their set up at home. You have to do the best you can in these circumstances, as the alternative is being furloughed if you cant work from home. Highlight what the difficulties are, and what they can do around that. You can’t be working for a long time in an uncomfortable position as it could have long-term health effects.
  • Diana: You can get creative as a lot of people don’t have a luxury of a spare room, but you can create that sense of work environment. Make use of areas in your home that are underused. Make sure you have a good WiFi connection, as that’s important. It needs to be safe but it needs to also work for you.
  • Sue: With data protection, if you’re using laptops at home, making sure they’re closed down when your not working.

  • Diana: Presenteeism is something we come across a lot. It’s very much shifting the mindset and embracing flexible working. Line managers should make it clear how and when they want their staff to be communicating with them. They can assess productivity in a variety of ways; conversations, group meetings and activity. There are going to be delayed to things, so as the line managers they can set the tone by maintaining that positive mindset.

  • Sue: Employees need to be realistic, are you actually able to effectively perform if you have childcare responsibilities? If managers set time-specific tasks, then you are able to check if somebody is performing, it’s a two-way thing. Make your expectations clear as a manager but take account of your employees’ situation. It’s the same as being at work, it’s always trying to tackle things straight away, instead of being scared to tackle them.

  • Sue: It comes back to having regular meetings, to get a sense of the mood of the team. Maybe using a wellness action plan, where the individual employees set out what is stressing them. It’s all about maintaining contact, even if it’s not work-related
  • Diana: Things could be misinterpreted sometimes, working virtually. Even a 2-minute call can be useful to make staff connected. Some people really need that human contact.
  • Sue: We always need to remember the older members of staff that may not want to engage in the jokey stuff, as they might want a more formal structure.
  • Diana: It’s all about maintaining the support structures in place for members of staff

Sue: So much recruitment can be done remotely, people applying online as normal, shortlisting etc can all be done online. The only difference is if you are trying to run an assessment. If you are trying to ask criteria-based questions it should be fine.

  • Diana: To have that culture where people bring innovative ideas you need to bring out an environment where people are positive and feel engaged where they can share ideas and not get shut down. It could be that people are feeling liberated, not having to commute. This might be a good time to work on ideas. You could run initiatives that allow people to bring in new ideas.
  • Sue: Those on furlough can undertake e-learning. They have the time now to undertake training, as it is very cost-effective. It means that those on furlough can keep engaged with what is going on with the company moving forward.