The destruction caused by the Covid-19 outbreak is difficult to comprehend, robbing people of their lives and livelihoods without mercy. Our NHS, charities, large businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs have all been hit hard, with the elderly and vulnerable hit the hardest.
I’ve been in business for 40 years now. Together we’ve survived the tornado of 1987, Black Wednesday, the dot com bubble bursting, the global financial crash and I was in DC when the plane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, yet right now it feels like we have all five crises at once.
As a FTSE 250 company with nearly 6,000 staff globally, we have a huge responsibility to ensure each and every single one of our people is safe, secure and looked after, something which is incredibly challenging due to social isolation and remote working.
People are the lifeblood of any business, and when the chips are down a good employer will stand by their people.
Like many company owners right now, I’ve been trying to manage the huge task of shifting to a 100% remote working model. Whilst an optimistic view of the scenario is to just switch on email and work from home, the reality is payroll, HR, sales and support networks need to quickly adapt to this new way of working, without error, which I can tell you first hand is easier said than done.
Like many CEOs I have had to use my past experience to keep a cool head and focus on making sure we deliver a robust and secure online environment for our employees to alleviate the inevitable security fears. We managed to achieve this in four days, with the help of our brilliant IT staff and software partners.
Our people come from all walks of life and backgrounds. Women returners, ex-military service personnel, fresh-faced graduates and those looking for a career in IT.
Many of them are now juggling home working with family life, caring for sick or elderly relatives. As a Dad myself I know this is no easy task, I also know that many of our employees will feel lonely, isolated and in need of help in the coming weeks.
So how can companies foster a working from home culture that ensures everyone feels valued and how on earth can this be put into motion in a short space of time? For a start, I believe the CEO should be highly visible at all times during a crisis, which means I am constantly on company-wide video calls, answering questions online and appearing in our weekly #RodsRoundUp video posted on Twitter, updating our people on developments as they happen.
We’ve introduced company quiz schemes, problem solving tasks and workgroup online meetings, so that everyone can get involved and raise a smile, despite the turmoil.
Our HR team is operating as usual, providing promotions and annual reviews via private video links and every member of staff has been offered mental health support and guidance if they are feeling isolated or anxious.
The fact remains that until the lockdown is lifted, our people will continue to be working from home for the foreseeable future. So rather than view this situation with regret, we must embrace it, look after each other and throw ourselves into new ways of working. It’s also vital that companies keep paying their staff and don’t stop recruiting; those that freeze the hiring process will find themselves dangerously lacking in talent once things get moving again.
Nobody can lessen the harsh consequences brought on by Covid-19, but as business leaders and employers, we have a duty to ensure our staff can do their jobs online to the best of their ability. There may be chaos, there will be heartache, sleepless nights and huge challenges ahead, but putting people first should be a top priority for every business right now.