18 May 2020
During the COVID 19 outbreak my colleagues at Harding Evans have been proactively advising clients both individuals and businesses on the legal considerations that they should be paying attention to. Whether it is making a Will or a Lasting Power of Attorney to protect your family, or advice on business restructuring all advice is relevant and important.
Whilst our main focus is rightly on our clients and supporting them, we are of course a business ourselves with a workforce without whom the business quite simply couldn’t function. This is why this particular article is written from my viewpoint as the newly appointed Head of HR and Facilities at Harding Evans. I share below some of the considerations that I took into account at the start, throughout and hopefully as we start to move through the lockdown brought about by the pandemic.
I joined Harding Evans right at the start of lockdown so my introduction to the business was certainly out of the norm! The first challenge of the pandemic was to create the remote workforce and enable the staff to work efficiently and securely from their homes.
With 110 staff in the business and with office working no longer being an option for well over 90% of them there were significant practical considerations. From ensuring that there was sufficient computers and other equipment available for staff to work from home to talking through issues such as home schooling, caring for dependents and living in households where people are shielded, all were important considerations in our planning.
A huge amount of time and effort was quite rightly invested in ensuring that the business could continue to function with colleagues working from home and continuing to meet the needs of clients. However, I also needed to consider the wellbeing of our staff to ensure that they had the resources to do their jobs but at the same time felt they had the ongoing support of the business.
Inevitably, like a lot of businesses, some of our staff were furloughed particularly those where their roles did not lend themselves to working outside of the office environment. We took time to explain how individuals had been selected for furloughing and what that meant to them personally. Without exception staff affected fully understood their reasons for furloughing them and how the longer term aim here is to keep everyone on the payroll so that we can come back together again as a team when the Welsh Government allow us to do so.
With the business continuing to function, albeit completely differently from the ‘norm’, it would have been easy, particularly as a new entrant to the business and without the distractions of new colleagues to have just got on with ‘the day job’ and press on with the many projects that I and the senior management team are keen to press on with.
However, my focus shifted from the immediate, practical considerations of remote working in a lockdown situation and with some of the workforce being furloughed to the ongoing wellbeing of all staff. With the period of the lockdown being, understandably, undetermined, I conceived and then planned and rolled out our internal wellbeing hub known as HE Healthy Me!
The aims of the hub are several. Firstly, it allows us to address some of the issues that cause staff anxiety one of which is the loss of social interaction with their colleagues. It is easy to forget that as well as business relationships, many friendships are formed within the working environment and for now, they are becoming fractured as staff can no longer enjoy the usual level of physical and emotional interaction.
Secondly, the culture of Harding Evans is very much about working hard but also having fun together and sharing in our successes. To that end we use the hub to host quizzes, raffles, film nights with reviews written by staff and other types of non-work related activities. All of these of course are held virtually! All of these keep the sense of fun and belonging in our virtual workspace as well as giving those staff that are furloughed a much welcomed distraction from the day to day.
Thirdly, it is important that we keep our staff informed of various developments across the business. Whether it is information specifically related to our COVID-19 Business Continuity Plan or developments within the business generally the hub allows us to keep in touch with staff and keep the flow of information going. We are mindful of the regulations regarding furloughed staff who do not have access to the various systems in use across the business as we are conscious that it would be tempting for some of them to dip in and out of emails etc. To that end, we have made the hub available to furloughed staff by locking down access to other parts of our network so that we do not inadvertently fall foul of HMRC rules on furloughing staff. This is a vital source of information for all staff but particularly those that have been furloughed.
The HE Healthy Me Hub has been well received by staff and has surpassed all of our expectations in terms of the goodwill and continuity of communication and positive messages it has delivered.
We have an internal intranet which has been part of our business systems for many years and whilst this will continue to be used to provide an important source of information to staff as business resumes within the workplace, we have made a commitment to continue with the HE Healthy Me Hub in the future.
It will still be used to host the fun things as we all anticipate that social distancing will be with us for some time to come so in the absence of the usual staff events happening through group gatherings, the hub will remain an important part of the social interaction at Harding Evans.
We are currently rolling out training to expand the number of in house Mental Health First Aiders that we have in the business and they will be part of the team that will work with colleagues including myself to ensure that we use the hub to encourage colleagues to think of their wellbeing.
We do not expect business as usual for some time to come and some colleagues will continue to work from home at least for some of the time. It is unlikely therefore that we will have a full complement of staff in the office for several months – the hub will ensure that we can still keep in touch with each other and those much valued friendships with our colleagues continue into the future.