how to prepare your workforce for reentry.

by Jos Schut

chief human resources officer
 
 

communication and transparency enable Randstad to confidently face the uncertainties ahead 

For most of the world, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus was accompanied by a great deal of fear, uncertainty and, perhaps most of all, questions. 

How do I keep my business operating? What steps are needed to protect on-site and remote employees? Is my workforce ready to operate virtually? How long will the situation last?

Like many of you, we asked these same questions. Armed with limited information and a dire need to act for the good of our employees, the job seekers we help to place and the companies we support, Randstad went into crisis mode not knowing how the epidemic would affect our stakeholders around the world. 

With markets everywhere now reopening months after the lockdown began, the lives of those we touch are returning to a new normal. As a global business, we also are finding ourselves operating in new ways.

a global, agile journey

Randstad in the Netherlands has now opened our headquarters in Diemen (a suburb of Amsterdam) to employees, and we believe this was accomplished with the highest regard for safety and care. If your organization has also welcomed back on-site workers, you understand the challenges involved. For most businesses, the safety of their workers has always been the top priority, and our June Work Monitor survey of working-age adults confirms this. In fact, 75% of those surveyed in 20 industrialized countries said they felt their employer was looking after their well-being.

In our example, looking after the interests of our workforce begins with transparency and coordination. As an international business, we were fortunate to be alerted by our operating company in China, which provided an honest and clear assessment of the situation on the frontline of this pandemic. This enabled Randstad to quickly create a global steering committee that drew on the strengths of all local market leaders as the coronavirus spread across the world. As one company after another shut down their physical facilities, a patchwork of policies, remote infrastructures and protocols arose – enabling some organizations to operate seamlessly from their homes, while others fumbled with a new way of working.                                                                             

Because we worked closely with local authorities to ensure workforce safety and operating protocols were in place for essential services, Randstad was able to stay as current as possible to a highly dynamic situation. As each region saw lockdowns imposed, and people sidelined during this period, we were prepared with contingency plans and operational resources to help those negatively impacted. Now as many markets are opening up their economy, we’ve also readied our own workforce, as well as those of clients for the reentry. 

Coordination early on among all Randstad country leaders meant daily crisis calls to provide transparency around how we responded not only as a company, but as a member of the global economy. 

Why is this important? We shared important insights and mutual concerns to develop appropriate measures. As an executive HR leader at Randstad, I wanted to ensure we were implementing best practices across all of our operations. Because this pandemic has been so thoroughly disruptive, with varying impacts felt in regions around the world, we believe having a global response supported by local activation was the best approach. 

emotional support a critical consideration 

The measures we implemented were aimed at protecting both the physical and emotional well-being of our workforce. Employers globally mostly have been effective at comforting their workers. Our Workforce Monitor survey shows that nearly two-third (63%) feel the coronavirus has negatively affected their job, but more than half (52%) believe their employer would support them should they lose their job. This tells me that companies are providing the shoulder to lean on during hard times. 

Our efforts to do so began with surveying our workforce and developing appropriate responses to help mitigate the anxiety and stress workers might feel during this time. We conducted weekly surveys to check on well-being, asked for suggestions to help alleviate concerns and used the data to steer our long-term strategy for adjusting to this crisis. We knew that even with most of our employees retained around the world, they faced other challenges, such as juggling family and professional schedules when there were no schools opened, childcare available or domestic help possible. New coping mechanisms were needed for everyone. 

What did our regular surveying provide? There was a myriad of learnings. For instance, for workers accustomed to coming into an office, finding themselves suddenly in a virtual environment can be jarring, especially not knowing when they would be able to join colleagues in an in-person brainstorming session or present to clients seeking our guidance. Were they able to juggle added family responsibilities, such as home-schooling children or tending to elderly parents? In an office, work hours are typically well defined, but can newly virtualized workers also preserve a healthy work-life balance?

Of course for essential staff who had to be on site, how do we assure their safety in a public environment? If these essential workers needed to commute, is it safe to do so with public transportation or would we provide services? Most importantly, what are the protocols needed to ensure a continuation of operations, as well as a safe return to the office?

What were the results of our regular surveillance? Not only were we able to respond more quickly and effectively to the concerns of our workforce, we’ve also affirmed our commitment to them. In fact, both engagement and Net Promoter Scores have risen during this time.

We also heard overwhelming positive feedback on the steps taken to ensure the financial stability of Randstad. Like many organizations during this time, we had to make some difficult decisions to protect jobs. But we did this transparently and openly, explaining to our workforce the necessity of such measures. When you are open and communicative about the magnitude of the downturn – and this is certainly one of the most painful in my lifetime – your workforce is more understanding about the small sacrifices they are asked to make. I’m happy to say our survey results echoed and reaffirmed this sentiment.

With more and more offices reopening around the world, we’re continuing to be vigilant about our plan to move forward. That includes continued monitoring of employees, offering assistance whenever it’s needed, and regular updates on our business and future planning. 

So what have we learned from the crisis so far?

  • Clear guidance is key. Because it was such a fluid situation in the beginning, it was critical to provide structure to our workforce and communicate throughout. Without this guidance, I fear engagement and productivity would have been severely disrupted. Instead, we provided technology tools and training to enable workers to continue in their jobs with minimal disruption.
  • Look for telltale signs. Collecting feedback is just one part of the equation. Understanding what your workers are concerned about, what they need and how to give them resources are all actions that go with surveillance. For instance, we organized many online events that addressed professional and personal needs, including virtual coffee sessions, story time for employees’ children and even yoga to relieve stress.
  • Be empathetic. During the course of this pandemic, workers have experienced many different challenges – from suffering from depression due to lockdowns to feeling worried about job security to being overwhelmed with responsibilities (at home and professionally). Training your manager to be sympathetic to individual situations will improve engagement and your employer brand over time. 

We recognize the crisis is not over. With many parts of the world still experiencing rising cases, and the fear of a second wave still hanging over the regions where recovery has started, there is much more to reckon with. But with careful planning and a willingness to be transparent, empathetic and responsive, your organization will be well prepared for any contingency.

jos schut

chief human resource officer at randstad global

Jos Schut is Randstad Global's CHRO. He has been with Randstad since 2001 working in different roles across the globe, including being the HRD for UK & Middle East, Australia and New Zealand and CHRO for Randstad Asia Pacific. His role allows him to focus on his main purpose; making sure people and organizations are enabled to live up to their full potential.  Jos holds a degree in Economics and Logistics.