When the coronavirus pandemic hit Canada, and the federal government pushed pause on the economy back in March, companies had to adapt and adjust workforce staffing levels at unprecedented speed. That first week alone pushed 927,000 Canadians out of work as some businesses ground to a complete halt, while others turned to technology and other means to maintain operations.
Since then, organizations have been busy adopting the necessary safety protocols to return to work, restore productivity and adjust to the new business normal. Now, as Ontario enters the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses should undertake a thorough self-assessment if they hope to survive another wave of economic volatility—and possibly another round of operating restrictions—as they work to restore pre-pandemic revenue and growth.
Difficult times and tough decisions could well lie ahead. The better positioned you are to manage another round of lockdowns or ongoing business disruption from a human capital perspective, the greater your chance of emerging from the pandemic with your bottom-line intact. In other words, now is the time to analyze, optimize and engage your workforce. Because how you deploy your team in the weeks ahead may determine your organization’s long-term success.
Conduct an objective analysis
That process starts by answering a few key questions:
- How has COVID-19 impacted your business over the past eight months and how have you adapted?
- How have production/service levels been impacted and how has your talent been utilized throughout the pandemic?
- What worked and what didn’t?
- Have you been able to achieve efficiencies with fewer people on-site, while still delivering products and services as expected? If so, how?
The pandemic forced the world into the largest remote work experiment ever and the results have been largely positive on that front. Tech giants such as Twitter, Square and Facebook, among many other organizations across industries, have since offered employees the opportunity to move to a largely work-from-home model. In addition to the flexibility that remote work affords employees, it also creates opportunities for some organizations to reduce costs by eliminating or lowering rent and maintenance commitments. At this point, taking steps to reduce overhead across your business can make good financial sense.
With an understanding of how your business and workforce has changed, it’s important to look to the next three to four months and your organization’s projected cash flow, production and service levels:
- Do you have the appropriate staffing to meet those targets?
- Is your workforce being deployed efficiently and in the right areas?
- Which roles are essential and which should be rethought or optimized to maximize productivity?
- Is there an opportunity to hire contractors/freelancers to give the business more flexibility, to ramp up production as necessary and ensure the right skill sets are available when needed?
To determine your talent needs, develop and deploy a customized analytical model to compare business activity to workforce staffing requirements. That means taking a critical look at operations and processes to determine whether there could be better ways to get work done. How many people are currently deployed to carry out those actions? How long does each task take? How many people would be needed if improvements were made to the process? Is it possible to retrain employees and reassign them in areas that will help improve product or service delivery?
Get expert help
This type of analysis should be undertaken for every aspect of operations and involve managers with responsibilities for each area of the business.
Arriving at an analytical model that accurately reflects your business and its needs is a complex undertaking and one that requires objectivity. Work with your Chartered Professional Accountant and/or an experienced business consultant to help create that model and undertake the necessary analysis.
In addition, as you navigate the stormy waters ahead, ensure that your organization leverages government assistance programs such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which has been extended through summer 2021.
Engage your people
If analyzing and optimizing your workforce is Stage 1, engaging your employees is Stage 2—and, as I outlined in my previous blog, it’s an absolutely essential part of the process. It’s a new world and returning to a growth mindset during a pandemic comes with a plethora of challenges. Business models and environments continue to shift, creating widespread uncertainty.
Here are six ways to help your employees reconnect and stay engaged:
Communicate your strategy—How do you plan to take the business to the next level? Outlining your plan and vision for the future will help restore confidence and build excitement. And keep sharing. Communication should be ongoing so that employees understand their role in driving the organization’s success.
Set and monitor performance targets—Providing employees with clear goals that are specific, realistic and measurable will ensure they understand what’s expected, how their work is impacting overall company performance, while also helping to motivate them to remain as productive as possible
Provide regular feedback and coaching—This goes beyond semi-annual or even monthly performance reviews. Remember that weekly or daily check-ins create opportunities for coaching to help employees build or hone their skills, while also making them feel valued and committed to the organization.
Retrain as necessary—If new skillsets are required, or employees are being redeployed in different areas, be sure to set them up for success by providing adequate training. This investment will not only help ensure effective product and service delivery, but will also help drive engagement and innovation across the business.
Focus on mental health—COVID-19 has increased stress and anxiety levels for many Canadians. Consider introducing support programs to help employees manage these and other mental health challenges they may be facing, while understanding your accommodation obligations under provincial occupational health and safety and human rights legislation.
Recognize success—Employee recognition is one of the simplest and most effective ways to drive engagement—and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Recognition can take many forms, from a simple ‘thank you’ note to an acknowledgement in the company newsletter with a reward for a job well done (perhaps a gift card or an extra vacation day). In the end, it’s about ensuring employees feel valued and respected.
George Grignano, Co-Managing Partner