Four Suggestions to Protect Human Capital During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Employees should be at the center of any business continuity plan.

By Alistair McLean | Aug. 21, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected business continuity plans (BCPs) of numerous organizations, from family-owned grocery stores to top-tier companies with billions of dollars in annual revenue. For many entities, the important risk mitigation measures in a BCP are dictated by factors such as geographical location, the complexity of the information technology network and the safe evacuation of personnel in the event of a fire. Anticipated business disruption events are usually expected to last anywhere from a few hours to a few months. However, these are not usual times: the economic fallout from this pandemic requires business owners and senior management to plan for the persistent impact to last for the next several months, if not years.  

Consider Boeing’s situation. Its supply chain involves dozens of companies that employ thousands of workers.  The implosion of worldwide travel demand severely dented Boeing’s commercial airline business. By some estimates, global passenger traffic will not return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024. In anticipation of the lack of demand for commercial jetliners over the next few years, Boeing laid off thousands of workers. Several suppliers followed suit: for instance, General Electric’s aviation unit announced layoffs and other cost cutting measures because of a reduction in demand for jet engines from Boeing. Employees who were fortunate to remain after the job cuts face the daunting task of taking on additional responsibilities and learning new job functions quickly to stabilize company operations. Therefore, employees should be at the center of business continuity planning during the pandemic and have an outsized role as firms imagine a post-COVID-19 future.  

Here are four ways to safeguard the health and productivity of a company’s workforce during these uncertain times:

1. Embrace distance.

Expand remote work options. Royal Bank of Canada and tech giants Google and Facebook announced that most staff would be allowed to work remotely until 2021. Not only does a shift to remote work reduce density in the office, it also serves as a talent retention strategy.  Employees with medical conditions that put them at a higher risk of serious illness from contracting the coronavirus are likely to stay with an employer that offers remote work, at least until a proven and effective vaccine is widely available. Many K-12 schools all over the country have reopened and quickly recorded numerous positive COVID-19 tests among students and employees, notably at North Paulding High School, located in the northwest suburbs of Atlanta, where there were cases after just the first week of in-person instruction. The U.S. is not unique in facing this challenge: in other countries, school reopening has also resulted in COVID-19 outbreaks, despite some successful reopening examples. A number of school districts in major metro areas, such as New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, will reopen later in August using either hybrid or totally remote learning models.  Therefore, employees who have the option of working remotely will not have choose between giving up their jobs and doing right by their kids. With the multitude of software to support remote work, employees can remain productive and accountable for their work without being in the physical office.

2. Communication, communication, communication!

Communicate regularly with employees.  Regular frank and open communication fosters employee engagement. Team members might be frustrated by the cloud of uncertainty regarding their jobs, concerned about their employers’ financial viability and stressed by the need to cover the responsibilities of former co-workers who have been terminated. The last thing employees need in this environment is a short and cryptic email on a Friday afternoon requesting that select company personnel attend a mandatory meeting on Monday morning with a special guest, Mary from HR. A few weeks into the pandemic, Airbnb made the decision to layoff several employees. CEO Brian Chesky demonstrated the empathy and compassion that needed to be conveyed to employees that were let go and encouraged resilience and hope for the future to employees who would remain with the company. When management communicates a plan for a company’s future, employee buy-in is possible, especially if there is a way for employees to offer anonymous feedback on the plan. 

3. Think beyond physical wellness.

Establish or improve an employee wellness program. Before the pandemic, many employee wellness programs focused on improving wellness to reduce company healthcare costs and absenteeism among workers. This was done by offering subsidized gym memberships, nutrition education, health assessments, smoking cessation, and weight loss programs. During the pandemic, people feel more frustrated, fearful and angry. To help employees get through the next several months, wellness programs need to bolster their mental health component. There has been a surge in interest in mental health assistance as workers fret over job security while they work long hours, manage workplace conflicts and juggle the demands of parenting during the week.

4. Address money woes.

Establish an employee assistance fund. The objective of an employee assistance fund (EAF) is to help employees ride out unexpected financial hardship brought on by a reduction in household income due to job loss or unforeseen medical expenses. Employees are ineffective at their job when they are hampered by persistent money worries. According to the Aspen Institute, 30-40 million Americans face eviction from their homes over the next several months. Personnel cannot be expected to get a good night of sleep in the comfort of a cardboard box located under a highway bridge. In addition, food prices have increased substantially during the pandemic. Eyeballs are focused on the cash register at checkout because a grocery bill can exceed a hundred dollars very quickly – even when half the items are still left on the checkout conveyor belt. Back-to-school shopping for the 2020-2021 academic year has taken on a decidedly expensive look.  Parents have to spend mini fortunes on laptops, tablets, desks, and chairs to prepare for remote learning in the fall.  

By taking care of their people, companies can create a workforce with the energy and drive needed to see their businesses through the pandemic and prepare for a post-COVID-19 future.  Let me know the measures your organization has taken to support employees. Future editions of KTMC Perspectives will cover other aspects of a successful business continuity plan.