COVID-19: How HR leaders are battling the crisis

HRD’s exclusive research found HR professionals are addressing COVID-19 in a plethora of ways

COVID-19: How HR leaders are battling the crisis

Before COVID-19, lunchtime ping-pong tournaments were legendary at Vinomofo, as were spontaneous wine tastings that occurred randomly throughout the week. 

“We’ve always had a flexible working culture and that won't change, but I think many of us are looking forward to being back together again,” said Robyn Djelassi, head of people & operations at Vinomofo.

Once the COVID-19 pandemic dies down, Vinomofo’s plan is to implement flexible work “where it makes sense”.

In fact, it’s a sentiment echoed by many HR professionals, according to an exclusive survey conducted by HRD.

The research found that about half (49%) of respondents have already returned staff to the office. Of these, the majority (60%) have returned only between 0-25% of their workforce.

It found 15% had returned 25-50% of staff to the workplace, seven percent returned 50-75% and a fair amount (19%) had returned 75-100%.

The results also demonstrated that many HR professionals have been facing a plethora of challenges in bringing their staff back.

One HR leader said the fact that employees proved they could work from home meant there was a reluctance to return. In particular, public transport was found to have made staff nervous.

“I think everyone is now used to working from home, most employees will be worried about coming into the office, with fear of getting sick,” said another respondent.

Another HR professional said staff have the impression that they are successfully working from home and want to continue that arrangement. However, the company thinks otherwise in terms of their productivity and business requirements. 

Furthermore, not all respondents said employees were embracing remote working.

“We have found that many people want to return. They feel too remote and miss interaction, resulting in productivity,” said another.

The pandemic even inspired one HR leader to introduce a “global homeworking policy” that allows employee's to request to work from home where practicable.

“We will be undertaking a staggered return to the office due to capacity restrictions. This will take a lot of planning and rostering,” said a respondent.

For other HR leaders, the main challenge has been creating a COVID-safe environment. For example, because of social distancing they do not have enough desks to accommodate all their employees.

Vinomofo have also had to modify the way they operate, as they organised morning and afternoon shifts to ensure they limit the number of employees onsite at any given time.

“Of course, we are complying with all COVID Safety regulations and we encourage our teams to contribute to our WHS plans,” said Djelassi.

“We plan to employ more regular cleaning, restrict access to shared amenities and of course follow all government advice to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees.”

Read more: Employer fined for failing to control safety risks

It’s a similar situation over at Tabcorp, where only critical team members are working from the office where required.

Prior to the pandemic, Tabcorp already had a ‘Start with Yes’ approach to flexible working, according to Michelle Williams, Tabcorp Chief People Officer.

This meant that many team members were comfortable with working remotely and able to transition very quickly from the onset of the pandemic.

Interestingly, HRD’s research also found that of those who have not returned staff to the office, the vast majority (98%) still plan to return their staff to the office at some point.

It found most organisation plan on bringing employees back in the next month (38%) or 3+ months (43%). About a quarter (24%) said 6+ months and just 4% said it will be a year or longer.

For Tabcorp, under the Victorian Government’s current roadmap, it’s unlikely that their Victorian offices will be able to fully open before the end of December.

However, Williams said that the company are in constant contact with the Victorian Government and will monitor developments.

“Strategies will be put in place for each location to deal with the health and safety of all team members, including the management of outbreaks if they do occur.”  

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