Managing your workforce through the Coronavirus crisis

The changes to work culture brought about by Coronavirus over the past couple of weeks have been as rapid as they have huge. Like many organisations, you’re probably still only starting to adapt to the new normal, working out how to balance staff wellbeing with business sustainability, both of which are mutually dependent on the other.

As a recruitment firm with a focus on face-to-face interaction, we’ve been refining our own processes and providing guidance to clients who want to manage their current and future workforce needs effectively through this unprecedented and unpredictable time.

In this blog, we’d like to share our advice in the hope it may help you and your people in some way.


This is perhaps the biggest concern for employers right now: how to communicate effectively outside of our traditional working environment. The extent to which communication channels have been affected by Coronavirus will of course vary by industry, and those organisations who had implemented flexible and remote working before the crisis will undoubtedly find this challenge easier than others.

Thankfully, technology has never been as plentiful and ready as a substitute for face-to-face communication. The challenge can be whittling your options down from the various platforms – different people will inevitably require different levels of onboarding, so it’s wise not to overcomplicate things.

Whether you’re using Zoom, Slack, Teams or Google, the important thing is to ensure you’re offering line managers opportunities to interact with employees, both formally and informally, and good document management processes. At Sitka, we’ve found Teams essential for regular meetings, safe and effective file-sharing and ad hoc chats and we have found that it’s good for morale to use video chat regularly.

Transparent and proactive communication has never been more important than now. When you can, communicate more often than normal and make sure you’re providing reassurance and the tools and resources your people need to do their jobs from home. Staying connected to other people who are in a similar position to you will do you the world of good too.

If remote working is completely new to your organisation, then implementing good processes now will help expand your future recruitment opportunities, and should cut down your overhead costs too. See more on the benefits of flexible working practices here.

Mental health

Another big concern for employers right now is how to protect the mental wellbeing of staff. It’s difficult enough to persuade people to change at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic!

Coronavirus has caused a great deal of disruption to both personal and work lives, so showing empathy and avoiding ‘guilt-trips’ is an essential first step. We’ve seen organisations go so far as to encourage those who are home-schooling while working from home to involve their children in work calls. Who knows, they might just come up with a genius idea? At Sitka, we are finding the experience of working around our children a positive experience – and it can be fairly entertaining too!

Likewise, helping staff to maintain a balance between our now very blurred work-life boundaries is so important. And this starts with your line managers; it’s easy to put in more hours and avoid regular breaks when you’re working from home, but managers who model this and encourage their team to do so will usually find their employees are more productive.

Providing clear KPIs and breaking projects down into smaller tasks are great ways to keep people focused. And as well as regular one-to-one check-ins, it’s worth setting up virtual drop-in chats to help replace those ‘water cooler’ moments.

MIND recommend putting in place ‘Wellness Action Plans’ to identify additional needs for staff, particularly for those most at risk of complications from Covid-19. They have a wealth of resources to help employers during this difficult time.


You might, quite reasonably, be anticipating a certain amount of staff absence during the outbreak. If so, now is a good time to reassess your overall business priorities and the transferable skills of your employees. This will enable you to identify any gaps in contingency cover and arrange for necessary training. There are plenty of options on offer for developing skills online, see HR Dept for an example.

It’s important to bear in mind that the current situation will affect some employees disproportionately more than others. Keeping individuals’ workloads focused and manageable will avoid overwhelm.   

Another alternative might be to follow in the footsteps of Google and set aside some creative time to empower staff to come up with solutions to your most pressing business challenges. This could lead to something big. 


Some organisations will understandably have more time on their hands than others right now. So, if you haven’t already done so, it’s a good opportunity to revisit your staff and HR policies. It goes without saying that you should be ensuring you follow the latest government Coronavirus guidance. If you don’t have a policy on working from home, but are adhering to the government’s guidelines to allow and enable remote working, this should be added as a matter of priority. It’s also worth making sure employees are aware of the behaviour expected on them, especially with regards to your discrimination and social media policies. There’s more information on how to avoid discrimination claims here.

There are some fantastic resources available to help, for example from the CIPD.

Sadly, many workers may lose loved ones as a result of the Coronavirus crisis, so you might also want to consider changes to your bereavement policy. Try and offer support that’s as generous and flexible as possible.

If sales have slowed down, now is also a great time to assess your current service portfolio and identify new opportunities to take forward when things return to normal, whatever that might look like.

In an article highlighting the importance of resilient leadership during the Coronavirus crisis, Punit Renjen says that those organisations that shape the future of their industry rather than adapt to it will emerge from the crisis stronger. You can read more about personal resilience in a recent blog of ours.


While it might be tempting, or unavoidable, to put recruitment on hold during the crisis, it’s worth considering this strategy in line with your long-term business needs.

While WaveTrackR research shows that there has been a reduction in job applications over the last couple of months, indicating that some job seekers are reluctant to move roles right now, there are a number of highly qualified individuals out there who are more readily available right now.

Granted, social distancing has rendered the valuable face-to-face aspect of communication impossible, but we have found online video software a very viable substitute under the circumstances. We’ve had great success consulting with clients, screening candidates and coordinating interviews. 

Even if you can’t commit to a permanent hire, don’t discount the value of an interim specialist to help you navigate the unique challenges you’re facing, for example, a financial consultant who can objectively review your cost-saving proposals can end up saving you money in the long-run.

Changes to the workforce

Last week the government announced several initiatives to support businesses through the Coronavirus crisis. These included the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme (CBILS), the job retention scheme and additional statutory sick pay.

While many organisations have had no choice but to furlough their staff, others have aimed to minimise the impact on employees by setting up reduced hour agreements, reducing or banning overtime, or shifting employees into different roles.

If none of these are options for you and requesting voluntary leave or making redundancies are the only options, it’s important to maintain your integrity and follow correct and fair procedure. This is also good for business, as how you treat employees has a knock-on effect on your appeal to jobseekers in the future. Employer brand has never been more important than now.


The long-term impact of Coronavirus on businesses will of course depend on how long the crisis continues. And while it’s vital to provide stability for your workforce during this time, it’s also important to be realistic about this uncertainty.

For now, our advice is to focus on how you can best communicate with, look after, develop and retain your employees.

If you need any advice, or have a need to supplement your workforce to get your business through this difficult time, please feel free to contact us.