The number of staff working from home has surged with the lockdown, and many office-based employers now plan to keep most or all of their employees working remotely for the long term. There are of course many advantages to allowing those staff members who can work effectively from their own home offices to do so, but be aware also of the business risks that this “new normal” exposes your company to. One of these is the increased risk of reputational harm to your business, particularly whilst the pandemic and its economic fallout continue to threaten staff morale and uncertainty is the watchword of the day. We analyse those risks and suggest some positive steps you can take to address them.
“It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute” (Will Rogers)
Whilst many employees enjoy working from home, this is a time of uncertainty for them. They read of people being retrenched or furloughed and wonder if they are next. The isolation of working from home can fuel this uncertainty.
Yet it is these employees who daily interact with customers and other stakeholders. If staff have negative feelings about the company, this can be quickly picked up by customers. Social media can spread this quickly and suddenly management have to start undertaking damage control. Recently, an English business decided to not pay staff until the government’s wage subsidy kicked in. Following an outcry, management swiftly reversed this and paid the staff.
Contrast this with Quickbooks who kept their cleaning staff on full pay despite empty offices. L’Oreal have made a point of paying small suppliers quicker than usual.
Don’t think short term
The decisions you make send out signals to your staff and they are much more likely to view you favourably if you are showing fairness to your stakeholders.
Think also of your investors – they tend to support businesses where carefully considered long-term decisions are made by management. Don’t forget having a holistic outlook and making the environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria part of your strategies.
In a recent case, staff supported management putting them on furlough after they were persuaded by management that this was the best long-term strategy to preserve jobs in the business.
Staff are more motivated if they know they have commitment and active support from their bosses.
IBM have started a program of supporting employees who need to take out time to educate their children or look after family members. They have also encouraged their staff to raise any individual difficulties they have with their managers. Introducing this type of flexibility makes managers’ jobs harder to do and IBM have created separate online chat channels for managers to network with their peers and find solutions to employees’ problems.
Other companies with diversity in the workplace have openly supported Black Lives Matter and have made sure that when there are pay cuts or retrenchments, there is no discrimination against minorities.
The world has changed and become more uncertain and more flexible. You need to plan carefully and act to ensure you stay on top of the situation and keep the support of your staff.