COVID-19: Workforce considerations

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Keeping your employees safe, engaged and productive has never been more important—or more challenging. Here are five areas to focus on now:

  • Protecting your people: Help employees stay safe and healthy, whether at work or at home.
  • Communicating effectively in uncertainty: Lead with responsive, empathetic communications and policies.
  • Maintaining the continuity of work: Enable your people by providing the resources and support they need to be productive.
  • Assessing workforce costs: Balance the potential need to cut costs with the desire to keep as many of your people as you can.
  • Preparing for recovery: Align your workforce planning with your business strategy so you’ll be ready to ramp up in a recovery.

Protecting your people

Protecting your employees’ physical and emotional well-being continues to be paramount.  PwC’s COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey found that two-thirds of finance leaders are “very confident” of their ability to create a safe workplace. But new challenges are still emerging, from shifting directives on openings and social distancing guidelines to changes in border controls and travel advisories. This uncertainty means employers should continually revisit and adapt their approach for helping to support their people’s health and well-being, especially as needs change as the situation continues to evolve.

Actions to consider

  • Implement and review policies that help to protect and support employees and comply with regulations, such as travel restrictions, paid or unpaid leave, and quarantine protocols.
  • Review cleaning and sanitation protocols and adjust workspaces to comply with social distancing guidance.
  • For on-site workers, provide the protective equipment they may need, such as gloves and masks, and consider installing new protective measures where applicable, such as plexiglass shields between cashiers and customers.
  • Continue to draft, refine and circulate “new normal” re-entry guidelines to help address safety issues as on-site work resumes.
  • Manage workforce data to help keep track of employees’ locations, any mobility or technology issues they may be experiencing, their daily work status and other relevant issues.
  • Champion wellness, including mental health. Point employees toward resources that can help them navigate through this, including the benefits your organization may offer, such as counseling or stress management. Encourage your people, including managers and leaders, to share how they’re feeling and to speak up if they need support.
  • Reinforce respect and inclusion — especially as there have been some incidents of racial intolerance related to the virus. Remember that a remote work environment can make it easier for implicit or unconscious bias to potentially creep in.
  • Keep up with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on worker safety, employee travel and workplace sanitation.
 

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Communicating effectively in uncertainty

No matter how long the crisis lasts, continue to provide factual, consistent messaging that helps to reinforce the key points your employees need to know. Uncertainty and confusion may contribute to anxiety and fears, but clear information can help your employees feel more informed and better able to focus. Aim for honest and frequent communications that underscore a strong sense of purpose. During a crisis, it’s more important than ever that people understand why their work matters and how they are personally helping to contribute to the success of the business.

Actions to consider

  • Continue to engage remote and frontline employees with real-time, personal, consistent communications about health and safety, policy updates and guidance from leadership.
  • Be transparent and forthright about the health of your business and any plans to take workforce actions, especially the possibility of furloughs or layoffs.
  • Centralize your communication channels: Continue to update your internal portal or “hub” with policies, news updates and FAQs, so people have a resource to get answers quickly.
  • Encourage two-way communication: Create a hotline where people can get immediate answers to their questions or pose questions to leaders.
  • Use pulse surveys to help gain a clearer understanding of people's concerns and needs
  • Consider purpose-led symbolic acts from leaders — personal actions or commitments help demonstrate that “we are in this together.”

 

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Maintaining the continuity of work

For many employees, the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the way they work and even where they work. It’s critical, however, that the work still gets done. Leaders can help promote business continuity by providing the resources and support people need to do their jobs effectively, even if they’re suddenly working from home. They can also help by creating new ways for people to connect to each other, feel engaged and inspired, and work in new ways — which are critical to boosting morale and productivity.

Actions to consider

  • Continue to evaluate which people in critical roles should remain on-site versus those that can work remotely. These policies may change over time.
  • Support secure and efficient remote working capabilities. That may include developing and implementing new technologies or workflows to help people maintain productivity, as well as providing coaching on how to lead a remote team and develop new ways of working.
  • Establish policies for remote working for the long term, as many organizations are planning to encourage people to work from home for the foreseeable future.
  • Measure remote workforce program effectiveness and staff productivity and engagement.
  • Refine priority HR programs, such as planning for critical roles, performance and rewards, and employee relations.
  • Accelerate new ways of working through digital upskilling.
  • Develop and review first- and second-level succession plans for key leaders and roles, as backup in case someone gets sick or needs to step away from their responsibilities for family or personal reasons.
  • Recalibrate 2020 performance goals; help provide people with achievable targets.
 

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Assessing workforce costs

Many business leaders are facing the difficult choice of making workforce cutbacks, whether that’s through furloughs or other means. Though many organizations want to move quickly on these changes to potentially shore up liquidity, it’s imperative to carefully assess short- and long-term workforce cost levers to help plan for sustainability, including provisions of the CARES Act and evolving state, federal and international regulations.

Actions to consider

  • Assess roles and functions (supply vs. demand) and potential opportunities to redeploy people to areas that may be experiencing increased demand or are critical functions.
  • Assess and identify possible workforce labor cost-reduction levers ahead of headcount reductions. These could include changes in compensation, a hiring or promotion freeze, compressed work schedules, unpaid sabbaticals, or reducing other expense items, such as real estate, facilities or business travel.
  • Consider the implications of getting direct loans under the CARES Act on your longer-term workforce strategy, including maintaining workforce levels, caps on compensation, outsourcing and neutrality for union organizing efforts.
  • Leverage the compensation and benefits provisions of the CARES Act.
  • Continue to communicate with your retained workforce about what may be ahead for the business.

 

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Preparing for recovery

Eventually, this crisis will subside, and you’ll want your organization to be ready when it does. What will it take to get your business moving again? Look ahead now to prepare for a changed market. Consider how you can better align your workforce planning with your business strategy, use data analysis for modeling and scenario planning, or build a skills inventory to help identify the capabilities within your organization and where the gaps are.

Actions to consider

  • Develop integrated business and workforce plans based on future scenarios, including geopolitics, health outcomes, liquidity and finance, supply chain and fiscal response.
    Refresh your workforce strategy, clearly defining critical capabilities, locations and sourcing mix.
  • Redefine business performance metrics at enterprise, business and individual levels.
  • Determine which aspects of the new ways of working should potentially continue post-crisis, based on the types of work, health outcomes and worker preferences. For example, if some people are working remotely now, should you continue that practice? 
  • Build digital ways of working through investments in upskilling for essential skills and capabilities.
  • Establish and maintain access to key talent pools and sources, including workers who may be furloughed and on leave.
  • Continue to monitor employee well-being and productivity and take corrective actions as required.
  • Pivot the firm and employees to start supporting efforts to accelerate the recovery and help deliver on stakeholder (employee, customer, investor and community) outcomes.

 

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PwC’s COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey
May 11, 2020 US findings

Listen to a clip from PwC's media briefing as Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader of our People and Organization practice, discusses the latest results of our COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey to learn what decisive moves and lasting changes are on the CFO agenda to reboot business.

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Contact us

Carrie  Duarte

Carrie Duarte

Workforce of the Future Leader, PwC US

Bhushan Sethi

Bhushan Sethi

Principal, Joint Global Leader, People and Organization, PwC US