In order to play it safe, several tech companies like Facebook and Google announced back in May that their work from home policies would extend to at least 2021. 

Twitter, in particular, took things one step further by allowing its staff to work from home ‘indefinitely’. These make for interesting headlines but the reality is, most businesses will not be as productive operating completely remotely.

As cities and countries begin to reopen, so have businesses around the world. The focus remains profit-driven while preparing for recovery. This has raised brand new challenges, particularly from a hiring manager’s point of view.

Aside from building a qualified team, how do you make sure that they are primed for business recovery? And after months away from the office, how do you keep them engaged for those next business hurdles? And remember, even before recovery comes and the talent market becomes fierce once more, talent retention, nurturing and avoiding losing top talent to poaching will be significant challenges for hiring managers. With this in mind, here are 8 steps to build an effective business recovery team. 

1. Balance commercial needs with future plans and talent objectives

During the pandemic, businesses have to act swiftly in order to ensure the safety of their employees. However, when we reach the recovery phase, it will be important to extend such vigilance to their financial, social, community and career wellbeing as well. According to a survey, 52% of respondents said that it’s either likely or somewhat likely that COVID-19 would cause major financial struggles for their household. A Gallup poll further revealed 72% of employees are very or somewhat worried that they or a family member will be exposed to COVID-19. At a minimum, acknowledging these stressors exist and addressing them with your team will be required. Otherwise, expect mental and emotional exhaustion.

Stay agile and flexible. Change is inevitable and we need to adapt quickly and effectively.

According to Jessica Whitehead, Partner and Head of HR Practice at Page Executive, “HR directors should own the wellbeing strategy of an organisation. They are responsible for the strategy but the responsibility to push the agenda and support the programme sits with all senior leaders. A key aspect is strong communication channels, to ensure conversations are being had about mental health.” 

There are many solutions and programs companies can initiate to prevent negative wellbeing outcomes, which can debilitate staff performance. For example, at PageGroup, employees have access to a free Employee Assistance Program (EAP) consultation from professional consultants to discuss financial issues, mental health, physical health, and other issues they may be facing at work or in life. 

2. Exercise transparency and honesty

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on industries and the hiring market. Though businesses are rebounding, some companies remain cautious about their hiring plans and taking on new projects. Many roles have been made redundant, which inevitably impacts employee engagement and motivation, as well as triggers a whole host of negative sentiment at the workplace.

As such, hiring managers have the responsibility to be transparent with its employees. That means acknowledging how the world looks and presenting the whole picture to staff, and clarifying the rationale behind the company’s strategic changes for the short and long-term. “As a leader, you need to explain the reality of the current market to your teams instead of concealing the truth,” Yuki Chen, Regional Director at Michael Page Shanghai notes. “That way, you can build a trusted and inspiring team culture, which is even more important in tough times.”

The barrier of not being able to meet face-to-face should not pose as a hindrance in driving connectivity and engagement amongst our employees.

If we look at the numbers, according to a study by Kelton Global, 87% of professionals admitted that they want their future company to be transparent. It also found 80% of respondents want to know more about their organisation’s decision making. Therefore, when important information is made accessible, everyone in your team will understand the goals of the company and feel empowered to make better decisions independently and collectively.

RELATED: 3 ways to be agile during business disruption, fast

3. Redefine a clear direction 

A clear purpose and way forward will help build a cohesive team in hard times — and the purpose isn’t just about refreshing a slogan but should include the overall outcome or goal that now needs to be achieved.

  • What do you want to create, improve or change?
  • What is the purpose of each person’s role in the team?
  • How do their individual roles fit with the rest of the team?
  • How does the team specifically contribute towards the organisation’s success?  

Providing a clear, inspiring vision sets the foundation for successful teamwork, and helps guide the direction of the group as they face future challenges and make decisions accordingly. “And you need to provide very clear objectives to steer your team towards,” notes Stella Wu, Head of HR at PageGroup Greater China. “Meanwhile, when they accomplish these objectives, a corresponding reward should be provided otherwise don’t underestimate that open acknowledgements and praise are significant motivators for employees.”

Kristoffer Paludan, Regional Director of PageGroup Thailand adds: “A deep sense of purpose and commitment to the mission and vision of a company significantly distinguishes high performing businesses and groups from others. Additionally, mutual accountability and a clear understanding of your stake in that mission and vision leads to loyalty, direction and generally higher levels of performance and satisfaction.”

4. Actively promote two-way communication 

It is equally important that team members feel that they can talk to you for support. As such, in recovery mode, communication has become an even more crucial element for teams if they are to be effective. Maintain open communication lines with them and encourage teams to talk openly with one another. Updates on project statuses should come regularly, and any challenges or obstacles must be flagged as soon as possible. This will allow timely feedback and equally reinforces the sense that the team and the business are genuinely ‘in it together’.

Two-way communication requires you of encouraging mentorship and coaching, and adopting an open door policies for your employees.

Meanwhile, two-way communication should be actively promoted instead of one-way communication, which means it involves the back and forth pattern - not just you delivering the request to your team members, but that they are able to share feedback with you to develop a play-by-play solution. “Two-way communication requires you of encouraging mentorship and coaching, and adopting an open door policies for your employees,” process innovator Vince Mirabelli shares.

Jeffrey Ng, Regional Director at Michael Page Singapore underscores the need to spend time understanding the personal situation of employees in the business. “Give them enough time and space to reflect and recharge. And encourage smart activities rather than focusing only on fixed commercial outcomes,” he shares.

Leveraging technology has been a key driver in keeping connected with employees, says Sonia Danani, Head of HR at Michael Page SEA and India. “We have focused on specific interactions such as professional development conversations as well as the social interaction, which a lot of people miss during working from home. We encourage our leaders to conduct virtual drinks, office meetings, social get togethers, where the barrier of not being able to meet face-to-face should not pose as a hindrance in driving connectivity and engagement amongst our employees.”

RELATED: 5 ways to be strategic and reactive during uncertainty

5. Reinforce personal development training

An economic downturn is, in fact, high time to upskill your team and provide a personal development plan in preparation for the business recovery phase. The good news is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune or take up great lengths of time either. Firstly, identify the skills required to push your business forward, as well as individuals within the team that are capable and willing to learn. Next, implement the right strategies going forward so that your company can pull ahead of the curve. 

A sense of advancement and personal development is an essential need for all professionals.

“Issues can be ignored when the market is booming, as everyone is confident, and no one has time to stop to reflect,” says Lily Liu, Director at PageGroup Beijing. “This period of time gives us an opportunity to reinforce basic consulting skills and improve our core value.” As she observes, once market confidence is up, it could bounce back quickly so it is critical for your staff to be fully prepared and equipped.

Toby Truscott, Managing Director at Michael Page Japan refers to a Sales ITV webinar by Dean Mannix which communicated that a sense of advancement and personal development is an essential need for all professionals. “In these unprecedented times, it is easy for this need to be sidelined whilst focusing on ‘putting out fires’ in an operational context across the business,” Truscott says. “But it is important to understand that professional development does not have to come in the form of promotions, increase salary or responsibility and can be found in other elements – both personally and professionally. What new skills has someone been able to hone during this change in market conditions? What are some additional ways to view the contributions of individuals?”

Essentials for your HR recovery team

01 Do prioritise talent objectives as part of your future plans

02 Keep staff updated on the reality of the current market and as things change

03 Ensure mutual accountability and define each person's stake in the revised company mission

04 Reinforce training for your hiring manager's most basic skills and build from there

6. Keep championing flexibility at work  

According to Alexis Pham, Chief Human Resource Officer at One Mount Group: “If we can set aside the negatives and focus just on the positives, it is clear that COVID-19 is an opportunity for the workforce and companies to explore new possibilities that weren’t otherwise possible prior to the pandemic.” One such challenge has been workplace flexibility. When city- or even nation-wide physical distancing lockdown measures were put in place, organisations were suddenly prompted to introduce home-based work. After months of working from home, employees have naturally created a rhythm of things, particularly for parents or those with caregiving responsibilities. Returning to work, then, will require a good balance between personal commitments and staying on the current career path. 

Furthermore, a survey by Gartner found 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 — that’s compared to just 30% before the pandemic. As such, during the recovery phase, it is necessary for managers to rethink flexibility at work and identify the pattern that best works for their employees and their business needs. For example, consider whether and how to shift performance goal setting and employee evaluation for a remote context. “Stay agile and flexible. Change is inevitable and we need to adapt quickly and effectively,” says Wu. 

7. Culture breeds confidence

Gary James, Chief Operating Officer of PageGroup underscores that culture should be the ongoing job of a strong leader, with less time devoted to lip service chatter and more drilling down to where the problems and solutions are. 

Over time, if you have a strong culture you’ll, in turn, have a team of better individuals.

As James notes, the key to culture working is that members understands how it helps them: “Your inexperienced people will require more input as to the culture: to get adequate answers to the question of ‘how does your company culture help me to meet my personal needs?’” To James, the long-term benefit of a positive culture will be that with their defenses down again, people will feel open and motivated to grow as professionals. “Over time, if you have a strong culture you’ll, in turn, have a team of better individuals,” he says.

Building a strong company culture is not a simple exercise, and it isn’t something that can be rushed. You need to think about the atmosphere that will achieve the best results, gather a team that can bring your culture to life, define the rules for how the team will operate, create an open vision and purpose for your company, and determine the expectations of each individual to your success. Meanwhile, appointing mentors will helps as experienced members play a key part in coaching new recruits, especially through their behaviours.

8. Create a space for trial and error 

For workplace futurist and author Alexandra Levit, one of the keys to rebuilding a creative work culture is simple: make it okay for people to take risks. To some, the ‘embrace failure’ mantra seems fanciful, yet the point is more to move away from leadership that’s fearful of any risk. “Especially with young professionals, there’s this culture now of not being able to make any mistakes. Yet it’s the only way you’ll learn,” Levit reveals.

She adds that the trend in design thinking and innovation forces teams to test different configurations, figure out what works best, socialise different solutions, then iterate rapidly. You can set boundaries to make clear what is and what isn’t acceptable and hold people accountable. Meanwhile, it will be worthy to encourage or even reward those who are open to share their mistakes to the wider team to help others learn from their lessons. Levit reassures: “Most of them are going to fail. And it’s not only okay, it’s desired that you’re going to try so many outcomes.”

RELATED: Maximising your people-driven business recovery

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