Responding to COVID-19: Technology, Human Connectedness and Wellbeing

Never has the transformation mantra ‘Run the Business…. Change the Business' been more apparent than now. We are experiencing an unprecedented period of disruption to most of what we know. In this time of uncertainty, the one thing that is clear is that when things settle, they won’t be the same. 

Whilst businesses are forced to prioritise and innovate, we believe that for all organisations there are three focus areas at the core of navigating the current crisis and shaping the future:

  • Using Technology to transform the working environment and processes
  • Maintaining the Human Connectedness
  • Protecting the Wellbeing of your people

Using Technology to transform the working environment and processes

COVID-19 has accelerated the need for businesses to fully embrace digital technology solutions. Whilst many of these aren’t new, they have never been deployed or operated at the pace and scale that is needed today. There is also a significant shift in the breadth of organisations that are driving access to better solutions.

We have already seen that the behaviours relating to digital healthcare have changed, with significant demand for online services including clinical consultations (Babylon, GP@Hand). By mid-March, one million people had visited the updated NHS-111 website, including over 210,000 people in a single day. Healthcare services are being completely re-configured. Consumers and professionals are seizing change and seeking digital tools to find new ways to support the immediate physical demands and mental health of a self-isolating population. It is likely that the way the public is starting to interact and engage with healthcare services will become the norm.

Telecoms is an industry in the spotlight to help businesses rapidly adapt. Vodafone reported a 50% increase in internet use last week and all major providers have seen an unprecedented surge in demand on their networks. The Sunday Times (22.03.20) highlighted how 'Unreliable broadband hinders work from home', reflecting how all major providers need to quickly determine how to upgrade, maintain and rapidly deploy broadband, fibre and 4G/5G networks to enable industry and societal shifts. We have seen first-hand the focus that the current situation demands and know that providers are fully engaged with meeting the pandemic-driven surge for high speed and reliable connectivity.

These examples show how organisations on the front line are responding to COVID-19. There is an immediate need to transform the working environment, processes and tools to maintain business continuity, respond to the crisis driven challenges and innovate.

For some, this is about ensuring there is sufficient capacity and bandwidth in their technology solutions. For others it is about the range of tools that need to be procured, configured and deployed rapidly, with the appropriate training and support mechanisms for use. In time, organisations will be able to take forward the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, and use them to revolutionise their digital workforce, practices and technology landscape.

Maintaining the Human Connectedness

Effective teams are built through human interaction, empathy and a shared purpose or goal. The key to successful remote collaboration is recognising that technology is an enabler, not a replacement, for building and maintaining human connections.

The majority of organisations have responded to the COVID-19 threat by enforcing remote working practices. Many of our clients have quickly prioritised connecting their employees through technology and creating a successful virtual workplace. This has a number of ramifications for immediate and long-term ways of working.

In the short term, organisational culture and ways of working will rapidly adapt. Tools and processes will be quickly reconfigured to facilitate business operations, ensure continuity and maintain human connections. Recognising that prior to COVID-19, 21% of British adults already worried ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ about the possibility of losing their job, these changes will need to be clearly communicated to ensure that the business and its people remain engaged and effective.

In the long term, the unprecedented global ‘lockdown’ will have a seismic impact on the world of work. Prior to COVID-19, 70% of workers in the UK have indicated that flexible working makes a job more attractive to them. Now that new practices have been forced, businesses need to prepare for a shift in the number of workers who work remotely or semi-remotely. Roles that have traditionally been seen as office based, such as call centre representatives or back office finance functions, will become increasingly flexible and remote. There could well be attractive efficiencies for all in this shift.

We have seen that organisations have been most successful in enabling their workforce, and facilitating changes to the workplace, where they have focused on:

  • Regular, transparent communication from Leadership to remote employees, providing reassurance and clarity on the organisation’s policies and overall trajectory
  • Rapidly deploying technology by implementing Bring Your Own Device or ‘buy and expense’ policies, or by leveraging employee home computing and smart devices
  • Maximising use of collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams or Google for Work, which facilitate human connection and boost productivity (please see our infographic below)
  • Ensuring tools can be accessed from a range of devices – for example if home broadband goes down, that your teams can dial in or connect through 4G/5G
  • Encouraging employees to share experiences, ideas and feedback on the strategy, as well as what is and isn’t working for them, through interactive surveys, company social media and dedicated working sessions

Protecting the Wellbeing of your people

Wellbeing within society and the workplace has become a key area of focus and differentiation. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought it to the forefront even more, particularly in maintaining the physical and mental wellbeing of employees.

The number of workers reporting work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK peaked in 2019 at 600,000+, an increase of 50% since 2009. COVID-19 is causing additional fear and uncertainty in relation to the economy, personal finances and health of self and family members. Global lockdown, social distancing and self-isolation are disrupting personal routines and preventing people from pursuing their preferred self-care activities. Combined, these will cause an intensification of work-related anxiety.

Organisations can take concrete actions to support the wellbeing of their employees, even where they are working remotely. These include:

  • Keeping staff well informed about how your organisation is responding to COVID-19 and what support is available to them
  • Providing up-to-date guidance on key topics such sick pay, leave and flexible working, as well as additional resources on general health and wellbeing
  • Providing online or telephone mental health services, either through trained company mental health champions and / or health insurance, employee assistance programmes, or temporary health contribution benefits
  • Sharing best practice examples from how you to set up your desk, how to structure your day, how to remain active, and how to have a healthy diet
  • Mobilising support networks and encouraging regular interaction within them – at Moorhouse, we have encouraged our ‘Talent Leads’ to connect with their people at least once a week for a virtual 'coffee-chat'
  • Encouraging employees to stick to usual routines as far as possible, particularly preventing work from running over into personal time
  • Making use of free online tools for fitness, meditation, e-learning and healthy eating – for example, one of our clients has used free fitness videos from The Body Coach to create a 7-day fitness challenge for their employees.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption and uncertainty on a scale that is unprecedented in recent history. It challenges the way that we live, work and interact with each other and will create a lasting change.

We believe that by focusing on technology, human connectedness and wellbeing, organisations can navigate this period, and innovate and shape what follows.

References 

  1. https://www.digitalhealth.net/2020/03/nhs-111-online-coronavirus/
  2.  https://www.vodafone.com/news-and-media/vodafone-group-releases/news/vodafone-launches-five-point-plan-to-help-counter-the-impacts-of-the-covid-19-outbreak
  3.  https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-unreliable-broadband-hinders-work-from-home-xc3tbn8kn
  4.  https://www.statista.com/statistics/343089/uk-british-adults-job-loss-worries/
  5.  https://www.powwownow.co.uk/smarter-working/flexible-working-statistics-2017/
  6.  https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf
  7.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXmdXilQaqA

Media Enquiries
For more information please email info@moorhouseconsulting.com

Authors

Emily Blampied

Senior Consultant

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Don McShee

Client Director - Digital & Technology

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Richard Brackstone

Partner

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Liz Williams

Manager

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Kevin Clarke

Manager

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