COVID-19: Workforce considerations

05 May, 2020

While COVID-19 has had an impact on every employee and organisation in Ireland, how it's impacting different businesses depends on the sector they operate in.

It is clear that a return to normal working conditions will not happen in the short term. Instead, organisations face multiple phases of 'new normals' as restrictions are modified with resulting impacts on both the volume and nature of work carried out. While restrictions will eventually be eased, it is possible that some may be reintroduced. For most organisations this won't be as traumatic as the first time round as long as vigilance and readiness to react are maintained.

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Broadly speaking, throughout this, organisations will face one (or a combination) of the following business scenarios:

  • They may experience a dramatic and sudden growth in demand for their services or products
  • They experience relatively stable demand for their services or products, but are experiencing significant pressure on their workforce and supply chain structures
  • They may experience a dramatic and sudden cessation or significant decline in demand for their services and products

Each of these scenarios presents a range of workforce challenges that need to be addressed during the coronavirus crisis and, more importantly, after it passes. Complexity is amplified for organisations that operate diversified and international businesses, as the impact of COVID-19 may vary across business units, and the return to work timelines will differ substantially across jurisdictions.

Irrespective of the scenario, we are envisaging three waves of response to the crisis for most organisations:

Immediate – mobilise Medium-term – stabilise Long-term – strategise
Responding rapidly to exceptional disruption to the world of work. Adapting to new ways of working onsite and remote. Ensuring the organisation is redesigned to suit the 'new world'.

Most businesses have moved through the initial mobilise phase of their workforce response to COVID-19. They have put in place new remote working arrangements for their people, occupational health and well-being initiatives have been made available and considered taking advantage of the range of government supports put in place including the Wage Subsidy Scheme.

They are now facing the next stages of their journey toward the new normal. They are looking at helping their employees adapt and stabilise to these new but temporary conditions in the short and medium term. They are also considering how to prepare their business for the transition to post-crisis operations, and what that might look like in practical terms.

If anything, this time is an opportunity for businesses to consider how they respond and emerge transformed from COVID-19, ready to face the new world of work with an energised and equipped workforce. Irrespective of the scenario being experienced, many of the same actions and considerations are applicable to organisations who want to come out of the crisis stronger and future fit.

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Key considerations for your workforce planning

Strategic workforce planning

Evaluate the lessons learned and capture the positive effects of the crisis

The COVID-19 response has likely highlighted areas in your business that required change, and others where the implementation of new ways of working or digitisation have improved. Can you perform an organisation-wide analysis and critically assess the learnings; what worked, what didn't, what needs to change?

Identify the shifts needed in key capabilities and working patterns that can be sustained into the future

That analysis may identify gaps in knowledge and skills. What reskilling and upskilling opportunities can you activate now? Are there working practices that are no longer fit for purpose that you need to urgently but sustainably address? Are there old assumptions that have been debunked? Have new positive working practices emerged that can be sustained? Can they be deployed in other areas of the business?

Refresh your workforce strategy, including organisation design and flexibility

As you plan your response to the new world of work, what is your most appropriate organisation design and can you make it sufficiently agile to adapt to the waves of new normals? What areas of redesign need to be accelerated? Can you redeploy staff to areas that need support and which may be outperforming other areas?

Back to key considerations

Welfare and well-being

Acknowledge the impact COVID-19 has had on employees and business

Be open and honest about the way that the crisis is impacting and has impacted on every part of the organisation. Clear communication is critical at this time. Remember this applies to your leadership teams too.

Implement a considered return to working protocol 

Your employees are keen to know how and when transitional and post crisis operations will play out. That creates a huge array of issues and considerations - infrastructural, scheduling, health and safety, etc. What are the risks and opportunities that returning to work presents? Is reboarding required for your staff as they come back to work? Do you have the sustainable technology solutions to continue remote working and to facilitate a physical return to work (where required)? 

Incorporate new practices to enable the retention of positive new ways of working

Can you take the best ways of working and make them the new normal for staff? What are they finding to be the most beneficial? How can you disseminate, through formal and informal channels, the accumulated lessons learned by your people with your people

Assess residual impact of crisis on employees and provide post-crisis support

There will be emotional and psychological effects on your workforce caused by COVID-19, not to mention the effects on their working habits. What health and well-being initiatives can you deploy to mitigate the holistic impact of the crisis on your workforce? Consider the dual impact on line managers, required to provide strong leadership while facing the same personal issues and concerns as their teams.

Redesign HR policies to adapt to a new working environment

Are your policies appropriate and aligned with the new normal? Will they enable new ways of working and an effective return to work? Are they designed to support line managers effectively manage people in the new world of work, while also discharging their duty of care to their teams.

Back to key considerations

Leadership and engagement

Revise your talent management strategy

The future of work is now here, we need to work, collaborate and think in different ways. Identify the capabilities required for this new world and develop an agile and proactive talent management strategy to deliver this. Prepare to be creative - how we find, develop and deploy our talent will need to evolve and adapt as the world of work shifts to more digitised, agile and dynamic ways of working.

Consider how you engage your employees

Is the way you engage with your people in need of overhauling as a result of the crisis What has worked well or not so well? What do your staff think and how can you tap into their insights in a more real-time way? How has the psychological contract between the organisation and its people shifted during the crisis and has that been positive or negative? What is needed now by way of engagement activities to either solidify a positive change or rebuild from a negative one?

Seek input on future ways of working

Is working from home or alternative working patterns the desired new normal for some of your staff, and can that be rolled out in other areas? What other helpful ideas on ways of working and engaging that can be crowdsourced from your people to accelerate a positive transition to post crisis operations?

Prepare a new employee value proposition

New values and attitudes are being experienced as a result of COVID-19 in every organisation. Can you capture the zeitgeist and develop new value propositions that align to the way your business is changing and enhance the way your people experience it?

Back to key considerations

Culture and behaviours

Identify the culture and behaviours that have enabled or hindered success

What is bringing your people together and creating a sense of shared purpose and vision at this time? What needs to be excised from your culture that is preventing success? What are the key leadership behaviours to be exhibited or maintained at this crucial time. How do leaders continue to earn trust and engage authentically with their people, customers and other stakeholders?

Agree the critical behaviours required to achieve continued future success

What are the 'critical few' behaviours needed for now and into the future that will steer your organisation through the crisis, to emerge the other side fitter, stronger and more agile? Have new formal and informal leaders stood up during the crisis? What behaviours have they exhibited? How have they been recognised? How can you spread these behaviours through the formal and informal parts of your organisation to achieve this culture shift?

Back to key considerations

Return to work

As restrictions are modified, attention needs to turn to enable the return to work. There are four key decision areas to be assessed prior to reboarding the workforce to ensure the transition can be implemented in a purposeful and controlled way that protects workers:

Health and safety

Ensuring the work environment is adapted safely and that protocols protecting employee welfare are sustainably in place.

Type of work (sequencing)

Carefully planning the sequencing of reboarding of workers to take account of critical roles or work, inherent risk in different types of work activity and productivity factors.

Financial (cost and revenue)

Understanding how costs incurred or saved by return to work are balanced against market demand and revenue fluctuations.

Worker needs or preference

Integrating the physical and mental well-being, welfare and preferences of workers into reboarding decisions.

Back to key considerations

The future of the world of work

One thing is certain, the working and operational environment we return to after the crisis will not be the same. In many organisations, the crisis may produce some very positive effects from a workforce perspective. The impact of disruption is playing out in the way it is enabling new ways of working, innovation and collaboration. Many old assumptions of how work needs to get done have been completely dismantled. It is time for workforce leaders to pay attention to the important strategic issues and opportunities that can transform their business and give them operational and competitive advantages after the disruption caused by COVID-19.

We are here to help you

We believe business leaders now need to focus their attention on readying their organisation and workforce for the transition to a post-crisis world. There is no better window to instigate change and innovation than the current environment and make a stronger organisation now. Contact us today to talk about how we can support you on this journey.

COVID-19 support for Irish businesses

The Government, Revenue and local authorities are working to support to organisations impacted by COVID-19. What are those measures and what do they mean for your business?


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Gerard McDonough

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Ciara Fallon

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Ger Twomey

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

David Keane

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

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