Pandemics are different to most natural disasters, writes Simon Dickinson, marketing manager for BCS Learning and Development, because they are inevitable. A pandemic will affect every aspect of life for your workforce, however, with a little bit of drive, enthusiasm and a lot of planning, there are many positives.

As you have probably already read in Planning for a pandemic: is your business prepared? although it feels like the world has turned upside down, there are some practical steps can you take to support your people over the next few months…

Empower your people

As part of your ‘pandemic planning and coordination unit’, you will have selected key people from across the business to take over the day-to-day running of the organisation’s response to the pandemic. This will involve specialists in technology, communications, IT, telecommunications, security and medical. But to work effectively and ensure the business survives the pandemic, they need to feel empowered to get the job done.

This may require changes to your current processes to reduce the levels of ‘red tape’, increasing the scope of people’s roles, or affording them more powers to ‘sign off’ on activities that keep the business afloat.

In addition, if you’ve had to confine staff to the benches because their role isn’t deemed critical to the survival of the business, think about investing in upskilling them while their workload is quiet. As well as mitigating the risk of your key workers being unable to work due to sickness, once we’re through the pandemic, you’ve elevated individuals’ skills, knowledge and experience, which will help create a high performing team that places you in a more competitive position.

The world is changing on a daily basis, so now, more than ever, your organisation needs the agility and flexibility to keep pace with the changes. Empowering your people means they have the ability to pivot quickly when required.

Talk to your people

Remote working might not exactly be a ‘new’ working practice, but for many people it’s unfamiliar territory - and they’re going to struggle. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you’re checking-in on individuals to protect their mental health and wellbeing.

It’s likely that you already have traditional communication channels in place, like phone, email and video conferencing. But, think about how you can enhance your communication through more informal channels, such as Slack, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, of course, whilst ensuring data security protocols are followed.

Establishing a schedule of regular communication helps to provide reassurance, because your employees know they’ll be given an update every day at 9am (for example). Maintaining frequent communication also helps to keep your teams connected and gives a much-needed sense of belonging, which helps your people to relax and focus on their task.

People rightly want to know what’s going on and what the future holds. While you don’t have all the answers now, you can provide some reassurance to overcome their feelings of fear and anxiety.

In addition, now we’re a couple of weeks into lockdown, the novelty of working from home has worn off and people have established the new routines that form their ‘new normal’. It’s a good time to check in with staff 1-to-1 to see what unexpected challenges they’re encountering that you may need to account for. For example, many employees will be trying to balance childcare and home schooling and may welcome flexible working hours, a compressed week or unpaid holiday to help them cope.

Train your people

We’ve already mentioned the importance of upskilling your team, but you should also think about refreshing your team’s knowledge on cyber security.

As with previous pandemics, cyber criminals are taking advantage of our fear, and exploiting the fact that the majority of the UK workforce is now working remotely. The National Cyber Security Centre has reported that phishing and malware attacks have increased, as hackers attempt to trick people into 'clicking on links in bogus emails claiming to contain important information about the pandemic' from the World Health Organisation.

Organisations must remain vigilant, reiterating the importance of cyber security and data privacy to their teams, as well as refreshing employee training so best-practice remains front-of-mind.

And of course, if you’re provisioning new equipment for your clients and rolling it out to their business, the knowledge gap on how to use it still exists. Boosting your support function is essential, and again, this is where upskilling your current team can pay dividends. In addition, take the opportunity to ask less critical members of staff, like architects, to switch tasks and focus on creating documentation and training materials. Taking a flexible approach to the team’s workload and how you deliver training to your clients during this period of uncertainty will help you survive and ultimately thrive.

Know your people

The first step, however, before you can empower your staff to take on new responsibilities or suggest further training courses, is to fully understand their current competencies.

By undertaking a skills audit against the SFIAplus framework through the BCS RoleModel platform, you gain an unparalleled view of your team’s current skills. Through a process of benchmarking against 103 different skills at seven different levels, you give your staff the knowledge to take the next steps on their career journey - as well as showing your organisation skills, that may have, up until now, remained untapped.

Learn from today, plan for tomorrow

We hope that ‘it’s never going to happen’, but it has, and it will again. Pandemics are inevitable.

We’ve seen many of our members coping well under the current pressures because they’ve continued to invest in business continuity and have relentlessly tested their plans.

For 60 years, BCS has been shaping the future of the IT industry and, as a member, we can offer you critical insight and impartial guidance. We welcome you into the community and encourage you to connect with our 1,500+ mentors to gain the specialist knowledge your business requires to survive and thrive. And we’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest industry developments through ITNOW and our regular reports.

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