The industries which are responsible for designing & building are absolutely essential.
Builders, architects, labourers & so many others are required to create houses, roads, public spaces and facilities for our communities. In recent weeks, this has been confirmed as the government deemed much of this industry as ‘essential workers’. The impact of Covid-19 within this industry varies – some businesses have lost work and others are booming, as the economy and our lifestyle changes shape. One of the biggest considerations for leaders is how can we manage our people well during a tough time.
What we know for sure is that each human has different worries and concerns. All of which are valid and true for that person. Family health concerns, financial pressure, loneliness, lack of work/purpose and disconnection are all ringing true for many people.
It’s quite common for those in management positions to now be working from home and other frontline employees to be on site as essential workers. This is especially true for labourers and people on the ‘tools’. As we are all grappling with how to keep ourselves and our families safe from illness, those who are unable to practice social distancing and still go to a worksite, may feel a stronger mental pressure than others. Similarly, it is common to be confused about new procedures and regulations as things are changing so frequently.
Whatever situation you and your employees find yourselves in, there is no doubt that the typical people management strategies are requiring some tweaks and changes to keep up with the radical pace of life and work changes in the current climate. Many business owners are facing the challenges of tighter budgets, timeframes, difficult conversations and physical restrictions we’ve not been faced with before. Technology is playing an incredible part in the continuity of work in some areas. For the building industry and despite the current pandemic, work is set to continue. Our people and our economy still needs people developing, designing, engineering, constructing, furnishing, buying and selling.
This is not a time for one-size-fits-all
The most effective leaders and people managers, have enough emotional intelligence to adapt depending on the situation & people they are dealing with. It is an incredible and valuable skill. In light of COVID-19, this has never been more important. The situation is evolving everyday as we hear of changes to the government rules and economic changes almost daily. The impact of these changes have a variety of impacts on parental and caring responsibilities, technology challenges, working from home safety issues and the immense physchological pressure that this is having on everyone. What differentiates good from bad at this time is understanding and responding as humans. We may need to divert from the business plan as we are playing a game of survival for the short term.
We need to address the unique situation of every employee under our care. One policy, let’s say, ‘Twice daily video conference calls’, might work brilliantly for one employee but cause unnecessary stress for another. Imagine you decide to drop all staff hours by one day per week. This might be fine, even welcome, for some – and a financial disaster for others. Whatever policies or communication efforts you implement, think about the situation of each person impacted.
Do they have a family?
How do the government policies and packages impact this person?
Are they used to working remotely?
What is their financial situation?
Are they physically healthy?
Do they struggle with mental health issues?
Are they connected to the rest of their team?
These are just some of the questions you should be asking. Think about providing support and resources in new technologies – how to manage effective meetings via video, set up routines to connect people (Eg, video check in at 10am – bring your coffee, pets welcome!).
In your industries, you are probably used to thinking about safety: from construction site management to OHS regulations. Now, your people management strategies have to prioritise a new kind of safety. COVID-19 poses an economic risk, absolutely. But, first and foremost is poses risks to your employees’ physical and mental health.
Comply with all government social distancing and isolation policies. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so don’t be afraid to be one step ahead of recommendations.
Ensure you communicate these policies with employees clearly and consistently. A great tool can be committing to a regular update (for example, each Tuesday at 2pm you will get a video update from the CEO) so that the team are aware of what to look out for and not miss it. With so much media attention, confusion abounds when it comes to COVID-19. Regularly update employees and use clear directions. Set up an FAQ page or a method for employees to ask questions confidentially.
Working from home can be difficult. Does your team have all the right support and equipment?
Prevent isolation and implement regular check-ins so employees don’t lose touch with you or one another.
If you need to deliver difficult messages, like ones of job-loss or pay-cuts, do it gently, with compassion and personally.
Provide help. Go above and beyond to seek the wellbeing of your employees and their families. This may mean offering subsidised counselling, access to wellbeing programs or other incentives.
Share your own feelings. Nothing connects people better than understanding they are not alone and we all feel vulnerable.
Your old management policies and procedures might need a refresh. There is a time and place for timesheets, but now might be the time for more patience and flexibility. You may have employees who are now home schooling their children and need to work more hours at night to do this, be open minded and compassionate to these needs. No-one was expecting the gravity of change 2020 would challenge us with, so we need to be open to new solutions. If you notice employees struggling to meet old expectations or comply with old requirements, this is an opportunity to re-think. You don’t need to throw all checks and balances out the window. Structure and accountability are still important. But, recognise that you are working in unprecedented times. The capacities, emotional energy and lifestyles of your team members have changed drastically in recent weeks. This is a crisis – and it’s okay to have different management techniques and expectations in this time. A bit of compassion goes a long way.
Whether your business has collapsed or you have more work than ever, your goal during COVID-19 doesn’t need to be huge growth. It’s not expansion or team development. It’s not winning an industry award or doubling your portfolio. It’s not implementing the latest and greatest HR policies. It’s staying afloat. Families, businesses and governments are adjusting – but it will take time. In some ways there is a ‘new normal’. But, in other ways we are working in the midst of a crisis. Things are up in the air, and will be for some time. People management, at its core, is all about problem solving. So, now is the time to let those skills shine. As you create management strategies, don’t think long-term or short-term. You need procedures, policies and communication efforts which are sustainable but appropriate to the situation we find ourselves. Fix your eyes on the medium-term and focus on getting your people across the line. Aim to see each employee surviving and thriving six months from now. Adjust your strategy as the situation changes; both on a personal and broader level.
You don’t need to save the world, just manage your people well.
We might not be doctors on the frontline or government officials making big calls. But, during COVID-19, the world needs you. We need this industry to keep going. We need jobs to stay open and employers to act with compassion and wisdom. We still need spaces and places; from development and design through to delivery. There are plenty of people involved in that process. And, each one is living in a time of uncertainty right now. In the chaos, your management can make a huge difference and connecting with each other to show care and compassion is one of the greatest tools you can use.
Written by Laura French and Casey George.
About Authentic People Partners
Founded by dynamic duo, Laura French and Casey George.
With offices in Sydney and Melbourne, the girls travel often and have a diverse range of clients nation-wide.
Laura is an experienced senior consultant, having partnered with a variety of businesses to provide both strategic, operational and project support. Her experience is diverse through industry (Lendlease, NSW Health, Fisher & Paykel) and specialised through roles and responsibilities (Head of HR, HR Consultant/Manager), having recently worked alongside a number of clients on their executive team. Laura understands the stresses of running a business, balancing as a people expert and supporting commercial outcomes at senior levels. Laura prides herself on her calm, balanced and approachable nature, that allows her to build meaningful relationships across a business and coach through a variety of scenarios within an organisation.
Casey has had a successful career as an experienced HR professional, having held numerous senior & national human resource management position with many large public companies (Lendlease, Wesfarmers, CSR). Casey has extensive experience in both operations and strategic people management and performance. Having held such senior and influential positions, has given Casey a broad range of exposure and experience in all areas of business operations. And more recently, Casey took on a massive challenge and stepped completely out of her comfort zone when she researched, set up and owned her own business in the F&B field. In line with what APP is all about, Casey’s approach is authentic, commercial and practical.