At the time of this writing, the global spread of Covid-19 is already reshaping accepted definitions of workplace, and even workforce, in ways we didn’t think possible a matter of weeks ago. A CWS 3.0 article last week advised organizations to include contingent workers in Covid-19 precautions, including office hygiene. Now, just one week on, for many organizations, asking workers to congregate at a physical office seems almost unthinkable, and The World’s Largest Work From Home Experiment has begun in earnest.

A number of large and well-known brands have acted swiftly and decisively when considering both their employed and contingent workforces in their responses to Covid-19. It may have started with Microsoft, but several other large firms, including Amazon, Google and Facebook, have promised varying levels of financial support for contingent workers in the event they are unable to work.

For many businesses however, this level of flexibility is not an option. As reported in The Washington Post, a number of companies in highly exposed industries are already reducing their workforces. The oft-quoted line from Robert Burns’ “To a Mouse” — “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” — could not be more apt today.

For those organizations faced with difficult decisions about both their permanent and extended workforce, consider the following:

Look outside your own organization for inspiration.

  • Advice and guidance for companies is being published daily through multiple sources, including SIA’s coronavirus Resource Center. Learn what the chief HR officers of 100 of the world’s largest organizations are doing in response to coronavirus here. And for guidance on business continuity planning, join SIA’s webinar on March 25.
  • Leverage your peer network. Now is the time to engage with the people you meet at conferences, know through memberships such as the CWS Council, or have worked with in the past. As we work in physical isolation, the opportunity to share ideas, problems and solutions with a virtual network becomes increasingly important. CWS Council members are invited to join SIA’s weekly Covid-19 Insights and Discussion Group where we will discuss trends, initiatives and best practices.
  • Global organizations, in particular, will be managing responses country by country as each region reaches a different stage of the disease and responds accordingly. There is a real opportunity to learn lessons in real time as companies and countries share their approaches.

Be consistent, clear and collaborative

  • Consider the short-, medium- and long-term action you will take regarding all individuals doing work for your organization. Remember that while contingent workers may be engaged through different mechanisms, contractual arrangements and suppliers, they will often be working alongside employees. Taking a significantly different approach depending on worker type could lead to confusion and concern. For example, if you allow independent contractors to work from home, it makes sense to agree to a comparable policy with the vendors of SOW consultants.
  • Bring together MSP, VMS, consulting, outsource and staffing providers as well as your own legal counsel and stakeholders to ensure consistency and effective timing of plans with, and communications to, all workers. As we can see from the varying approaches of different world leaders, a communication vacuum inevitably leads to the spread of inaccurate and often misleading information. Inconsistent communication can have the same effect. Now is the time to (virtually) connect these groups that may otherwise be considered competitors to benefit from the collaborative brainpower and tools of different providers in the ecosystem.
  • All workers will be understandably anxious; clarity about their work position will be critical. As plans develop and evolve, communicate often, develop FAQ guidance and assign a specific channel and owner to manage incoming questions from workers. If your organization does not allow mobile access to traditional communication channels such as email, consider deploying an employee engagement app that can be downloaded and accessed remotely.

As the global situation evolves, it is increasingly likely that at least some of the workforce decisions made in response to Covid-19 will form a blueprint for the way companies get work done in the future, particularly in light of the almost inevitable recession that will follow — some say it’s already arrived. Organizations that are able to consider the medium- to long-term implications of their short-term plans will be better equipped to catch the wave of the ensuing stormy waters.