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Best practice during the Covid pandemic

4th Feb 2021
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Covid has seen HR teams working round the clock, not just on potential redundancies and restructuring for those employers hard hit by the pandemic, but on ensuring that employees have the information and support they need.

It has forced employers to adapt quickly to remote working, to think on their feet and redeploy staff where necessary and to bring in rapid innovations. recent Top Employer Awards aimed to celebrate some of the best practice that has emerged as a result when it comes to mental health initiatives, flexible working and family support.

One of the award's judges Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership at Bright Horizons Work + Family Solutions, highlighted the huge sustained effort by employers, champions, mental health first aiders and line managers to keep organisations going despite the pandemic. “The sheer effort and resilience was outstanding across the board,” she said. 

She praised the creativity of some employers when it came to matching specific initiatives to their particular workforce, for instance, Sky Betting & Gaming’s weekly Wheel of Fortune game to connect remote workers, Atos’ virtual summer holiday club, SMS’s Sunrise competition to address mental health issues for field-based engineers and PwC’s virtual education initiatives.

Other judges singled out employers' adaptability and the effort put into employee engagement, the involvement of senior leadership in engagement efforts and the sustained focus on diversity and inclusion in challenging times. Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield School of Management, said many employers had learned a lot from the process of being forced to think differently about how they operate. She hoped that would have a lasting impact.

The the Top Employer Awards winners were: McDonald's for mental health, Teach First for family support, PwC for flexible working, UBS for line manager support, Sky Betting & Gaming for employee engagement and IBM for diversity and inclusion. McDonald's was named overall top employer. 

During the awards ceremony, the judges were asked about some of the main challenges thrown up by Covid-19. For Dave Dunbar, Head of Digital Workspace at the Department for Work and Pensions, this included how employers deal with the tension between employee demand for more flexible working and the difficulties of pandemic working, for instance, the equation of homeworking with flexible working and negative perceptions of homeworking isolation during the pandemic which may provoke a rush back to “the straightjacket” of the office among concerns about city centres and unemployment. Dunbar called on employers to cater to all their employees, adopt a tailored approach and ensure remote workers feel included.

For Andy Lake, editor of, employers need to ensure that smart working works well. He doesn't like the term hybrid working as he feels it lacks a transformative element and suggests employers just shift some of their meetings online rather than modernising their working practices and designing in smart working, ensuring everyone have what they need to work effectively wherever they are working.

Professor Kelliher said the pandemic had raised huge questions about gender at work and how remote working and furlough have affected or will affect men and women’s career progression and pay. She said employers need to think about the unintended consequences of who they furlough and about how they treat employees fairly based on their overall track record not just this year’s events as we emerge from the pandemic.

Liston-Smith added that, while Covid had made people more upfront about their caring responsibilities,  it is wrong to equate crisis working during Covid with remote working. “Remote working does not mean the chaos we have seen,” she said.


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