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Nearly 90 per cent of organizations have told people to work from home: Survey

Travel bans, greater use of technology and hiring freezes are common responses, finds global survey of HR professionals


March 19, 2020
By Talent Canada Staff

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Photo: filadendron/Getty Images

If you haven’t asked employees to start working remotely in the COVID-19 era, you’re in the minority.

A global survey of 800 human resources executives this week found 88 per cent of organizations have encouraged — or required — employees to work from home. That applied to workers regardless of whether or not they showed coronavirus-related symptoms, according to the Gartner survey.

Travel banned universally

Nearly every responding organization – 97 per cent – have cancelled work-related travel, more than an 80 per cent increase since March 3 statistics, it said,

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“As the COVID-19 crisis disrupts organizations across the globe, HR leaders must respond quickly and comprehensively, considering both immediate and long-term talent consequences,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice.

The Gartner survey shows that organizations, trying to balance employee needs with financial realities, are employing a variety of approaches to time-off policies in response to COVID-19. Nearly half (48 per cent) of employers require employees to use sick leave first, then vacation leave and finally potential paid time off (PTO) for coronavirus absences.

Twenty per cent of organizations increased PTO for individuals who are sick and/or caring for a sick family member; 18 per cent of organizations have granted additional PTO for parents who are caring for children whose schools are closed.

“Our research shows that only a minority of employers plan to downsize or ask employees to take unpaid leave,” said Kropp.

“Instead, most organizations are focusing on measures such as more effective use of technology and freezing new hiring to cut costs.”

Cost-cutting measures: Technology, hiring freezes

The Gartner survey shows  most employers plan to cut costs while minimizing impact to pay for existing employees when possible. Seventy percent of organizations report that the main cost-cutting measure they plan to use is more effective use of technology. Nearly half of organizations plan to freeze new hiring.

A greater percentage of organizations plan to reduce work for external partners rather than employees — one-fifth of organizations plan to stop or limit consultant spend and/or reduce the number of contract workers. Only 10 per cent of employers plan to reduce working hours, and just six per cent report asking employees to take unpaid leave.

To manage remote talent during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gartner recommends HR leaders do the following:

Provide direction, confidence and resilience. Employees are relying on leaders at all levels of the business to take action and set the tone. Communications from senior business leaders to managers should prioritize associate health and business sustainability. Communicate regularly with employees, maintaining an open dialog. Gartner’s survey found that 56 per cent of organizations have communicated a plan of action to employees in the event the COVID-19 outbreak.

Contextualize coronavirus for the organization. Leaders should be a trusted source for accurate and up-to-date information on coronavirus and how it is impacting the organization. Avoid sharing information from social media; leverage trusted resources such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contextualize information and data as much as possible so that it specifically relates to the organization.

Encourage intentional peer-to-peer interactions. With reduced or no face time in the office, employees should maintain regular professional and personal interactions with their peers. Gartner’s survey found that 40 per cent of organizations have set up additional virtual check-ins for employees with managers and 32 per cent of organizations have introduced new tools for virtual meetings. HR leaders should encourage employees to leverage communication platforms they already use, either at work or in their personal lives, to create new ways to work together.

Establish team guidelines. Remote work looks different for each employee depending on their needs and those of their families. With unprecedented school closures, many employees must take on a double role as they support their children and families throughout the workday. Organizations can meet employees’ needs by empowering teams to adapt to their conflicting time demands. For instance, teams can set “core team times” when all team members are available to collaborate.

Provide flexibility for employees’ remote work needs. When preparing for employees’ eventual return to the office, empower employees to make choices best suited for their needs and comfort levels. Where possible, allow employees to decide when to return to the office. Enable essential employees whose work requires them to return to the office to choose the hours that work best for them to return to avoid peak commute times.