Leadership in Lockdown - The Workplace Changes Forever or For Better?

We are living through an enforced massive social experiment in the work place. There are many businesses learning a lot about their employees and their employment relationships in the course of this unprecedented lockdown. There can be no doubt that there will be significant and lasting impacts in the world of business - perhaps most significantly in terms of people relationships. What are the lessons being learnt and what are the questions being asked?

The Role of HR and HR Directors

HR teams and the HR Director have been thrust onto centre stage during the crisis. Their contributions now are critical to the long term health of businesses. They are charged with making some often quite brutal recommendations on head count, furlough, salary reductions, hours reductions etc. Simultaneously they have to maintain employees' commitment to the business and take care of their mental health and wellbeing. Their business leaders still want to be an employer of choice. 


Effective means of communication has never been more important in the workplace to motivate teams, manage workload and most importantly just to 'check in' with our employees and see how they are doing. On top of this difficult conversations are taking place in situations which would normally be face to face. Even with the wonders of zoom and Microsoft teams it can still be difficult to read some of those non verbal signs given during our new form of daily interactions. As new ways of facilitating our daily communications look set to be part of our working world businesses are having to adapt to new ways of communicating effectively with their workforce and clients without losing that 'personal touch' which is so important day to day in building relationships. 


How committed are your employees? HR teams and managers will have gleaned a lot from the conversations they have been having at an individual level. Have individual employees gone the extra mile to make the new remote working work? Many businesses are in uncharted, unforeseen territory which leaves a lot to the initiative and self-discipline of the individual employee to make it work. Have they really tried to make it work or have they created an opportunity to take their foot off the pedal? If it is the latter, what are the reasons behind this and how should it be managed?


How flexible have your employees been on an individual level? Do you have complete confidence that you continue to get the same productivity levels from your employees because they have demonstrated a flexible approach to the challenging arrangements that have had to be put in place? Have they been flexible in their hours/location/way of working? Or are they stuck in their old ways which have highlighted some deficiencies in their contribution now and in the future?

By the same token has the employer demonstrated flexibility in accommodating the individual? Have they inspired loyalty and commitment through their communications and understanding - or the reverse? If the employee has made things work at some personal sacrifice, how is that going to be acknowledged? How will employers now be able to justify refusal of the deluge of flexible working requests which will come post lockdown and will they want to? 

Adaptability and Multitasking

Have employees adapted to new methods of working? Have they embraced the technology of VCs and remote working? Has there been resistance to the new ways of working and why is this and could more support be put in place to address this? Is there a massive costly training issue on the horizon to address this or is investment in these challenging times an issue for businesses?

Demarcation was the scourge of the UK workforce. Now more than ever we all need to demonstrate a willingness and ability to operate on a number of different levels for our business/organisation in order to maximise contribution and productivity. There will have been a noticeable difference in approach across the workforce in those showing a willingness - and ability - to multitask to the benefit of their business/organisation. 

Creativity and Independence

Have the individuals in your workforce been part of the solution to the new challenging work environment or have they been part of the problem? Have they demonstrated creativity in helping find solutions to the unanticipated challenges?

Without any face-to-face management possible, have your employees demonstrated an ability to motivate themselves, come up with the right answers to problems and exercise self-discipline in their lone working? Has this approach been encouraged in at the more junior end of the workforce with the appropriate management support? 

Personality testing in Recruitment

Managers and HR teams have learnt a lot they didn't know about their staff during this crisis - their adaptability, their willingness to be flexible and, generally, their willingness to put the interests of the business above their own, for example, in relation to the taking of holiday, reduction in hours or salary and their willingness to go beyond the call of duty. A committed and dedicated team of people is the holy grail for all businesses and surely employers will want to know more about individual traits and characteristics earlier on in the recruitment's process. 

Low paid Workers

Before the crisis arrived it was clear that many businesses were having difficulty in recruiting staff at the lower salary band level primarily related to the UK's departure from the EU. The crisis has averted attention from that issue, but once the economy is back on track this problem is bound to return - or will the best businesses have used the intervening time to reassess their human capital requirements and invest in technology to ensure much more efficient working practices? 

The Return to Work

There is no going back. The work place for many will never look the same. Thousands of businesses have demonstrated that physical attendance at a workplace is unnecessary - plus getting there is time consuming, unpleasant and expensive; the provision and occupation of real estate is costly for employers; it is the antithesis of the flexibility employers are demanding from their staff.

So why do it? Most of us need work for its social aspects, we want to feel part of a team which our employer needs to encourage so that culture can be communicated by osmosis and loyalty can be enhanced. As we speak, the best HR teams are coming up with strategies which will confront these issues and develop them in a way that takes account of both the business's needs and the employee's wants in the brave new world.

If you would like to talk through the consequences for your business, please email us and one of our team will get in touch.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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