Furloughed staff – how do you keep in touch

It’s safe to say it’s been a busy and difficult few weeks for businesses and employees.  There have been many challenges to overcome and the impact on us all is beginning to slowly settle into our daily reality.  There seems to be a divide with businesses who have been able to provide support to the front line workers in whatever form that is, and to those companies who, for the short term at least, have had to cease trading.  In the first week or so the shock of change was felt like waves across our community, in all walks of life. But as we are slowly adapting to this new normal, we are beginning to see the grains of the old that have remained and the seeds of the new that are forming.  

Many of us have now become adept at video calls, whether it be for pub nights, board game playing or work, it is now an excepted form of communication – a pivotal moment in the shift in working from home and using technology to propel connection – it is this new normal we must rely on to keep in touch with staff.  For those who are furloughed though, does this still apply?  The simple answer is yes.  And the longer, and more technical answer is also yes, but with caution.  Here we explain why:

Change of any kind is difficult for many, and whilst the human brain is essentially able to adapt quickly, for many of us because of the experiences we’ve had of change, we find it hard and require more reassurances.  In the weeks after work ceasing it is hard to stop our minds from the daily routine we were used to but for those who are furloughed the message is clear; they must not carry out any work that generates money or provides a service.  And so as furloughed businesses we must encourage staff to adapt to life – at least for the short term – without their normal work, keeping in touch will ensure they still feel valued and reassure them that you want them back when this situation has ended.  The value you put into staff now will ensure you don’t have to fill gaps where staff have left you because they disengaged during this time.  

Why is that so important?  Apart from anything else taking on new staff is costly and timely but at a time of great uncertainty across the globe, connection is key.  Not everyone’s connection looks the same though – for some Zoom calls maybe hellish – so providing various ways to keep in touch are vital.  Remember, furloughed staff will need to provide you with non work email addresses or phone numbers and consent for you to use them! So, assuming all this is in place, you can create channels of communication that suit you: video calling, slack or teams channels and whatsapp or other group chats.  If you can, plan to keep in touch regularly.  Remember not all staff will be able to join in at the same time if you’re on a video call and there will be some who may find this form of communication really challenging.  Be understanding about their challenges; some may be 

managing anxious children and facing great concerns over other family members. Some may be facing bereavement – how you proceed here may really reflect the human compassion of the business, and as its situation none of us have a precedent for why we are all connected through the uncertainty. And for some work may have represented their safety: those who are victims of domestic abuse, or those with mental health issues who may find life without structure and routine overwhelming.  Ultimately, we have a continuing duty of care to these individuals and in a situation we can’t control, or have all the answers we can do a little bit to go that extra mile.  Finally, what we do now will reflect the culture of our organisation, and is the difference between whether you have an engaged, supported workforce that performs well or a workforce that simply carries out tasks and feels undervalued.

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