Recovery from Coronavirus lockdown – it’s all about the people

Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Recovery from Coronavirus lockdown – it’s all about the people

  • 05 Jun 2020
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    The Coronavirus and lockdown in general have created both business challenges as well as opportunities. How will such changes impact the future of supply chain recruitment? Read our latest insights to explore…

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  • Although 6.3 million employees are on furlough, and 2 million have joined the ranks of the unemployed, we maintain that a major difficulty in business recovery will be the recruitment of new staff and the retention current staff.

    The importance of having the right level of staffing, with the appropriate blend of skills, abilities and attitudes cannot be understated. Under the situation that the UK is facing, many businesses could find that they are facing a major strategic issue because only with appropriate staffing can other strategies be implemented. The goal is that firms will be able to fight through and push past a Corona-induced recession.

    Companies that have successfully maintained strategies for years are now needing to plan and implement completely new approaches in novel environments. After lockdown, it would not be surprising to see more and more business activity moving online; the need to increase productivity from a reduced number of staff on site may accelerate automation and digitisation trends; businesses may become more collaborative with partners and even with competitors. All in all, it is clear that new skillsets will be required across a multitude of roles, from the operator level right up to the executive and Board.

    While most of those skills were likely present in the pre-lockdown workforce, there is a question that all employers should ask themselves. That is, “how many of those that have been made redundant will be queuing up to re-join an employer that has, however reluctantly, ‘let them go’?”. What’s more, many of those working from home may be disinclined to return to the office due to re-evaluated career goals while on furlough. There will also be those who are reluctant to return because they are in recognised high-risk groups. It’s also important to keep in mind those who have remained at work over the past few months as there will be cases of ‘burn-out’.  Firms should be planning and acting now, through recruitment and retraining, the skills they will depend on in the recovery.

    The key to rebuilding the workforce will be to devise, implement and communicate a strong, effective ‘return to work’ plan. It’s vital that we generate confidence in these difficult times by anticipating the concerns of both current and future employees.  

    The logistics sector poses specific risks in regard to employees returning to work and taking new employees onboard; many operations are labour-intensive, involve lots of movement, and many interactions and touch points. People who are unwell should not be coming to work, it is vital that we promote a culture in which workers do not fear being penalised for staying at home and doing the right thing. Prevention is important when it comes to company illness; fast, affordable contactless temperature checks are readily available nowadays. These checks, and indeed all the other measures, must be carried out on both staff and visitors alike.

    Secondly, the employer must provide and enforce the use of suitable, fit for purpose PPE wherever needed. This is to ensure that workers feel comfortable and safe in their working environment, even if objectively there is little or no risk. This also includes making sanitisers and washing/cleaning facilities readily available to use on all equipment such as keypads, terminals, lift truck controls and so on. Shared use of personal equipment such as headsets and other wearable items, and hot-desking, should definitely be avoided if possible.

    Keeping a distance

    The need for social distancing has been highlighted with the UK’s new regulations earlier this year, and it’s definitely something that should be kept in mind as we slowly begin to return to normal work procedures. A good way to reduce congestion is by staggering start and finish times – this also ensures that your employees aren’t on public transport during peak times. In addition, making car and bike parking easier will contribute to putting your employees at ease. Face-to-face meeting should be made online if possible and some staff should continue to work remotely.

    Important things to note is that washrooms could become problematic due to increased usage with more frequent hand washing. Secondly, it is also recommended that staff change in and out of work clothes at the place of work rather than at home to avoid spreading germs.

    Organisations and business have a duty to provide for the needs of visitors: but there is a clear risk of resentment from employees if it is felt that such visitors pose an additional risk. Canteens and dining areas could also pose problems if employees tend to eat in similar periods. Break times will need to be carefully planned and intervals between cleaning reduced.

    Another tricky situation relates to training. Classroom-based training can be delivered remotely, however, a lot of learning will require direct interaction at some stage. Facilitating this will require meticulous planning and care.

    Down on the floor

    Although the average distribution of employees allows for satisfactory social distancing on more automated sites, there are places where employees will find themselves in close proximity to each other. In cases such as these, technology can be valuable.

    Queues around terminals can be addressed by a greater use of hand-held and wearable devices. These are becoming increasingly affordable, and as personal equipment they solve many of the contamination problems of multi-user keypads and the like.

    At the pick face, many warehouse management systems (WMS) can be set to minimise conflict and congestion. Changes in picking strategies are vital in order to facilitated social distancing. For example, wave picking or zonal picking can greatly reduce the number of encounters on the floor. On a long-term scale, changing from person-to-goods, to goods-to-person picking will grant you similar and effective results.

    All in all, the highest densities of employees are likely around the system bottlenecks, and it is here that the greatest potential return on automation investment.

    New tricks

    All the above indicates a need to reconsider the necessary skill-sets of the workforce, whether that’s through retraining or recruitment. In realigning your employees’ skill set, some roles and positions will require more personnel and increase in importance; and many new positions will open up.

    An inclination towards automation is likely to develop in many organisations – this will require technical skills from programmers, maintenance engineers in order to manage new technology. In addition, managers who understand how to integrate automation with existing manual processes will be absolutely vital during this period. With more volatile supply chains, procurement skills may need to become more relational and less transactional. Successfully implementing a plan such as this will require a collection of managers who can devise and pivot to alternative plans, at speed.

    Some requirements are more specific. If remote/home working is to be a permanent feature in workplaces after lockdown, specific skills will be needed in order to manage and control this. Support the needs of remote users can be achieved with correct health & Safety training. Firms may need more H&S staff to devise and implement safe practices with practical enforcers at site level, rather than policy generators at Head Office.

    This indicates that people skills will be just as important as knowledge of best practice. At another level, it’s important to consider the increased need for specialised cleaners in the workplace. Cleaning, especially around complex, expensive and hazardous equipment, is not a low-skill task – it requires adequate planning, training and management.

    A time of opportunity

    After lockdown, it is likely that businesses will choose to bring forward changes that require new staff. If a company is to make big moves or investments this is as good a time as any. For firms operating below capacity changes can be introduced that cause as little interruption to normal routine as possible. Automation prices have become very reasonable, and right now, it cheap as it will ever be. With rental and leasing solutions becoming readily available, there is no reason why automation can’t be a consideration for your organisation.

    For companies that have worked out their future skills, needs and strategies, this may surprisingly be a great time to enter the logistics recruitment market. There are many highly skilled people at every level who through no fault of their own are without a position. There will be many more who have had the opportunity to reconsider their career goals and would relish the opportunity for a new challenge.

    At the tail end of lockdown, it is important to take the opportunity to identify high-performing individuals in the current workforce, and consider retraining, re-purposing or promoting them. There will be those, at all levels, who have been enabled during the crisis to display unexpected qualities – leadership, initiative, thinking outside the box – beyond their pay grade and who would repay investment. If these qualities are not recognised, good staff may walk at the first opportunity after lockdown.

    It is possible though that an unsettled and insecure post-lockdown workforce may view automation and other changes as a threat. That brings us back to the importance of communication with your staff. Firms need to be continually communicating with their workforce as well as additional recruits. It is important that you involve them in and problems being faced by informing them of any new processes and actions that will need to be taken. Show them how the solutions work, what is expected of them, what they can expect, and what support is. Create confidence through communication and your logistics firm will succeed in recruiting and retaining their most valuable commodity – the staff.

    If you need support in adjusting your people strategy as we transition out of lockdown and into a ‘post-COVID’ world, Bis Henderson Recruitment can help.

    Contact us on 01604 876 345 or email:

    By Leigh Anderson, Managing Director at Bis Henderson Recruitment