The Flexy Work Revolution: comparing notes over COVID-19

Day three of the CIPD’s virtual Festival of Work shares more practical insight into the latest HR thinking. The panel session on the future of flexible work – in a global context – a particular highlight.

Person with facemask on laptop
Senior Director HR Western Europe and Nordic Region, PRA Health Sciences, Francisca Burtenshaw, joined panel chair Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion, CIPD, Alice Ter Haar, People Strategy and Development, Deliveroo and Camilla Bellamy, Deputy Director of HR, Public Health England to talk about how they are leveraging the current need to work from home from a productivity and wellbeing perspective.The session gave a really encouraging view on how HR, business leaders and international managers are bringing the profession to the fore during this time of global crisis and need for empathetic, people-focused leadership.Working closely and with clear purpose to deliver effective people management for newly remote and dispersed teams, HR professionals are ensuring that enforced remote working still delivers on the fronts of motivation, engagement and talent retention. 

Managing remote workers during COVID-19

By necessity, international HR teams and global managers and people working in the global mobility sector are already adept at working with colleagues in remote offices and disparate locations. Yet this session offered a great view on how flexible approaches are being further embedded into company and organisational cultures around the world in a way that is helping businesses and people flourish. With over 75 offices globally and more than 17,000 employees – many of whom work as part of their clients’ teams – clinical studies company PRA Health Sciences is regarding this time as an opportunity to lead through change. Francisca Burtenshaw explained how HR is working as an agile business partner with senior leaders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The US-headquartered company is supporting its employees – many of whom work very closely with pharmaceutical firms as part of their team – through its internal communication, management and wellbeing channels to ensure everyone, including clients, emerge from the pandemic in the best possible way.

Building a COVID-19 recovery hub

Mindful that the countries and economies it operates in are likely to recover differently and at different speeds and timeframes, PRA Health Services has built a COVID recovery hub to offer general guidelines and policies to ensure managers and employees working remotely do not suffer home burnout.The focus is working from home, which allows the company to draw its resources into a central hub – including the re-positioning of its in-house medical team for employees to access.Resources include the employee assistance programme and wellness resources, which are aligned with existing HR support around ongoing agile practices, mentoring, training and development and employee networks.

Measuring success of HR support during COVID-19

Asked how these practices and employee outputs are being measured during these unprecedented times, Francisca Burtenshaw says these are mainly on the basis of service provision standards. “Our key stakeholders are our clients, so we are measuring on the basis of their satisfaction and return. If they come back to us, we are successful.” On this basis, the business has responded well to the current challenges. “Prior to COVID, there was not as much feedback as we receive now,” says Francisca Burtenshaw. “Many of employees are embedded with clients because of their technical skills. COVID-19 has initiated a dialogue with our clients of the kind we had not had before. “This has offered employees a much wider perspective on how our clients work and we can all see each other’s perspectives. We are all now more aware of the challenges and the commercial perspective, which links back to satisfaction.” 

Growing employee engagement

Another positive from PRA Health Services’ agile approach to flexible working and employee wellbeing and health and safety during the global coronavirus pandemic is how internal employee networks have really come of age. “Our employee networks have worked really well,” says Francisca Burtenshaw. “Before the crisis, people were quite shy, but they are now clearly involved in supporting each other and providing solutions.”With much of the top-line conversation at the Festival of Work around how HR as a true business partner is helping to redefine the workplace in the face of the current massive disruption, examples like these are showing exactly how this is the case and in the global context.Follow Relocate Global’s coverage of the CIPD’s virtual Festival of Work at and on Twitter via @Relocatemag

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