Keeping up with Covid-19: staying healthy and thriving in the New Normal

Global mobility has reacted and responded with efficiency and agility to help keep global people safe on the move. But to keep up with coronavirus, HR and global mobility need to continually adapt to survive if they are to stay ahead of the second wave.

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Think Global People Autumn 2020 issue
This article is taken from the first issue of Think Global People, the new home of Relocate Magazine.
Click on the cover to access the digital edition or read all of the articles on our website.
At the start of 2020, few of us would have imagined how our lives have changed since the emergence of coronavirus. Nine months on, we are all still learning to live with this new life-threatening infection. The rules of engagement in the world of work are changing as we move from lockdown into a gradual reopening of schools and workplaces this September. The challenge is how can we move from the Reaction and Response stage to Covid-19 to the Recovery phase and shape a new normal in which we can all thrive.

Business and employee health

For HR and managers of globally mobile and domestic workforces, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown up a range of knotty issues, in particular around “people risk” and employee wellbeing more broadly. For the first time in a long time, health and safety duty of care is a business’s number one priority alongside keeping the business afloat.The two are interlinked. New academic research reported by consultants McKinsey in July highlights how countries that prioritised health during the pandemic had both better health and economic recovery outcomes. Healthy workplaces mean healthy businesses. Safeguarding health must therefore remain a top concern as we recover and shape policies in the post-pandemic world.Future-fit-in-text-banner3Companies that provide the right support will see returns on employee experience and engagement in these unprecedented times. How, then, can employers ensure they are putting their people’s health and wellbeing first and manage risk effectively?

Managing risk

In the UK and elsewhere, government advice to work from home where possible has now ended along with the shielding regime for people who are vulnerable. Yet the prospect of further spikes in infection rates is a real and present danger. The CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, is therefore advising employers to ask three questions before committing to a wholesale return to work: is it essential, is it safe and is it mutually agreed?In the global mobility sphere, this means weighing up the pros and cons of the assignment against the risks, says Dr Kate O’Reilly, Medical Director Information & Analysis at International SOS. “Agility, accurate information and good communications are key to a sustainable and safe return to work and operations.“Hopefully most organisations have, or are imminently reviewing, BCP [business continuity planning] and pandemic planning in respect of the current environment. These need to have an element of flexibility in order to respond to any changes and implement subsequent best practice advice and regulations.”

Supporting a range of scenarios

Many large multinational companies have announced they will not return to office-based work until a vaccine is found. While employers believe remote working will be a “lasting switch”, bringing with it further health, wellbeing and productivity challenges and opportunities, two developments in vaccine and testing for Covid-19 could make more office-based working a reality sooner rather than later.A tie-up between the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca has announced breakthroughs in vaccine research, but no antidote to SARS-CoV-2 yet exists. However, could the newly announced rapid testing innovation, LamPORE, innovated by the Oxford University spin-off firm, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, change the game for employers, business travellers and the wider population? Dr Adrian Hyzler, Chief Medical Officer of global healthcare, assistance and risk management solutions Healix International, which has updated its Covid-19 advisory, says the medium-term prospects are hopeful.Au20-in-text-banner“LAMP technology is not new, but it has huge potential to change the landscape of testing for Covid-19,” says Dr Hyzler. “It offers affordable, point-of-care testing that can be carried out without specialised laboratory staff. The test takes less than an hour to get results and can be scaled up to analyse many thousands of tests a day from a portable desktop machine. The results are accurate and affordable.“Currently all orders for machines are being taken up by governments, but it is hoped that once manufacture can be ramped up, there will be capacity for private use. The potential uses for this and associated technology are ground-breaking. If we can prevent transmission of the virus, we will be able to look to controlling the pandemic before the arrival of the hoped-for effective vaccine(s) that appear to be our only hope of emerging from this ongoing pandemic and resuming normal life.”

Health and wellbeing support: a reality check

In the short term, Covid-19 is providing employers with a reality check on the health and wellbeing support they offer, says Aon Principal, Mark Witte. “The pandemic has been a magnifier of current trends and the acid test of whether employers have the right support available,” he says.According to Aon’s Pulse survey of 1,889 international organisations, which took place in what Mr Witte calls the React and Respond phase in April 2020, 79% of employers surveyed had enhanced or further promoted existing employee assistance programmes (EAPs) in light of the pandemic.EAPs are a popular, practical and cost-effective measure for mitigating the negative impact of lockdowns and remote working on mental and physical wellbeing. EAPs are also proving invaluable to thousands of still-furloughed staff having to deal with the financial and emotional reality of potential redundancy; an issue covered in a panel at the CIPD’s Festival of Work.Distribution Director at Towergate Health & Protection, Brett Hill, has seen employees appreciate the confidential support EAPs offer, particularly when it comes to the money worries affecting all income groups. Echoing Aon’s findings, Mr Hill says, “We have seen a spike in calls to employee assistance programmes during the Coronavirus outbreak as staff seek real and practical support for challenges they are facing during the lockdown. EAPs can be an excellent resource to support financial issues. Taking action with financial health can significantly reduce stress, personally helping the individual while also creating a more supported and productive workforce.”

Employee support: essentials for the future

With just 36% of respondents to Aon’s Pulse survey of 1,889 international organisations saying they are deferring or postponing domestic or international people mobility programmes as a way to manage or reduce total rewards costs, ensuring those on the move have access to the right occupational health, wellbeing support and information is vital as we move into managing the legacy of Covid-19.The fundamentals of safeguarding employees and their families stand firm in this age of the pandemic:
  • Supporting employees’ wellbeing from a practical, physical and emotional standpoint
  • Ensuring globally mobile people are well briefed and compliant from a visa, taxation and healthcare insurance perspective
  • Caring for the "silent" population, those families remaining at home or going on assignment.
Yet the pandemic adds another layer, both from a duty of care/people risk and an employee experience perspective – especially as guidance and travel corridors change rapidly, as the UK saw during August.“As organisations consider more deployment, it is important they assess the criticality of the assignment in alignment with any potential disruptions and risks,” says Dr Kate O’Reilly of International SOS. “Assignees should be equipped with reliable sources of timely information, advice and on-hand support before, during and after an assignment.”
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Making sure employees feel safe and cared for, as well as being safe and cared for, is critical for employee engagement and positive employee experience. Almost a quarter (23%) of respondent companies to Aon’s survey say the pandemic will see them revisit their employee value proposition (EVP).Mercer’s 2020 Global Talent Trends Survey, published in March, also reports that more than half of HR departments (58%) are using the current situation to redesign their processes to become more people-centric.“Interactions with employees matter,” says Laura McKim, Partner and UK Career Business Leader at Mercer UK. “Organisations that approach the employee experience in the same way they would the customer experience will have better success in engaging employees. Never more than now has placing employees’ interests at the heart of our businesses been more timely or important.”

Preparing for more pandemics

Both these shifts around EVP and more people-focused policies align with what Aon Principal Mark Witte has experienced in his role. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen more personalised employee benefits and employers redesign their offer. There is also more personalised healthcare screening and digital lifestyle apps that we’ve really seen take off in this pandemic, especially digital healthcare portals.“The pandemic has been a tipping point and a call-to-action for employers to assess how their employee benefits, like health insurance, have stood up to the recent tests. The time is right now to ask how they measured up and what could be done differently.”
Think Global People Autumn 2020 issue
This article is taken from the first issue of Think Global People, the new home of Relocate Magazine.
Click on the cover to access the digital edition or read all of the articles on our website.

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