In the midst of a crisis, anchoring the ship and guiding employees ashore is a task that typically falls to HR. Working closely alongside the senior leadership team, the HR department will be responsible for clearly communicating the employer’s plans to tackle the crisis, anticipating and answering any questions that may arise, and prioritising employees’ health and wellbeing.

When hyperbolic headlines and rumours inevitably begin to spread, it’s up to HR provide a calm, level-headed response and the clarity needed to move forwards.

Make alternative arrangements

Whether it’s for their own safety, to look after more vulnerable family members or simply to maximise their productivity, there will be times when employees need to adapt their working hours or work from home. And, in the last two decades, the number of people working flexible hours has increased five-fold – with 54 per cent of employees now having the option to choose their working hours.

As a result, many businesses are moving away from the traditional nine-to-five day at the office, and have also equipped their teams to work remotely. But implementing a flexible working policy isn’t always plain sailing. Managers may be hesitant to trust their employees, eager to make the most of their rented office space or simply afraid of the unknown.

Now isn’t the time to debate whether this is the ideal solution – it’s time to put things into practice.

Provide the right tools

We’re so privileged to have access to such a vast range of technology at our fingertips. Software such as Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom have become commonplace in the corporate environment, streamlining communication and enabling remote collaboration.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for equipping your workforce, so it may take some trial and error to find the right fit. Ask the wider team for feedback, recommendations and even find out whether anybody has any past experience of using your newly acquired tech. If you’re lucky, somebody might’ve used the same tools in a previous role – so don’t be afraid to ask them for help when putting together a training program.

Keep up the communication

Maintaining frequent contact with staff is more important than ever when they’re working remotely – not only for peace of mind, but to show your support too. Employees may also see you as a middle-man between themselves and higher management, and many will prefer to approach you directly with their queries and concerns.

Although you’ll no doubt be looking to official government advice to guide you, never assume that your employees have the same level of contextual knowledge as you do. Break down the relevant aspects of official policies, explain which parts apply to them and why some decisions are simply beyond the company’s control.

Show empathy

As safety is one of our most basic human needs, when an employee is concerned about the security of their job or personal welfare, it’s only natural that they’re not able to perform to the best of their ability. You may have to step in to help them manage or delegate their workload, but a little reassurance wouldn’t go amiss too.

Under normal circumstances, a face-to-face meeting would be the best option. If that’s not possible, opt for a video call as an email may come across as impersonal, particularly for those who are struggling. Similarly, consider whether now is the right time to have a difficult conversation, or whether you should allow a little more time for the employee to settle into their new working pattern.

Look to brighter times ahead

Once you’re over the initial hurdles of leading a team remotely, new challenges will continue to arise – and that’s ok. Eventually, things will begin to settle down and there will be an end in sight. Remember that all adjustments to your regular working practices are only temporary, even though they may become part of your wider business strategy.

These challenging times will often reveal just how strong your organisation is, or where there are gaps to be filled further down the line. Regardless of their location, personal circumstances or role within the business, your employees will always be the embodiment of the company – and they will be the ones to help you recover once the clear skies return.