Covid-19: An exceptional business response to challenging times

6 minutes read
By Phil Sproston, Country Manager: UK & Ireland, Top Employers Institute
Top Employers in the UK are responding quickly to the prospect of business disruption, says Phil Sproston, Top Employers Institute Country Manager, UK & Ireland.

No one can possibly overstate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic upon business so far this year. The impact on our individual and collective behaviours has been drastic, yet in the darkness we find a glimmer of light and hope. It is reassuring, for example, that at a time when so many of our most basic assumptions around the way we work together are being turned upside down, UK Top Employers are using ever-improving technology and new styles of leadership to underpin, not undermine, humanity in their organisations.

Top Employers well placed to meet the challenge

Even prior to the pandemic, the latest research into our 1,600 Top Employers worldwide shows most were already offering the sorts of flexible working initiatives that are now belatedly practised everywhere. Certainly, Top Employers in the UK consistently offered the following:-

  • Flex time work schedules (76% of those surveyed).
  • Compressed working hours (60% of those surveyed).
  • Time off in lieu (78%).
  • Telecommuting/working from home (70%);
  • Reduction in company travel obligations (52%).

All of these levers are now being used to keep businesses surviving and thriving and Best Practice is not hard to find.

International SOS: Working flexibly – and so much extra support besides

International SOS, a medical and security assistance organisation, has made a clear commitment to support its teams during difficult times. It has an 11,000 strong workforce globally – some of the team were, until recently, based at the London Head Office and those who are not key workers are now all working from home. There are also medical staff on location and a warehouse team for distribution of medical supplies. When implementing home working, the challenge is to manage the provision of a reliable, accessible service externally and supporting teams internally. To support this, measures have been put in place very quickly to support all those working from home, including enabling the call centre team to do so.

For International SOS, the sense of obligation to staff goes far beyond merely facilitating flexible working. There is also a dedication to support around the nature of remote working itself and expert advice around the understandable anxiety that occurs during difficult times and supporting those who have caring responsibilities. International SOS have therefore held “Meet the expert” sessions where staff get the opportunity to ask questions of medical professionals, as well as the HR team. Much of the useful information gathered can then be captured and shared online, including podcasts and videos.

Tata Consultancy Services: Demonstrating the imperative of internal communications

Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, the importance of effective communications within an organisation is crucial. Among UK Top Employers, there had been before the onset of Covid-19, a sharp increase in the number of managers trained in benefits of effective communication with their teams - more than three in four (78%) consistently training in this area, up from 62% only a year ago.

Tata Consultancy Services is an excellent example of best practice. It has been working hard to safeguard and maintain the IT infrastructure for its critical business clients such as banks, healthcare providers, pharmacies and grocery retailers across the U.K. And at the same time, it has started an extensive communications plan, driven by its leaders, around the impact of the virus for the business and its employees through its intranet and internal social media.

The communications plan has given employees direction on where to find and how to follow official advice, along with regular updates and guidance on support available. Alongside this, it has used its Secure Borderless Workspaces Infrastructure (SBWS) to allow its Associates from different countries to work from securely home and continue to collaborate. Other initiatives have included running webinars to help clients think through their own best practices and support around wellbeing. And TCS’s diverse range of employee networks have prospered, offering all forms of support, including holding virtual tea sessions, online yoga and sharing ideas and notes on how to thrive in challenging times.

Mitie: Limiting risks and giving reassurance to employees and customers

It is vital in the current climate that any organisation is seen to limit risk to employees and give reassurance wherever possible on job security. Among our UK Top Employers, over 9 in 10 (94%) consistently cited limiting risk to employees and their job security as key factors when making strategic decisions prior to the pandemic, while three-quarters (73%) developed multiple possible future strategic scenarios to plan for impact on workforce and competency needs

Mitie is a great example of this in practice. It has established a national Critical Incident Team (CIT) to assess and mitigate risk to individuals, and to co-ordinate and respond to disruption when it occurs. The CIT includes senior management from its Cleaning, Security, Risk, Engineering, Energy and Landscaping operations, along with its internal infrastructure and operations teams. Together, they assess and limit the risks associated with the virus and make contingency plans to keep their customers running. The Energy team, for example, is working with customers to optimise power usage for the many buildings with fluctuating occupancy rates, while the Technical Services team is adapting its maintenance regimes and adjusting air conditioning policies.

FirstPort: Wellbeing comes first in challenging times

The physical and mental wellbeing of so much of the UK workforce is under pressure as never before – businesses must do all they can to check in with staff to mitigate the potential loneliness of working from home for prolonged periods. Nearly nine in ten (87%) of UK Top Employers already had, prior to Covid-19, an ongoing and active company-wide communication campaign to promote wellbeing. Nearly a third (33%) also actively discouraged use of email outside office hours and enlightened organisations know that downtime and the use of humour and perspective can play their part in mitigating current anxieties. The team at FirstPort have put an emphasis on encouraging staff to take time away from the laptop and sharing their experiences of working from home. Their Talent team have been setting themselves daily challenges, ranging from recreating a famous piece of art and keeping active with daily challenges, such as recreating the shape of a fish through use of everyday household objects. Staff are specifically encouraged to take a little time out of their day to something different and recharge batteries, particularly when they feel under pressure.


The business challenges of the current global pandemic are severe, yet Top Employers in the UK are as well placed as they possibly can be to rise to the occasion. And, in the process, they are using technology and new styles of leadership to underpin, not undermine, humanity in their organisations.

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Covid-19: An exceptional business response to challenging times

    More than 1 600 Top Employers around the world.