The Legacy of Change and Resilience – HR during Covid-19
Mita Srinivasan

The Legacy of Change and Resilience – HR during Covid-19

Human resources teams in every company overnight found themselves on the frontline of managing the COVID-19 response as they scrambled to navigate through rapidly enforced changes to the workplace and workforce due to the Covid lockdown and its subsequent easing. In this special op-ed, Sophie Alexandra Marshall, Head of People & Culture at CAFU, draws from her role and shares her insights that could help other startups and SMEs manage HR roles as new changes and policies roll in.

With the majority of companies not having a global pandemic ‘rulebook’ in place, HR teams had to rapidly deal with staff being homebound due to lockdown, maintaining a work life balance and managing time efficiently for the workforce in order to keep operating in our new world created by the virus.

For those of us working in HR, it would prove to be a test of both our resilience and our endurance as we had to prepare ourselves mentally on the way forward. Let’s face it, there were structural decisions that had to be made at pace in order to ensure our employees and the company continued to function safely. Coming to terms with this new environment has meant many business leaders having to rethink the way their companies operate during the lockdown, where the workforce quickly transformed their homes into their ‘new work stations’ and then the unfolding challenge of the hybrid combination of a split workforce partially at home and in the workplace setting.

It is moments like this where our resilience is tested to near breaking point that we need to truly live by our company values to help pull us through successfully. At CAFU, our values really came to the fore in helping us to guide our employees to adapt to the new way of life and working. We have diversified our operations, ensuring safety for those workers out in the field and allowing for those who can and need to work from home to do so. Our Founder and CEO, Rashid Al Ghurair, also had the foresight to understand that as the world was changing for us, it was also changing for our customers and the wider community. With this front and centre in our minds, we adapted our business model by removing our delivery charges for our on-demand car refuelling service to make it the same cost as the petrol station meaning that not only were we putting dirhams back into the pockets of our customers when they needed it most, we were also able to do so through more convenience to the lives of our customers as they navigated through this challenging period.

At CAFU, we took the decision to empower our staff to do what worked best for them in terms of where they worked from. The first step taken was to make sure that all staff were equipped with the necessary technology to make working from home feasible. To ensure cohesion and avoid overwhelming employees, our remote engineering teams expeditiously enabled a virtual team setup which made file sharing and communication much more accessible for employees.

While many enjoy working from home - a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that 83 percent of US office workers want to continue to work from home at least once a week - although there are many who thrive on the conviviality and solidarity that office life brings.

While working from home may have been the preferred choice by many, a survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) between June and August has shown the pandemic is increasing demand for mental-health services. The report was published in anticipation of WHO’s Big Event for Mental Health on October 10.

Self-care and mental health are of utmost importance to CAFU. To promote good mental health, we created exciting daily virtual initiatives to keep our staff active and enthusiastic throughout, with fitness regimes, cooking and a range of other activities.

The way employees live, and work changed so rapidly, it left many spinning. It wasn't just the logistical aspects of companies that had to be completely reworked, but also the way companies deal with the emotional well-being and mental health of their employees. With that In mind, we rolled out weekly individual check ins for our employees, making sure they were coping well. In fact, this made us realise how united we are as a team, since our colleagues made it a point to constantly check up on our wellbeing too and ensure we're all coming out strong together.

Working from home can prove challenging for some, as the onus of ensuring work-life balance lies not just with the employer but with the employee too. Employees face the responsibility of managing their own time and self-regulation and discipline are needed. As a result, it is important to have the right mindset in place to overcome this pandemic and the challenges it generated on a daily basis.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it has shown us the importance of applying our mind to creating innovative solutions to overcome the everyday challenges by being mentally prepared for change and a period of uncertainty.

Mental wellness is at the forefront of mind and awareness for every company HR team. As the Head of People and Culture at CAFU, it is my responsibility that we as a company deliver the right support and communicate it in a genuine, respectful and caring way. By having the right values based approach in place underpinned by set of clear procedures, it ensures that the organisation has schemes in place to allow free-flowing open channels of communication and platforms to support the mental health of every employee such as CAFU Connects, an online solution created in place of an open door policy.

The one key lesson this crisis taught me is solidarity. We've experienced the greatest workplace transformation of our lifetime – working remotely, and while that has been challenging, there have also been many positives. Both employers and employees have an active role to play in coming through this crisis unified, stronger, and better.