COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities in the operational capabilities of many businesses in the event of a disaster. Risk profiling and planning for a pandemic or any possible disaster (bush fires anyone?), will enable businesses to respond appropriately and quickly to mitigate any negative or catastrophic impact that may result. That, and ensuring one has at least six months of reserves to cover the cost of doing business is also prudent. The same principal also applies to households who want to be prepared for such an event.

The pace at which things happened (personal restrictions, closure of businesses etc) when it was realised that COVID-19 was spreading through the community at Usain Bolt-like pace, caught many on the back foot – the counter-response at the grassroots was to clear supermarket shelves of toilet paper, pasta, rice and canned food. TP-gate will probably form a masters’ thesis somewhere down the road.

On the employment front, the announcement of the JobKeeper subsidy brought a sigh of relief to many until it was realised that the subsidy is a reimbursement scheme (see six months reserve). The object of the subsidy is to retain jobs, and ensure a ready workforce is in place when restrictions are lifted. This means that businesses can reopen and hit the ground running without the added worry of recruitment. For those small businesses who were already struggling with cashflow before the pandemic, this probably meant talking to their bank about bridging finance to pay workers until they are reimbursed. Many are probably opting to not do that and that is OK, but let’s not miss the wider opportunity that this crisis presents.

That opportunity is to take another look at your business model and start listing those things that you can work on to improve to ensure you have a business continuity plan for this and any future event. An example, for retail businesses that depend on walk-ins, you may want to look at online platforms to continue trading – and don’t forget to factor in your supply chain – are you still able to buy stock? How will you get the stock from the warehouse (shop, your spare room) to the customer? For a hotel or resort, arrangements can be made with state or federal social services to cater for their clients who may require transitional housing or short-term accommodation. There always is a silver lining. Your ability to recognise it is only limited by your imagination.

Take the lessons that are being learnt now and apply them as lived experience when designing a future model for your business. For those who have had their teams perform remote work, how has this worked out so far? Did people get more or less done? It is likely that remote work and greater work flexibility (two days at home, three days in the office? Will hot desking make a comeback?) may become the new normal? It may also be that all that square footage in rental is not really necessary and a smaller shop front space would work better for you. Savings from these changes can be reinvested in tooling, resourcing and supporting employees in their new or adjusted roles. Online meetings may work for some but not others. How can this be accommodated in the post-COVID-19 business, are all questions that we now need to be asking.

As we receive news of easing restrictions in the coming weeks, thought must be given to the cultural shift in employment relations that we have all just experienced. Have you thought about what happens to your employees when the sun sets on the JobKeeper subsidy? Are you in a position to keep them on? Should you be thinking about restructuring your business to meet the post-COVID-19 trading environment? Do your current crop of employees have the capabilities and capacity to work in new roles or expanded roles that you want in your restructured business?

With any change that may be required, it is critical that conversations and communication with employees are opened up and maintained throughout the process. It is equally important that employees are consulted as well as this impacts their livelihoods and sense of worth – working from home may not be for everybody, so any move to have people work from home should be handled sensitively.

Research shows that while resignations decrease during downturns, they rise when economic growth returns. According to a PwC report, resignations of high potential employees in the US increased from 2.4 per cent in 2011 to 4.4 per cent in 2013 as the recession ended.

If employee relations matters are not handled properly coming out of COVID-19, we will likely see an exodus of workers from their current jobs when things start to improve.

See also: Shine wears off the $130bn jobkeeper subsidy as millions are left in the cold, ATO confirms ‘one in, all in’ JobKeeper feature,

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Please contact Lauren Morrison at Lauren@lmhr.com.au or Mob: 0400 225 499 if you would like to learn more about how LM HR Consulting can assist your business with your HRM requirements.