Interview with minc’s Chief People Officer Laura Harris
Q1. 2020 has been difficult for many people, both personally and from a business perspective. How have you found the past 4/5 months? From a personal point of view, I feel extremely fortunate, I’m set up to work from home, so it wasn’t a huge change from that perspective. However, I was ill during the pandemic, which was quite scary, but myself, my household, and wider family have all kept safe throughout this year and that’s all you can really ask for. From a professional side, it has been my busy time ever as a consultant. Even though as a business we have lost a couple of clients who were not able to survive throughout the pandemic due to the industries they are in, other clients have required additional support. Nobody had a contingency plan for something like this, going from everyone in the office to the next week everyone at home, was a huge challenge for some businesses as people didn’t really know how to manage that handover. For example, one of our clients who work in the Electric Vehicle Charging space found it fairly easy to adapt to home working as they are a technical company so understanding how to get the correct systems in place was less of a problem. Some of our other clients however, particularly those with higher numbers of staff, found the transition very challenging.
Q2. What would you say are the biggest lessons you’ve learned with all that has happened with the coronavirus outbreak? I think this year has given some real reassurance that actually the way we approach our clients and do our business as minc, is successful, it’s built on relationships and good people. We have been able to keep clients throughout this time and have been recommended by them to other businesses who are struggling so we must be doing something right. Particularly throughout the pandemic, we have given clients that flexibility and added value to ensure they have what they need in terms of a complete service even when money has been tight from their side. You can get HR support from lots of businesses, but I think we have a good balance of being reasonable with our cost, but really adding value and going above what’s expected for our clients.
Q3. Do you think businesses now have procedures and precautions in place from a Covid-19 perspective? I think there is still a lot of confusion for businesses and many were under the impression that we would be back to normal by the end of the summer. So, I think people are still adapting as they go and even now as some go back into the office it’s still that challenge of being back in a working environment and not falling back into the same habits. Ensuring people are following the guidelines at all times has to be the priority for those back in the office. I think the second wave is going to hit harder so it’s even more important that people have got to the point where they have prepared their businesses and learned from the first wave earlier in the year. For some of our clients, I work as part of their resilience team and we are able to plan, but we are only able to plan based on the government predictions at the moment and the difficulties that were faced earlier on in the year. I would also say that for many businesses the remote working policies that they have in place are still short-term focused on the idea of bringing people back into the office heading into the new year.
Q4. From an HR perspective, what would you say have been the biggest challenges for businesses throughout the pandemic? The majority of my time in the beginning was helping businesses manage furlough and working to reassure staff who were put on furlough that this is something that we have to do in order to save their job. The flexible furlough helped put people’s minds at ease as they were able to come into the office on a part-time basis. But it was difficult for businesses to work out everything from a pay, holiday, pension perspective with lots of employees of different levels of furlough at different times so we provided key support in that area. As time has moved on the biggest challenge I have now is keeping people safe. From my side, it has been about helping the business try to move forward but to ensure they are always complying with the government guidance and have everything in place to create a safe working environment. Another challenge at the moment is that I’m now dealing with far more redundancies as businesses cut back on their staff. And while it’s part of the job from my side as the HR lead for clients, it’s never a nice thing to do, particularly at a time of such uncertainty for people.
Q5. How do you think having so many businesses adapting to working remotely will affect the traditional office environment and 9 to 5 going forward? I think there will be a mixture, you will always have the old school type companies who want everyone in an office, but businesses have invested a lot of time and resource into getting set up from home so I think there will be far more flexibility from businesses. You also can’t think this is never going to happen again, so it makes sense for businesses to keep flexible working around in some capacity in case we ever have a situation like this in the future.
Q6. While it is important to look back, the only thing we influence is what we do going forward. How are feeling about the rest of 2020? I’m feeling fairly positive about the remainder of 2020. We are still focusing now on trying to grow as a business not only from a client perspective but also in terms of expanding and refining our services. We are working very hard as a team and there are some exciting things happening over the next few months so I am optimistic that we can finish the year strongly.