Stepping up to the challenge as a small business #HRtogether

Kirsty Robinson is Director at CutTheMustard HR, and is based in Yorkshire, UK

The coronavirus pandemic has meant that like many others, I’ve had to be really creative about how I run my business whilst balancing the needs of my family. With two young children and a husband working from home, I can be teacher, mum, wife and HR Director all within a matter of minutes!

From a business perspective, I initially saw a cancellation of physical meetings with a switch to digital at varying speeds. New clients have been more difficult to come by and much of my time has been spent supporting existing clients to navigate and translate ever-changing government policy into people focussed measures.

I’m most proud of how I’ve managed to balance work with home life. If someone told me six months ago that this is how I would be running my business, I would have said they were mad! It hasn’t been easy and there have been times when I’ve doubted myself. But despite this, having such a positive client base, has meant that I can’t help feeling proud and encouraged. I’m impressed by the speed in which many have adapted their business models to survive and by how many have prioritised employee wellbeing.

Moving to digital HR and learning

My quest for many years has been to encourage businesses to move into the realms of digital HR and learning, some of which have embraced this more than others. So, when the crisis hit, I anticipated that many would be reluctant to switch so soon. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve seen a real shift in perception and an increased appetite for digital learning as a means of keeping the workforce (both working and furloughed) engaged and connected. I think the pandemic has forced organisations to take a digital leap forward and increased the pace of transition by several years. A few months back, the suggestion to hold a disciplinary or grievance meeting via Zoom would have been unthinkable!

Prioritising people

I often hear of the great initiatives our clients have implemented to prioritise the needs of their people and where I can, I like to share these across my network. Nevertheless, some clients have been hit hard by the crisis and have had no choice other than to take more drastic measures such as implementing temporary pay cuts, freezing recruitment and terminating contracts to ensure they can survive. In these instances, I’ve encouraged our clients to create a community of followers who feel supported and connected to the organisation so that when the tide turns, they may choose to return.

I’m certainly recognising the signs of ‘Zoom Doom’ and working in isolation can really take its toll. Checking in on the mental wellness of clients has been a top priority, many of whom have been keen to support their people through ‘wellbeing conversations’ and are now seizing the opportunity to hold meeting walks, whilst observing social distancing rules of course! Given that mental health can affect us all in so many different ways, I’ve encouraged clients to develop a multi-layered approach to their activities that reach far beyond Mental Health Awareness week (18 - 24 May); starting with critical activities such as communication, education, re-launching EAP’s and self-help through to laughter yoga and even the return of ‘Show and Tell’!

Finding sources of support

The Worldwide Web has been my most useful source of professional support and advice during this crisis. Lots of access to free webinars for small businesses. I’ve spent many hours listening to Simon Sinek and employment lawyers on XpertHR giving their views and advice. Our preferred Employment Law Specialists, Torque Law, have provided lots of invaluable tips and guides to help small businesses understand changes in government policy.

My biggest client challenge over the next 6-12 months is to ensure our clients avoid the case law history books! This is new territory for us all and I need to support our clients to get back to business and a ‘new normal’ whilst at the same time meet their health and safety obligations and duty of care to their employees. Things will be different. We will be different. Listening, being sympathetic, treating people as individual human beings and negotiating to find solutions is going to be more important than ever.

CutTheMustard’s biggest challenge is to keep learning on the agenda at a time when businesses are cutting back. Digital learning can support the recovery and bring teams back together. It’s time and cost efficient whilst giving the same output as physical training. It provides the opportunity to build national and even global clients which previously, wouldn’t have been possible. It’s both a scary and exciting challenge!

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