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Whilst  the UK government set out a plan to deal with the various phases of tackling COVID-19, there is now a clear role for all Boards of organisations to play in interpreting the broad guidance in the transition back to work.

What makes the board unique?

The Board represent the potential for a trusting link between staff and each new phase.

The Board open the route to guide and support staff at a level, few others in the organisation can.

The expert view

Sir Peter Hendry CBE, the highly respected Chair of National Rail is featured in the news, he said: “Employers have to play a vital role because they strongly influence people’s behaviour”, “all parties need to enable safe travel to occur”. Peak travel times pose a greater risk to employees, there is little point in trying to provide services in travel, if employees travel times are not staggered and for that Boards will need to support the changes needed.

Peter has had a highly successful career both as MD for Transport for London but also played major roles in bus companies so we should value his insight.

The government cannot provide the granular detail that will be appropriate for every business or every organisation to proceed safely. Therefore, Boards need to grasp this opportunity to build a trusting relationship with their workforce, building a Psychologically Safe workplace. If they really care about their employees, suppliers and stakeholders and their wider responsibilities this is a opportunity to be grasped now.

What does the board need to do?

  1. Check that the Board has a united view of the challenges the organisation faces – Appropriately communicate the challenges to employees, in as clear and transparent a way as possible. Without this clarity, any message from the Board could be construed contradictory or lack authenticity.
  2. The Board needs to know what the prime concerns are for their workforce – Is it job security, is it financial pressures, is it a concern for those working at home as to the long-term sustainability of that as a working practice, is it the welfare of family and friends or perhaps a combination of these.
  3. Has the board identified any practical advice that could be given to the workforce? – If the bulk of the workforce currently travel by public transport, the board must consider the value of staggered work times or a combination of working from home and at work. The provision of facemasks to enable people to use public transport safely or could a private transport arrangement be sourced to maintain the safety of employees in the short term. The Board should ask employees for their suggestions, without fear of contempt or retribution.
  4. Is there a plan as to how you will as a board, manage the aftermath of this crisis? The evidence emerging is that “No one person’s lockdown is the same” And that the different experiences will percolate through your organisation at different rates and to different extents over a prolonged period, if not managed effectively.
  5. The Board must consider what training and support all leaders and managers will need, to ensure that as people return to work and over the next 24 months they will be skilled enough to help and support individuals to give of their best. This will need to be implemented quickly and efficiently.

Effective Boards are recognising that there is a great opportunity now to provide a much more psychologically safe environment not as a nice to have but as a business imperative.

(Hamish Moore, Chief Executive, Wellbeing Works, May 2020)