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How HR has responded to the COVID emergency

How HR has responded to the COVID emergency

HR directors and senior practitioners have been stretched like never before. So what have been their biggest challenges? Two leaders north of the border were kind enough to share their experiences with us.  

Worker wellbeing has been of crucial importance as individuals have had a tough time getting used to home working and not being able to interact with their colleagues and friends. Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), part of the Scottish NHS, is one example of an organisation that has introduced a range of measures, including an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and occupational health teams, to help support its people.

“In addition to Directorates’ own initiatives such as regular team huddles and coffee break meetings, managers are in touch with team members to ensure they are well. We also have access to a range of support being provided by the Scottish Government,” says Ann Laing, the body’s Head of People and Workplace. “Our confidential contacts – a network of staff volunteers – are on hand to chat to anyone who wants to talk about any subject. The contacts have also established a regular virtual ‘pop-in’ wellbeing meeting where staff can gather to chat.”

Separate wellbeing Zoom sessions for employees and managers have been a feature for cloud solutions company, Iomart, which is headquartered in Glasgow. “We’ve rolled out an e-learning module on mental health and wellbeing and developed our own workshop on homeworking and rolled this out to half the workforce,” says the company’s HR Director, Jane Middleton. “This was all done very early into lockdown and I think that was key. We ran an engagement survey specifically around remote working and COVID – this was done around May and we’re now using some of this to determine our new ‘ways of working’”.

‘Considerable strain’

The cloud services specialist launched a new recruitment system pre-COVID and a new HR System in June with onboarding. “We’ve been conducting our normal inductions via Teams but getting new kit organised to people’s homes and general operational training has been hard – we definitely have struggled with this,” Jane admits. “Due to this concern we’ve just set up what we call our ‘Enhanced Induction Programme’ – mapping out the first 90 days – it’s really just everything someone would normally get but in a much more organised and structured way. This had very good feedback and something we’ll continue to do regardless of COVID”.    

Iomart has also decided to open its offices on a voluntary basis. As Jane explains, “We have a fairly young demographic and some feedback from the survey was they really struggled having adequate space to work from home. The office is open to those that are struggling and this is all booked centrally with reduced capacity across the site. We had to produce a fairly detailed guide for the office also, for example social distancing, track and trace etc.”

Both Iomart and HIS, have had to adapt quickly to ensure business process continuity. The organisations’ HR teams have had their work cut out to ensure that employees are coping with working remotely and the lack of face to face interaction. As Ann reminds us, the key challenge remains “ensuring that my team remain engaged, that they are coping with working remotely – some handling difficult working conditions – and that communications are effective.”

There have been many obstacles to overcome and much of the preparation work for an eventual office return has also falling squarely into the laps of HR practitioners. This has raised the profile of the department but in Jane's words also added ‘considerable strain’. And that doesn’t seem likely to diminish any time soon.  

If you’re looking to learn more about the HR market in Scotland, please contact LeighAnne Jordan at

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