What are the workforce management considerations for private, mid-market and family enterprises, and how to best enable remote work when changing work arrangements?

Key takeaways

  • For some businesses, the government’s current relief packages do not yet address their financial realities.
  • There are a number of options companies can look at to manage their workforce and adjust payroll loads during this period. Legal implications need to be considered.
  • As some of the workforce moves to remote working, SMEs need to be considering technology enablers and the new roles for leaders and managers.
  • This new ‘virtual everything’ requires businesses to work in new ways.

The Federal Government has agreed to new and enhanced social distance measures, building on the existing measures announced on 22 March. The new measures to battle the coronavirus pandemic apply from midnight 25 March placing Australia into near-total social shutdown. We published an article focused on the considerations businesses in the hospitality industry should be concurrently addressing – including managing cash-flow, managing their workforce, reinventing their offer and stakeholder communications among others. With these further restrictions soon to be in place these considerations extend to businesses in other sectors such as retail, leisure and recreation, local government non-essential facilities and community facilities.

For some businesses the stimulus package announced by the Federal Government on 22 March will provide relief. However, for others this will not address the financial realities of what is required to maintain employee levels, and employers will be faced with difficult decisions regarding their workforce, such as whether they can stand down employees, managing leave requirements during any shut down or stand down period, and, as a last resort, proceeding with redundancies.

While redundancies provide a reduction of labour costs, they can create cash flow challenges due to the obligations to pay entitlements such as accrued annual leave, notice of termination and redundancy. Redundancies also have a negative impact on the investment made in recruiting talent and training employees over many years. Businesses also need to consider the human effort required to ramp up operations once the crisis stabilises, and the potential impacts of not being able to take advantage of the rebound by not having the right talent and the right volume of people – at the right moment.

So, what options should businesses consider to avoid redundancies, and the legal considerations to keep front of mind? And, when changing work arrangements, what are the pragmatic steps that can be implemented over the coming weeks that will help staff stay connected when working remotely?

Workforce management considerations

Managing your current employees: While there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, we believe that employers should be reviewing the options available to manage their employees during this period. These are complicated and fast moving circumstances, and we recommend that you seek specialist advice before making important decisions that affect your workforce. Actions that could be taken include changing working arrangements, adjusting employee roles, reducing working hours or pay, requesting employees to take paid or unpaid leave or, in some cases, standing down employees without pay. Some of these actions require agreement from the employee, and need to be considered carefully to balance both compliance with legal obligations and employee engagement in a challenging time.

For further information, refer to our guide to managing employees during a shutdown.

Other actions to consider for people not (yet) on the payroll are:

Deferring new starters: Where employment offers have been made and accepted, assess whether it is still appropriate for the new recruit to commence at the agreed time, or whether it is more appropriate for the start date to be deferred. It will be necessary to ensure that the deferral of any new starters is consistent with any rights that the prospective employee may have, including under any contract entered into between the prospective employee and the company. If the offer is to be withdrawn, employers need to carefully consider the risks involved in doing so, particularly if the employee has acted in reliance of the offer for example, resigning from their existing employment.

Reducing contingent workforce: while employers may have more discretion in relation to a contingent workforce (either casual or labour hire), an assessment should be made of the need to maintain this – for example if there are any specialist skills required, any reputational impact of ceasing to engage this workforce and the potential future need of these resources given the circumstances.

Ensure succession plans for key positions and critical roles in your business: The risk that key people to the business will not be available due to sickness is increasing, and should be mitigated.

Staying connected in our ‘new normal’

We here at KPMG have by nature a distributed workforce where agility is a daily reality for our business. We have been adapting and rethinking our ways of working just like you have been. We support businesses in most industries around the globe, and have visibility over the challenges businesses are facing to stay connected, where working anytime, anyplace, anywhere is becoming the new normal. We want to share some pragmatic actions your business can take to connect your workforce remotely, to keep your people safe and to ensure your workforce is productive.

Identify the right enablers

It is overwhelming if you feel you do not have the right enablers in place, from a people, processes and technology perspective. We can help guide you to enable agile workplace practices. The enablers for staying connected in this ‘new normal’ are:

  • Networking: confirm the capacity of your remote access options and uplift where required. Provide guidance to your workforce on the network required at home and the minimum packages available.
  • Devices: explore sourcing options such as Device-as-a-service which reduces your overheads in managing devices, workplace software and device inventory. Implement virtual desktops to access remote business applications and data.
  • Collaboration: enable cloud collaboration solutions such as Office 365 or Google G-Suite. 
  • Security: ensure any endpoint to your remote workforce is fully protected and update your cybersecurity policy to include remote working and use work devices only.
  • Support: provide different levels of technical support to your employees.
  • Health and safety: work with your people to ensure remote workplaces are safe, so far as is reasonably practicable. Implement mechanisms to support the mental health of your people. 
  • Leadership and adoption: remote work is a significant change for most people. Leaders play a crucial role in enabling new ways of working. Trust, empathy and availability of leaders are a key enabler for the workforce to feel empowered and committed.

The role of leaders and managers

Leaders and managers play a key role in the success of remote working. Role modelling is going to be fundamental for the adoption of best practices. Our pragmatic advice to leaders is:

  • Work remotely yourself: firsthand experience brings empathy. Leaders who embrace remote work first will understand the benefits and the limitations of the ‘new normal’.
  • Manage expectations: have an open conversation regarding trust, commitment and productivity, as well as self-management and individual contribution to success. Provide feedback when you feel things are not working as expected.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate: ensure consistent communication, and over communicate at the beginning to make sure every single person is engaged.
  • Work-life balance: it is easy for remote workers to remain connected. Encourage your workforce to disconnect at the end of their working day and to have me-time and family time.
  • Check-in and measure: schedule consistent check-ins with your people, not only on work progress but also on mental health. Distribute check-ins among your leaders and managers and rotate check-ins. 
  • Be inclusive: your workforce might be distributed among different geographies and time zones. Some will need to adjust their working hours, for example when schools shutdown and they need to take care of children at home. Be mindful of each individuals’ different situations and be flexible.
  • Organise help: some of your people might become ill or might need to quarantine. Where possible organise help for them if they do not have a community around them to provide support. 


Virtual teams, just like face-to-face, but different

As we move into the new normal our teams will become virtual, our meetings will become virtual, everything will be virtual. We have some practical advice for success of ‘virtual everything’ which you can share with your workforce as and when you implement remote work:

  • Be patient: like with every change, at the start everything takes longer. We all need to get use to the new ways of working. Offer help if somebody doesn’t know where a particular feature can be found, or does not know how to mute or unmute.
  • Turn on your camera: use video instead of voice only. Seeing each other brings a different level of connection than only listening to each other.
  • Prepare: assign roles upfront for your meetings, think of who will facilitate and record actions. Send material in advance or get your screen ready to share the online.
  • Embrace the tech: encourage interaction through the different collaboration tools. Use digital whiteboards, polls, screen sharing and co-authoring of documents among others.
  • Respect each other: introduce ground rules for virtual meetings, including how to respect each other and be inclusive. Encourage people to share and respect ideas, to be present and not multitask during a virtual meeting, to be mindful of others working outside normal hours, to share feedback rather than judge.
  • Have fun: just like we do when we are physically together, have fun. Build communities and make time to share and connect on a personal level.

These are uncertain times for all businesses. We must recognise the importance of our people and act to protect them. The efforts to enable the workforce to work anytime, anyplace, anywhere are not only a short term measure. They will set a precedent for a new way of working in the future. We have implemented these changes at our offices at KPMG, and we are here to help you navigate through your challenges.


If you have any questions regarding the content of this article and would like speak to someone from our team please contact us.