• Articles
  • November 5, 2020
  • Gareth Morris

COVID-19: The People Challenges Business Leaders Are Facing – Part 2




Covid-19: The People Challenges Tech Leaders Are Facing – Part 2

People are notoriously difficult. Leaders from all walks of life have been (and will continue to) debating how to get the most out of us for generations.

And never has the protection of our people been more important than now. 

The recent outbreak of Covid-19 has sent many of us into a tailspin. Some of us will have turned to family, some to friends, others will have great working relationships with those they call ‘boss’. Regardless of your support network, or your working status, we all have leaders in our life and it’s at times like these, where the status quo is ripped apart, do they really have to step up. 

We spoke to leaders from all around the globe to find the common people challenges they’re facing right now in an effort to paint a picture of how the market is responding to COVID-19 disruption. 

We asked them a number of questions and broke their answers down into 4 areas of focus. From these common areas of focus, we’ve taken insightful highlights from the leaders on their reasoning and response to the crisis as it unfolds. 


  1. Protecting People

  2. Shifting to Fully Remote Working

  3. Managing Changing Demand & Planning for the Future

  4. Motivation and Mindset


This is Part 2 of a series exploring how business leaders are tackling COVID-19. If you missed part 1, you can read it here. 


Protecting People

People are the lifeblood of our organisations and proper protections, especially in times like these, is something that cannot be overlooked. It comes as no surprise then that the top priority for all the business leaders we spoke to is the protection of their people. 

Out of the hundreds of individuals, we spoke to, the protection of staff, employees and workers has been the number one concern. Out of all of those individuals, we have pulled out a few notable stories that demonstrate the grit, determination and fight we all want to see from leadership. 


“People just seemed reluctant to make decisions online”

For some companies, the move to fully remote working will have coincided with some major landmarks. Promotions, appraisals and reviews have all been either put on hold or, if you’re like the Head of Recruitment at a Technology Solutions Company we spoke to, been shifted to an entirely new platform. 

“90% of our annual appraisals will be done online. When i first thought i’d have to do them online, I thought ****. But it all went really well.”

Although there being nothing wrong with having to do an appraisal online, it’s an incredibly personal meeting that having a one-to-one level of engagement is paramount. This problem, or hesitance to conduct major meetings over video is something that many of the leaders we’ve spoken to have brought up. For most, the problem is a mindset we’ve adopted from the past ways of working.

“The concern was that we’ve done video meetings before around people related queries but the actions have always been “let’s meet back up in the office and get to a decisions.” People just seemed reluctant to make decisions online, now our hand has been forced.” 

The good news here is that any improvement in internal processes, especially when it concerns people processes, will benefit us dramatically in the long run. 

Many appraisals are prefaced by both the manager and employee completing the same evaluation form.  This can have the unfortunate effect of making the appraisal into a negotiation as managers compromise in order to gain agreement from the employee. 

Think of this time, where processes normally completed in a office setting are now done remotely, as a time to provide more of an open dialogue on performance and appraisal.  Employees like regular feedback (particularly millennial employees) and effective managers take time every day for employee feedback. Managers get more comfortable with feedback, better at giving feedback, and they nip problems before they become a large one. This is something witnessed by the Head of Recruitment we spoke to:

“Our people are now more prepared, more enabled to make decisions, they’re making them quicker and everyone is happier.”


“The Challenges People Face Differ from one Conversation to the Next.”

One of the major people challenges many leaders will face will be the people themselves. No two individuals are the same – where one may confide in another member of the team, another might hold it all in until they get burnt out. 

To get around this, a more transparent and open approach is needed. This approach is one we’ve seen almost all of the leader’s we’ve spoken to embrace, each with their own form of communication channel which is open and, above all, safe. 

For one Director in the Banking Sector we spoke to, these come in the form of weekly ‘campfires’.


“Once a week, from my division, we have a campfire where we gives updates on what’s going within the business as well as opening up things to how they’re feeling. 

We will have one-to-one calls which focus on how everyone is feeling and offering support. 

We are a multinational corporation, so the challenges people face differ from one conversation to the next. We just need to provide the platform that allows for these conversations.”


Shift to Remote Working

Unprecedented were the changes made to working life. Backed by government enforcement, almost overnight we moved towards a fully remote working routine. Some of us will have welcomed this change, some of us will have been prepared for this, some of us will have been scrambling to ensure their systems would all work under new constraints. 

Second only to the problem of protecting our people was the scramble to shift to fully remote working, something a large majority of the leaders we spoke to shared as a particularly tricky people challenge. 


“The Cultural Shift is Almost Big As the Technological Shift”

For many, the biggest change that COVID-19 has brought to business has been mindsets. As more people start to not just operate from home, but achieve serious productivity milestones, more and more business leaders are starting to open their eyes to the possibility of remote working. 

For some, however, there are technological barriers in place that stop a migration to remote working. For one Head of Business Development working in the Banking sector, shifting the culture and the mindset will help people un-learn traditional methods of working. 

“Many people had to learn how to use the technology. It is about the culture and the mindset. People feel like if they’re not in the office they’re not as efficient and try to avoid tasks. A big cultural shift and a big technological shift inside the bank.”


“Not Everyone is in the same part of the Sombrero”

Even those who were already predominantly distributed before the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus have run into problems with remote working. One Talent Acquisition Lead at a Tech Consultancy, who works with offshore and nearshore clients across the globe, has seen teams impacted differently based on their geography. 

“Not everyone is in the same part of the sombrero. We have a big China contingent who were offline earlier and are starting to come online now. We do a lot of distributed work, their stage in the Covid-19 evolution presents difficulty.” 

It would be naive to believe that teams who are predominantly remote would be operating, business as usual. With increased global presence comes the chance of misalignment with the pace of the crisis. 

Managing Changing Demands

A hallmark of a successful company is its ability to pivot when needed. To quickly reassign resources to areas that will help get vital services up to the new standard of peak capacity. 

There will be those out there who will benefit from the rapidly changing demand of consumers and clients. On the flip side, there will be some who will struggle. Regardless, the impact COVID has demanded sacrifice and the ability to quickly pivot.


“Some Clients have said to stop, others have asked for more.”

Whenever there is a crisis, there is opportunity. For some businesses, there will have been more noticeable ‘wins’. For others the changing in demand from both their customers and their employees pose challenges. 

For one Head of Talent at a Global Tech Consultancy, the global reach of their company has posed problems in terms of demand with some clients stopping entirely and others looking for even more support. 

“Some clients have said stop, some clients have asked if they can delay payments, some clients have asked for more support because they’re doing well. " 

"We have challenges around logistics which we can get around, our limitations come from our global nature and the fact we’ve got people working at different stages of the Covid-19 crisis.” 

This challenge also poses risks to the integrity of the Global Tech Consultancy’s data, which is used for many of their hiring and strategic decision making. For many larger companies, the model they base their predictive data off will be changing quickly. 


“Normally we have certain terms we expect clients to pay to, some of them may have changed so the predictive model has broken down. 

Making sure the data is doing what it needs to do right now is key because it will drive decisions when they come out the otherside in terms of hiring and retention.” 


“We’re Starting Earlier and Leaving Later”

For one Head of Business at a Mobile Telecommunications Company changing demands from their clients have had a knock on effect on workload and expectations.


“We’re busier, working longer, more concentrated hours. Because people aren’t travelling, they’re starting earlier and leaving later. 

Both workload and expectation play into this. We were extremely busy for the first three week of the virus, customers wanted connect with us directly. We had to increase capacity for large clients. This we had to do within a number of days. Some organisations we had to get them switched on within 24 hours which is not normal within an organisation of our size.” 


Mindsets and Motivation

When we set out connecting with business leaders we wanted to gather evidence of change. Change in the way we work, change in the way we do business, and most importantly, the way our perceptions and mindsets have changed. 

For some companies, the shift in mindset it takes to work completely remote will have posed significant challenges. For others, it’s a case of stepping up to provide more support to employees who are used to coming into an office everyday. 


“When the Fear and Anxiety Goes Away, Benefits will be There for All To See.”

Needless to say, there is plenty of anxiety going around right now. 

The Banking Sector Director that we spoke to believes that having a single-minded focus on being there for your employees during this time is key to helping them through the other side. 

“Some people are afraid. The leadership style has addressed that. Once we get back to normal, it’ll be new normal. What people need at the moment most is the social interaction, when the fear and anxiety goes away the benefits will be there for everyone to see.” 


“Some days, You Walk Away Feeling Crushed.”


According to the Mercer Global Survey, 70% of respondents said their company had “encouraged, or encouraging continued employee resource group interaction during the current crisis”. Similarly, 65% had “Established regularly scheduled video “hang outs” — opportunities for individuals and teams to experience a virtual water cooler experience”.

But only 2% of respondents said their company had changed working hours. 

Those are a lot of extra meetings, and not a lot of changes to the hours we’re working. For many, this will lead to days where you just feel burnt out. Something the Head of Recruiting at the Technology Solutions Company has seen many of his teams suffering from. 


“One of the problems with being on home is that you can do the whole day you walk away and feel crushed because you’ve been on call all day. We’ve had everyday 30 minutes drop in where there is no agenda and every brings a cup of tea. We chat about netflix or whatever.” 

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