ICS: how to re-engage the workforce to rebuild our economy


By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service:  

In the space of just a few months, the Covid-19 pandemic has turned the working landscape upside down. Businesses across the country have been forced to review and adjust their operating models – and make difficult decisions in order to survive. For many, the Government’s Job Retention Scheme has been a lifeline, providing much needed time to navigate the immediate challenges brought on by the crisis. But as lockdown measures begin to ease, leaders are facing the fresh challenge of when, and how, to bring their workforce back into the business. 

Government intervention in resourcing on this mass scale has never been seen before and, as with many of the challenges we have faced recently, there is no clear precedent to follow. But what is clear is an engaged and motivated workforce will be vital to rebuild our economy, and how businesses re-engage with their employees will be so crucial to their rebound efforts. 

There are, of course, practical measures to be considered – from IT refreshers to team briefings – to ensure a smooth transition back into the workforce. But there are also wider issues at play. Months away will have left many feeling disconnected – and you may need to re-engage them with the purpose, plans and ambitions of the organisation. With the furlough scheme set to run in some form until the end of October, there will also be those who remain out of the business for months to come – and it’s equally important to ensure these individuals are not ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Regular communication and a strong, positive culture will be an invaluable lifeline for keeping them switched on and connected – and investing in their personal and professional development via permitted avenues such as training will help keep them “match-fit” for the mammoth task of rebuilding and repositioning. 

Things will have inevitably changed over the past few months, as operating models have been adjusted in order to function with a reduced workforce, and in many cases reduced revenue. For those in customer service, the world is likely to look vastly different. Customer demands, expectations and their financial positions have shifted, we have seen a greater desire for authenticity, sustainable solutions and in many cases keeping things simple.

Leaders must take the time to think about what this means for their business, how they can meaningfully restructure their organisations and where returning employees can be most effectively reintegrated. By being crystal clear on their vision and setting out a clear roadmap to achieve it, businesses can identify where the skills of their returning people can be most effectively deployed. For me, the key to effective reintegration will be communication; being open, honest and transparent to ensure all employees are united around the long term goal of the business, and clear on their role within it.  

The crisis is far from over, and I have no doubt that more difficult decisions are and will have to be made as we move forward. But those businesses that remain rigorously clear on their purpose, and make efforts to engage employees with how they plan to achieve it, will form the strongest foundation to rebuild.