Looking after your staff now and in the months ahead

Episode 25: Looking after your staff now and in the future

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Episode 25: Looking after your staff now and in the future

 
 
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In this week’s episode

The world is gripped by a pandemic and offices everywhere are deserted. It may sound like the premise for a movie, but of course it’s sadly real. This week’s one-off special episode looks at how best to manage the fragmented workforce of an MSP during the Coronavirus lockdown. Paul’s joined by HR specialist Emma Wynne to discuss the affect that homeworking, financial uncertainty and strained communication can have on your team.

Show notes

Episode transcription

Voiceover:
Made in the UK for MSPs around the world, this is Paul Green’s MSP marketing podcast.

Paul Green:
Hello and welcome to Episode 25. And in a change to the advertised program, we’re going to scrap the usual format this week for an MSP marketing podcast special. You see with everything that’s happening around the world right now and the impact on our businesses, it’s easy to look at how we can protect our clients. It’s easy to look at how we can do more marketing and get more new business in. And there is plenty of new business to be won right now. But there’s one other aspect that’s absolutely critical that certainly in this forum we haven’t talked about yet, and that’s looking after your team, your people, your staff. And that’s what I’ve invited this very special guest to join me today to talk about how you can protect your team right now and over the next few months.

Emma Wynne:
Hi, I’m Emma Wynne I own Gateway HR. Set up at 12 1/2 years ago now, mainly working with micro and small businesses to help them manage and develop their people better.

Paul Green:
So thank you for joining me at such short notice Emma. We did only concoct this one a few days ago, just before the transmission date. And I was talking to some of my MSP clients over the last couple of weeks really and we realised that the subject of looking after your own staff, so the MSPs looking after their teams, was something we hadn’t really addressed and hadn’t seen addressed in many different places.

Paul Green:
So obviously you and I have known each other for a very long time. I think it must be getting up to eight, nine years or so now. You did the HR for my last business and thank you very much for looking after those people and helping me get rid of the ones I didn’t want, in the most legal and incorrect way of course.

Paul Green:
Today I want to talk about the more, if you like, the more fluffy side of people. So I don’t want to talk about HR, I don’t want to talk about laws because obviously our audience on this podcast is MSPs all around the world. But I do want to talk about three specific issues.

Paul Green:
The first of them is managing our teams remotely in the long term. So we’re now what, I think it’s six, seven weeks into this in the UK. Some of the countries are a little bit less or a little bit longer. And we are now entering a long term remote management so I want to look at that. I want to look at caring for staff long term as well, when they’re remote and when we can’t see them and hear them as well as we can normally when they’re in the office. And then the final subject that I want to talk about is actually what happens when things start to return back to normal. We all know they’re not going to just snap back to how they used to be. So as things start to return back how should we look out for our staff, their welfare, their mental well being? And also what happens if we have to lay some staff off, so if we have to let some people go? Whether that is a genuine business necessity or whether it’s being used as an exercise in clearing out deadwood?

Paul Green:
So we’ll come on all of those things, but let’s start with just almost a little bit more credibility building for you. Because you’re not just an HR person are you? You’ve actually had quite an incredible career looking after people and making sure that the businesses look after their people well?

Emma Wynne:
Yeah, I mean it’s always been a big part of what we do. I genuinely believe if you treat people properly, and that obviously applies outside of work as well, you get the best from them and therefore the best for the business. So we spend a lot of time with our clients looking at how to look after their employees, how to motivate and inspire them to want to do a good job.

Emma Wynne:
And also recently, just before the lockdown happened, we were starting to run mental health training in organisations as well. So the organisations that we’ve done that for already, hopefully will be able to be putting some of that into practice. And I’m quite confident that once this is over, whenever that might be, I think there’s going to be a huge demand afterwards as well.

Paul Green:
So what kind of an impact do you think this unexpected and sudden lockdown had on staff in those first few weeks? And what kind of impact is it going to have as it kind of keeps going on and keeps dragging on?

Emma Wynne:
I think in the first few weeks it was almost shock, I think it was. Even though we saw it happening in other countries, there’s always that feeling that somehow it’s not going to have the same impact on us. A lot of obviously uncertainty. So anybody with parents in their workforce, parents not knowing if school’s going to shut. Are they not? If they do, how am I going to manage that? And equally, people who were caring for others as well. Lots of uncertainty I would say were the main emotions.

Emma Wynne:
And then the first few weeks before, certainly in the UK, the government stepped in, a lot of worry about is my job safe? What happens if I lose my job? And the financial impact of, obviously they’re still there, but in the moment in the UK with furloughing but only probational timescale. So I think everybody’s still got that worry at the back of their mind.

Paul Green:
I agree. And I think as we go into, where are we? I think this is week seven in the UK. Obviously this is clearly going to be a much longer thing than we thought. Even when the lockdown does end, we can see that there will be a phased end to it. It’s not going to be just straight back to normal. So as owners of businesses and you know most of the MSPs that I talk to and work with care very much for their staff and it’s a wonderful sector to work in Emma, what’s the best things that we can do to look after our team as they stay remote longer term?

Emma Wynne:
The most important thing is, as far as you’re able to, to be consistently honest with your team that you’re doing everything you can to protect the business, protect jobs. And also involve them in that. I mean there’ll be limits as to what you want to share financially, but probably your people in the team are the ones who will come up with some of the best ideas.

Emma Wynne:
We’ve seen lots of great examples, not just with our clients, but we’ve probably all seen them on the news, of businesses that have started to do something completely different. And have changed or pivoted, which seems to be the new favourite word, so much quicker than anybody ever has done before. So it’s keeping those lines of communication open, particularly if the vast majority of people you’re not physically seeing each other every day. So making sure that you’re keeping in contact, keeping people up to date, but also making sure that everybody’s okay.

Paul Green:
Most MSPs obviously are completely happy with video calls. They were set up for work from home years before everyone else was set up, which is quite right. It’s not just about physically keeping in touch with people, is it? What’s good remote management really about?

Emma Wynne:
Yeah. A lot of it is around trust, for clients that previously, until they’ve had to do this, did not like the idea of remote working. Some would be honest and say it was to do with trust. Some would say it was something else. But we were always pretty sure it was to do with trust. Now people have no choice. Managers have really starting to see, in most cases, who they can trust to continue to do a good job and who perhaps needs a little bit closer management. But it’s building that trust and managing, what we would normally call managing by outcomes rather than by time.

Emma Wynne:
So if people are juggling homeschooling, shopping for relatives, but it’s managers realising well what is a good level of performance? What are the outcomes I need from each team member? And as long as I know that they are happening, what time of day they happen doesn’t really matter.

Paul Green:
But how do you actually demonstrate that in a practical way? Because obviously certainly for MSPs where they’re trying to provide a level of service within a certain number of hours, where jobs just need to get done. You can have that desire to let your staff be flexible in your mind, but in practical terms it can annoy business owners and the managers really quickly, can’t it?

Emma Wynne:
Yeah, I think it’s, it always has to come back to what’s needed for the customer. So I’d imagine a lot of them have a service level agreements, amount of time it would take to respond to a call, how long it would take to make the changes or the repairs or whatever. So again, it’s sharing with the team.

Emma Wynne:
If there are definite work hours, if you have, maybe a help line that’s say between eight and six, those are the core hours. But then, where possible, maybe within the team, to divide up those core hours. So maybe each person has four hours where they have to be completely available. So they have to manage what else is going on within their household. But then maybe they have another four hours where the second person on call.

Paul Green:
Because I imagine it would be quite stressful for a member of your team, if you were trying to get them to work six to eight hours a day, and as you were saying, they’ve actually got homeschooling to do and they’ve got relatives to look after and they’ve got other things. And they’re utterly caught between needing to work and needing to do the things that that keeps you the owner happy, but also needing to look after their family.

Emma Wynne:
We always like to say that you should know your team really well anyway, but this might be a chance where actually you need to get to know them better. So what other demands do they have on their time? But equally as importantly, making sure that it’s fair within the team. Sometimes you see issues where perhaps the person who hasn’t got young children at home or all those other commitments ends up doing perhaps all the hours. And what you don’t want to do is cause a rift within the team.

Paul Green:
This is almost like how it used to be in the olden days when everyone smoked, wasn’t it? Where all the smokers got to go out and have regular breaks and the nonsmokers had to do all the work when everyone else was having a smoke.

Emma Wynne:
Yeah.

Paul Green:
So you and I have always been big fans of doing one to ones, and sitting down and having structured but informal conversations with staff. Not appraisals, just literally from, almost from their point of view, that you’re chewing the fat. But from your of view, you’re looking at what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone so well and what they can do differently. Would you recommend still trying to do this over Zoom or, or the teams or the video platform of your choice?

Emma Wynne:
Yeah, absolutely. We’re certainly saying to all our clients to carry on with all of those things, albeit in a different structure, probably via Zoom or over the phone. But all of that needs to carry on as normal. And perhaps now it’s even more important than it would be normally. Because there might be things that person will share in that dedicated time that perhaps they wouldn’t in a team Zoom call or whatever that might be.

Emma Wynne:
So again, you can check in with the individual, both in terms of work and anything that they’re struggling with or ideas that they’ve had, and also, again, that work/life balance. And the same goes for any new starters. We certainly, in our team, had two new starters the week before this happened. So they started work and then got sent home. So we’ve had to adapt all our induction process and our training to make sure that they’re still able to do their role. So it’s not been as easy, if that’s the right word, as doing it in the office, but both of them are now pretty much up to speed.

Paul Green:
So if you don’t already do regular one to ones with your team, but you can see the power of just having a 10, 15 minute video call one-to-one with them? Because you are missing out on that, that just having a look at them in the office and seeing what emotional state they’re in in the office. Emma, what do you think the most authentic way would be to to start that process right now?

Emma Wynne:
It would be as simple as to start it, so to announce it to the whole team. So however you do that, if you’re having maybe team Zoom calls, to let everybody know. Perhaps say that as a manager you’ve been looking at different ways to stay in touch and catch up with everybody. But also to say that actually having perhaps read around the subject, it’s something that you’d like to continue even once this period of time is over. There’s so much research out there to the benefits of regular one to ones, it would be very easy for managers to say that they’ve spent some of this time looking at that their management style, what they could do differently. And this is something that they would like do going forward.

Paul Green:
Now looking at the long term care, what other kinds of things should we as owners and managers be doing? For example, with some of my clients I’ve, we recommended in the early days that they send small gifts to their team just to say thank you very much for all your hard work over the last couple of weeks. Here’s 10 bars of your favourite chocolate bar to enjoy while you’re at home. Perhaps not best for their physical health, but certainly very good for their emotional health. I mean little things like that, little gestures, can they really, do they really make such a big difference to staff?

Emma Wynne:
Yes. I think they make a huge difference. I mean, motivation, engagement, as you know Paul, is one of my favourite topics. And what I really love showing the business owners is that it doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money. Again, it comes back down to knowing your team. So for example, at Easter normally I would leave an Easter egg on everybody’s desk, but of course it might still be there in August. So I sent everybody some mini eggs and chocolate rabbits and an Easter card. And I got really lovely thank yous from everybody saying, oh that was so, it really brightened my day. We’ve seen examples of clients sending vouchers for things like just eat. I’m sure there’s others available, but that that kind of thing.

Paul Green:
Okay. Let’s look at when things start to go back to normal. And we’re not going to speculate on how that may or may not happen because it’s going to happen in different ways in different countries. Now again, for MSPs, it’s not really about the technology, I want to focus more about the people and managing the people. So what advice are you giving to the people that you’re working with about how to bring people back into the workplace when they might be a little scared of going back into an office? Because a lot of people now are starting to say, you know that they’re liking the work from home, but you might prefer to work them in the office. What kind of advice are you giving at the moment?

Emma Wynne:
Different types of advice. Some of it’s really practical. Just looking at if people are nervous about coming back, depending on kind of the size of the office and possibilities. Maybe that everybody comes back, but you really look at the desk arrangements so perhaps there’s bigger space between people. Also look at rota systems if that works. So again, perhaps if there is no scope to move desks around, if everybody’s just proved they can work from home, do you look at a rota system so you maybe only have half the people in the office?

Emma Wynne:
But also talking to people as to what are people’s thoughts going forward. So perhaps people who have, like you said, have enjoyed, for all sorts of reasons, working from home. Some of it might be that they love the fact that they don’t have a long commute, things like that. We are still an office based business, but actually you used to come in five days a week. Would you like to do three days in the office and two days from home? Again, like I said, as a manager, really thinking through what you’re happy to offer before you do that, or before you ask people what they would like to do. And there’s a lot of talk about it never being the same again, but potentially in a good way in terms of people working differently.

Paul Green:
Yeah, I mean personally I’ve enjoyed working from home a great deal. As much as being trapped in the house with a child is, has its challenges and homeschooling has its challenges. But I’ve adapted my working methods, I’ve relaxed a little bit more. I am enjoying not driving around. And I can see that going back to work in an office for some people will be their idea of nightmare. So what do you do in a situation then when you as a manager absolutely want your people in the office? Because I think for some MSPs, when they’ve got a good setup and they’ve got an efficient team and they’ve got their screens up sharing their numbers, it’s more efficient to have people sat in the office.

Paul Green:
And it also does, I mean we’re coming back to that subject of trust again, sometimes we really don’t trust our staff as much as perhaps we should. And I’ve certainly been guilty of that in the past. And certainly many people listening to this will have had similar kinds of thoughts. So what do you do in that situation where your staff do want to carry on working from home in some way, but you don’t want them to?

Emma Wynne:
I would say there’s two bits there. It’s really thinking through as a manager why is that? Where do those trust issues come from? If you’ve managed very well during this long term period is it time for you as a manager to maybe change a little bit? You can always do a kind of a trial period. So you could, again, negotiate with people to say, well definitely not complete working from home but perhaps we could try some element of flexible working. But I’d like to do it for a six month trial before it becomes a permanent.

Emma Wynne:
But also the other way around, obviously talking to the employee, what was it about working from home that you preferred? Because you don’t want that to be an issue with perhaps somebody really doesn’t like some of their coworkers. Perhaps, maybe even, hopefully not, to the extent of maybe they were being harassed or bullied. And the reason they don’t want to come back is because they’ve enjoyed being away from that person. So it’s finding out what’s causing the anxiety.

Emma Wynne:
The other aspect also is whether work returns at the same time as school. Because if not, we’ve got that issue as well. If you’ve got younger children, you can’t just abandon them at home. So again, looking at flexibility, what’s possible, and again, working as a team to work around that.

Paul Green:
But surely you can’t abandon them at home if you lock them in a cupboard?

Emma Wynne:
As long as it’s soundproof, that’s actually fine, especially if you’ve got detached rather than terraced.

Paul Green:
Okay. I’ll take that as legally valid advice then. Final six questions Emma, and these are about losing people. You and I made some people redundant together in my business. I forget when it was now, but it was a horrendous January. It was after the worst Christmas I ever had because of cashflow. I couldn’t meet my payroll, I had to put money in. And the quickest solution I could see out of it was to make people redundant. And I remember you warning me at the time that when you do this Paul, it will solve your cash flow problems quickly, but it will create a whole new set of issues with your staff that you never knew you had.

Paul Green:
And you, of course, you were absolutely right. You’re always right, which is kind of frustrating. And we lost some deadwood, and the people I really wanted to stay became the most scared about their jobs. And I seem to spend an enormous amount of my time and my effort making my best people realise that I didn’t want them to go.

Paul Green:
I couldn’t out and out tell them I’ve just got rid of the deadwood, of course, because that wouldn’t have been legal. And obviously that wasn’t the only reason we did it. We did it for, to make sure the business didn’t fall over. This huge amount of my time was absolutely chewed up with the fluffiest elements of that. And reassuring everyone that the business wasn’t going to fall over, that we’d been proactive, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Paul Green:
Now I know that some MSPs, when we do go back to this, some of them will use this as an opportunity to get rid of deadwood, which is fine from my point of view. But others will be forced to let some of their people go. Because obviously as their clients have reduced user numbers and their monthly recurring revenue has gone down it may be that actually post-furloughing when you have to cover your payroll again, that some MSPs simply cannot afford to pay all of their staff in the way that they could before this lockdown happened. So what are the best ways to manage losing staff? Even in an extreme circumstance like this, where everyone can see why it’s happening, what are the best ways to manage those staff and manage the people who stay afterwards so that it doesn’t have such a massive impact on the business?

Emma Wynne:
So redundancy is quite a legal process, so I won’t go into that now. But just be careful that you’re following that in terms of consultation. But also being really careful in terms of how you select. It’s about roles, not people. So which roles are at risk of redundancies? Where you’ve maybe got support teams, are they at risk and how many? Is it all of the people in that role? In terms of process, it makes it simpler because you’re not having to select. And fair is the right word. Then if you’re challenged at any point by somebody saying, you selected me for redundancy because of … Is that because I’m a woman, is that because I’m white, is that because of my age? You get the idea.

Emma Wynne:
So it’s making sure that you’ve got a very clear selection process. One of which can be around performance, but it would need to be documented. So if one of the people who’s at risk and actually got written warnings on that in their file, documented maybe one to ones where you’ve talked about their performance, that can be part of the selection process. But if it’s just that actually you’re really fed up with them but you never told them, you’d be in a little bit of a sticky wicket relying on that.

Emma Wynne:
So you’ve got the process side, which is really, really important to get right in terms of timing. And with furloughing in the UK to get that timing right in terms of when you start having to pay people again. The other side, which is what you were talking about with the example back in that January, is about the people who are staying. Again, having that open and honest conversation. You can’t promise, as you never can, that somebody’s job is safe, but reassuring them that you’ve done all your due diligence in the background. You’ve really looked at cash flow forecasting. And as far as you can tell, based on what you’ve got now, their roles are safe. And they’re very much a part of the business going forward.

Emma Wynne:
And it is that continual kind of building their confidence, manage, sharing wins as well. So once you’ve gone through that process, any new clients that you bring on board, if there’s changes in the industry that show it’s getting better, making sure you share it with those team members. So they can see, okay, yeah, I can start to feel a little bit more confident. I think most people are going to be nervous for quite some time. But as a manager it’s reassuring them that you’re doing everything that you can, and that you’re being honest.

Paul Green:
It’s fair to say that you need to reassure people 10 times more than you think you do, don’t you?

Emma Wynne:
Yes.

Paul Green:
Because this was the thing that I found. In my head it was very clear you’re staying, you’re staying, you’re safe. I’ve done the right thing to protect the business, now let’s get on with this. But from their point of view they didn’t have the benefit of being in our heads and knowing what it is that we’re thinking.

Emma Wynne:
Yeah. And that’s why it’s important to share. Share what you can share in terms of actual numbers. Probably not necessarily financial numbers, but maybe looking at number of clients. And if clients are tied into contracts to say, well, as far as you can tell, this money’s guaranteed. Because the last thing you want, which can happen, is you lose people that perhaps you really want to keep because they’re so worried about the security of their roles.

Paul Green:
Okay, Emma, that’s really good advice, thank you. And, of course, the caveat with this is always seek a professional’s advice. Well I think every penny I ever spent on your business was worth it, Emma,` because you kept me legal, you kept me out of trouble. And yet we did the things that we wanted to do with the business and with the people there as well. And we treated those people fairly. So thank you for that.

Paul Green:
And that obviously leads onto a big plug for you to say thank you for joining us for this special podcast. So tell us a little bit about Gateway HR, what you do, how you can help people, and how we can get in touch with you?

Emma Wynne:
Well actually we are an outsourced HR functions. So basically that means that if you’re, when I say small business, mostly up to probably 150 employees. So you need HR, you need help with managing people. Because you, the people listening to this started a business. They didn’t start a HR business. So having access to experts in their field without paying for employing somebody full time.

Emma Wynne:
We do it in lots of different ways. Also at the moment, which is we’re getting loads of lovely emails from people which is nice, thanking us. We’re sending out guidance, sometimes at the moment, once a day based on a lot of things that we’ve been talking about today. And that’s something that’s open to everybody. You don’t need to be a client. For example, yesterday we sent guidance around making redundancies while people are furloughed. But also, on a more positive, at the end of the week we’ve got scheduled how do you still recruit and end up to people during this crisis, so lots of information.

Emma Wynne:
Most popular service by far, which is actually something that Paul gave me the idea for, so a thank you back in your direction, is our peace of mind service. So clients get unlimited access to our help line. Because we’re also conscious that as small businesses you’re always thinking, oh where to spend the money? And solicitors do a great job, but if you’re worried that if you pick up the phone it’s cost you 300 pounds, our peace of mind service we say that people can ring us as often as they need to and they will still only pay their normal monthly amount.

Emma Wynne:
So if you’ve got, at the moment we’ve got lots of clients who are ringing us literally three or four times a day asking for advice. What can we do, what can’t we do? And they didn’t get any additional bill. This is what businesses need all the time, isn’t it, security around payment? But certainly at the moment.

Paul Green:
And seeing as I gave you that idea, I think it’s only fair you send me a commission for half of the last eight years. Which we’ll have that conversation after the recording. What’s your website address, Emma?

Emma Wynne:
It’s www.gatewayhr.com.

Voiceover:
Coming up next week.

Paul Green:
Coming up in next week’s show we’re going to look at why most technicians are so bad at upselling, and how to motivate them to tell you when your clients really should be buying extra services from you. We’re also going to look at how much you charge contract clients per hour for ad hoc work. And it’s probably not enough you know, you can put your prices up. We’re also going to address the issue of how do you differentiate yourself from all the other MSPs out there. See you in next week’s show.

Voiceover:
Made in the UK for MSPs around the world, Paul Green’s MSP Marketing Podcast.

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