Coronavirus: the people management implications

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The Covid-19 outbreak is having a significant impact on organisations throughout the world. But beyond following the essential steps to reduce the spread of the virus, what can leaders do to manage the impact on business performance?

Leading a remote workforce 

The Governments latest guidelines to increase the levels of social distancing and avoid the office is seeing an unprecedented number of people working from home, a trend which can disrupt team dynamics, methods of communication, and normal work patterns. Considering this, managing a remote workforce and keeping them engaged will require a different, virtual leadership approach [5].

In our article here we provided tips for reviewing the performance of remote workers. These messages will be relevant over the coming weeks and months as people are asked to perform in more challenging times, away from their day-to-day work environment. 

In terms of leading a dispersed team in the current climate, consider: 

  • What are your team used to in their current day-to-day environment, and how can you maintain this consistency in a remote working context? For example, if you are used to having lots of face-to-face meetings and collaborating closely, think about using real-time software that can facilitate a similar work environment, such as video calling and team chat apps so that people can stay in touch throughout the day without adding to an already busy inbox.
  • How do you keep your business values front and centre so that people remain engaged and aligned to your business purpose? If you regularly recognise people in an open office forum, share successes and recognise your people via email or on your virtual platform to maintain levels of engagement, motivation and connection to the business. 
  • Additionally, reiterating expectations will allow employees to focus on delivering key priorities in these challenging times. This will ultimately help them to remain engaged, committed, and aligned to the business needs [2, 3, 4]. 
  • Make sure clear communication is maintained whilst people are working remotely [5]. Regular, clear, and sensitive communication will help to reduce concern and maintain trust - as employees’ will know that the business is prioritising their best interests and wellbeing. If you have difficult messages to share, share these via a call rather than email so that you can make sure people have understood and messages aren’t misinterpreted. 

Building individual and organisational resilience

Research suggests that resilient organisations, which can succeed through ambiguous and turbulent times, and more likely to foster future success [6]. Clearly, the current outbreak is having an impact on organisations in various ways, some of which are still unfolding. Given the potential for further disruption, and the value of being more prepared and resilient for future crises, it’s important that responses and impacts are documented and that leaders reflect on and extract lessons learned thus far, continuing to do so after the time comes to return to ‘business as usual’. 

In the current context, this may involve leaders taking the time to consider: 

  • Which decisions or approaches have been effective thus far, and which have not?  
  • How is the team’s current level of engagement, and what is their feedback on how you are handling the situation? 
  • What should you do differently in hindsight? 

Individuals within your organisation will have mixed levels of resilience; some may thrive in the face of uncertainty where others may struggle [1]. As a leader, recognise your own levels of resilience, and use emotional intelligence to consider how your approach might impact your team. If the current circumstances are leaving you (or others around you) anxious and at risk of exhibiting derailing behaviours, what steps can you take to mitigate this risk and ensure you are still communicating and performing at your best? On the contrary, if you think that the reaction to the outbreak is extreme, be aware to not come across as dismissive of others who are more concerned. 

Communicating clearly, regularly, and sensitively

Generally speaking, the human brain seeks certainty – as a survival mechanism we’re constantly (but largely unconsciously) scanning the environment for information that will help us predict what will happen next.  Not knowing what will happen next can be profoundly debilitating [7].  The problem with crises like this one is that often there are many unknowns.
As a leader, you should: 

As a leader, you should: 

  • Communicate regularly, using multiple communication channels to ensure the key messages are received by everyone.  Upping your personal, two-way communications may be necessary to check that messages are understood. Ask if people need additional support and communication about what business decisions mean for them.  
  • Communicate what you know early – both quality and quantity of communication enhances employee trust [8] - but if you don’t know, say so.  Be certain about the unknowns but if possible, give an indication of when you hope to provide further information.
  • Whilst ensuring that staff understand the severity of the outbreak, remind people of the bigger picture and business objectives beyond the immediate crisis to provide reassurance. 

These are uncertain times, with more change and further disruption likely to be on the horizon as the outbreak continues to pick up pace. Organisations have a duty of care and legal obligations to follow in addition to ensuring your workforce adhere to the essential steps for reducing the spread of the virus, the way in which your leaders respond and control the controllable, will have a significant impact on business performance.

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[1] Rees, C. S., Breen, L. J., Cusack, L., & Hegney, D. (2015). Understanding individual resilience in the workplace: the international collaboration of workforce resilience model. Frontiers in psychology, 6(73). Accessed:

[2] Chughtai, A. A., & Buckley, F. (2008). Work engagement and its relationship with state and trait trust: A conceptual analysis. Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management, 10(1), 47.

[3] Zak, P. J. (2017). The Neuroscience of Trust. Harvard Business Review, January-February 2017 Issue. Accessed:

[4] Kulow, A. (2012). Qualitative study of the relationship between the employee engagement of certain employees and the emotional intelligence of their respective leaders. Accessed:

[5] Johnson, K. (2010). Virtual leadership: Required competencies for effective leaders. Cornell University: Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies. 

[6] Duchek, S. (2019). Organizational resilience: a capability-based conceptualization. Business Research. Accessed:

[7] Rock, D. (2009). Managing with the brain in mind. Strategy & Business, Issue 56, Autumn 2009,

[8] Thomas, G.F., & Zolin, R., & Hartman, J. (2009). The Central Role of Communication in Developing Trust and Its Effect On Employee Involvement. Journal of Business Communication, 46, 287-310.