It’s safe to say that the current situation has presented all of us with challenges we have never before come up against. We are juggling the demands of coping with a once-familiar world of work that has been turned on its head, and also dealing with worries about our own health, and that of our family, friends and wider community.

HR teams all around the UK have been supporting their businesses in making difficult and far-reaching decisions based on constantly-changing information, and our own in-house team have been no exception.

So here’s a little glimpse into what life has been like for our HR team in recent weeks. It’s a profession that is often seen as the bearer of bad news.

But working in the people profession is so much more than that, they are often the unsung heroes of a business and we think it’s time to redress the balance and celebrate the achievements of our hard working HR colleagues.

Let’s start by taking you back to a few months ago, as the crisis unfolded and it was clear we were moving towards lockdown, our Leadership Team – made up of directors and Heads of Department – took the decision to invoke our regularly tested business continuity plan and drive our response to the pandemic.

Our dedicated HR team were quick off the mark. The focus was on the virus, and how to prevent it affecting our ability to deliver essential client projects support services. Plans were drawn up to cope with worst case scenarios such as a large number of our employees becoming ill. Thankfully, this didn’t turn out to be the case and all our employees stayed safe and well. However our focus remained on our people, and how best we could support them and the people in their households.

We had precautionary measures in place for the weeks leading up to pandemic status, such as circulating government guidance, installing sanitisers and hand washing notices around the buildings, disseminating information on good hygiene practices, identifying any staff who might be at risk by being on holiday or who had just returned from abroad, and restricting visitors to our sites as well as prioritising client site visits.

The HR team also already had a handle on which staff could work from home, and we started to implement a gradual switch to home working several weeks before it became government advice.

As the leading North East experts in managed IT solutions and services, setting up remote working for our own business was quick and easy. Early in the crisis we were identified as a key business supporting critical national infrastructure. By the time customers were asking for help implementing short notice remote working solutions and helping staff new to home working, our own ‘business as usual’ platform was fully implemented and working smoothly.

As well as managing essential day to day HR functions, the key priority for the HR team continued to be about maintaining services to customers safely, and without putting our employees at risk.

HR and the internal comms team held daily briefings, and measures were implemented across the business to support and inform our people. Our main communications tool (alongside the invaluable Microsoft Teams) was SoundByte, a newly created in-house bulletin on COVID-19-related work and employment matters. In the first few weeks SoundBytewas issued daily, tracking and delivering news and up to date guidance as it happened.

Our HR team, heads of department and team leaders made regular welfare phone calls to staff to check in with them, have a chat about how they were coping and remind everyone that we have two qualified mental health first aiders within the team. For those struggling to manage home schooling as well as working, we were able to give extra support.

We did some fun things too, holding weekly video quizzes hosted by members of staff, which kept spirits high. Who knew we were such a competitive bunch! And the care packages of wine, chocolate and other goodies that were delivered to each staff member’s home were declared a real hit.

We also set some fun, mini-challenges every week and issued regular tip sheets on how to manage mental health, with the help of our partners Mental Health Matters and the North East Counselling Service, as we all adapted to a new way of working.

We’re always on the lookout for talented people looking for jobs in IT, particularly in technical roles such as IT consultants, data centre engineers, and managed service engineers, so even with all the extra workload, day to day recruitment wasn’t neglected. Video interviewing became the norm, which worked well for everyone, and we ‘met’ some promising candidates.

As we moved further into lockdown, we asked staff to give us their feedback on how we had handled the crisis, and what more we could do to help them feel safe and secure.

Typical comments were:

‘I think ITPS are doing really well and have shown their best side during this ongoing situation – the challenge is to maintain it and not let it slide. We’re doing great, keep going!’

‘I personally appreciate all the efforts ITPS has made to ensure we’re able to support customers but stay safe at the same time whilst keeping us updated in this difficult time.’

We got an excellent response with the majority of feedback being positive, plus some staff suggestions that will help us plan the next steps.

The future

Looking to the coming weeks and months, as restrictions are gradually lifted we are working to make sure we have safely prepared for the transition back to office life, and creating a phased return plan centred around flexible resourcing so we can continue to support our clients and our people.

We’re currently doing a risk assessment of our working environments, with a new task group looking at measures such as PPE for relevant staff, an increase in the deep cleaning schedule, desk screens and hand sanitising stations, re-organising offices into more spacious layouts, and creating a one-way system around the buildings to help with social distancing, and refresher health and safety training.

Like many others, our business has had to rapidly adapt to the changes that were forced upon us. It’s been a tough time for so many people, particularly those who have lost loved ones, but as we’ve found out, together – even though we have been physically apart – we really are stronger. ITPS has always been about the people and HR is at the forefront of looking after our people. So it’s a big thank you to #TeamITPS and in particular our brilliant HR team, as we look to the future, and to seeing our colleagues again.

Here’s to the new normal, and working together to realise our vision for the future.