Long reads

How are people teams responding to coronavirus? ...St Mungo’s

29 May 2020 By Eleanor Whitehouse

The charity is involved in a drive to allow rough sleepers to self-isolate in hotel rooms, which means looking after staff redeployed to work in new ways and locations 

The organisation

St Mungo’s is a homelessness charity based in London that works in the capital and across the south-east and south-west of the UK. It employs approximately 1,500 staff across its office functions, outreach teams, accommodation and care homes.

Redeployment

Along with other homelessness organisations, St Mungo’s has been part of a nation-wide drive to allow rough sleepers to self-isolate by moving thousands of people off the streets and into the country’s many currently unoccupied hotel rooms. With 86 per cent of its workforce described as “client facing”, many of St Mungo’s staff have had to adapt in their roles to work in different ways and in different environments.

“It’s been a massive operation involving a lot of staff relocating from where they were normally based, almost overnight, and going to new locations and working with different people,” says Helen Giles, executive director of people and governance at the charity. “And doing it admirably too – there’s been so much good will.”

Furlough

The charity is taking what Giles describes as a “measured” approach to its coronavirus response, only furloughing people when it becomes clear there’s no alternative and they can’t be redeployed. “We’ve tried to internally reassign people to different duties to try and minimise the need for them to be furloughed,” Giles explains. “But there is a small minority of staff who simply can’t work from home because the job doesn’t lend itself to that.”

There are also a number of staff on furlough who would be at higher risk if they contracted Covid-19. Giles predicts the charity will see around 60 staff on furlough by June, out of a workforce of 1,500. The organisation is topping up furlough pay to 100 per cent of normal salaries. 

Staff wellbeing

Ensuring employee wellbeing has been key for St Mungo’s while it works in new and unexpected ways. “We’ve got very good business continuity plans in place, so our health and wellbeing group was able to get guidance out very quickly,” says Giles.

This guidance has included advice for managers on supporting employees in a crisis situation, as well as self-help materials for staff and an online training course. “And all [rolled out] at record speed,” adds Giles. “Our approach has definitely been to put staff wellbeing at the heart of things alongside client wellbeing.”

Communication

The charity’s response to the crisis so far has been “a bit like fighting a war”, says Giles. Its executive team meets three times a week, and an operational planning group comprising people from a cross-section of departments meets daily. Subgroups then organise outputs quickly, including delivering instructions or sourcing essentials such as food or PPE.

With such a sophisticated operation in place, communication between staff groups has been imperative to make sure the logistics are working, says Giles. All managers are communicating “much more frequently than usual” with their teams, she explains. A system of cascade briefings to make sure everyone is receiving key messages has also been implemented. 

“It boils down to us being a very people-centred organisation,” says Giles. “We’re used to doing almost everything face to face, including supporting our clients, delivering training and working with each other. None of this is ideal, but we’re doing what we can.”

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