Long reads

How are people teams responding to coronavirus? …Virgin Media

15 May 2020 By Maggie Baska

The telecoms giant has focused heavily on diversity and inclusion as well as staff wellbeing and redeploying vulnerable employees

The organisation

Virgin Media employs approximately 12,000 staff, delivering telephone, television and internet services to individuals and businesses across the UK. Its employees include engineers, office workers and call centre staff. 

Impact so far

Early on in the outbreak, the company ran a risk assessment to identify employees at high risk of becoming severely ill from catching coronavirus, producing a list of 299 people. Vic Whitehouse, inclusion lead for Virgin Media, was tasked with adapting the organisation's inclusion strategy to identify and support these most vulnerable workers.

Once these members of staff were identified, the priority was to safeguard them by enabling them to work from home. “As part of that, we knew we had to adapt how we deliver training to those individuals through the massive [inclusion] programme that had already been developed,” Whitehouse says.

This all happened within a few weeks of the government’s announcement that businesses would have to close offices because of the pandemic. 

Retraining and redeploying

With the focus on ensuring staff were able to work from home, Virgin Media used engineers to courier essential IT equipment, including 2,000 laptops, and equipment to support workplace adjustments, such as chairs, to colleagues working remotely. Whitehouse says Virgin Media also retrained and redeployed colleagues into other roles to allow them to work from home.

“We have people who are ordinarily engineers now working in customer-service based roles,” Whitehouse explains. “They are being trained to take questions from customers coming through to us who might be experiencing technical difficulties.”

She explains that Virgin Media has changed the way it has been able to utilise people in response to the crisis by redeploying staff to areas where they would not have needed the resource previously. This move has also allowed staff to upskill, “which could open up opportunities for them later,” she says.

Recruitment

At a time when many businesses have had to furlough workers and freeze hiring, Virgin Media has been actively recruiting more staff on temporary contracts to support customers during the crisis. This includes an influx of staff into working from home customer service roles. 

“We were getting people coming in, and their first day starting was when we were in the lockdown situation,” Whitehouse says. “So we very quickly had to adapt how we delivered those training courses, and the L&D team has done an amazing job.” She adds that the L&D team has adapted its onboarding training for new staff so this can be delivered completely online.

Wellbeing

Whitehouse says Virgin Media has worked to adapt its people strategy to keep employees engaged, motivated and feeling part of a team during lockdown. This includes by offering advice through regular video conferencing sessions on how to manage mental health and anxiety, financial stability, and faith and religion. 

“Our leaders and people managers have been phenomenal throughout this whole process,” Whitehouse says. “They’ve been checking in with their people and making sure they have all they need to feel they have the support they need.”

Managers have also worked to support staff with other adjustments – for example those with caring responsibilities or needing additional support because the lockdown left them isolated or vulnerable. Whitehouse explains the organisation has focused on how to improve employees’ mental health by creating a physically and mentally safe environment while working remotely, and this helped staff retain “a strong sense of belonging”.

“We’re looking to get the message across for people to be taking psychological safety and people’s ability to feel like they belong as seriously as they do messages around health and safety,” Whitehouse says. 


Has your people team gone above and beyond to look after your workforce in these testing times? We want to know! Share your story on social media using #HRtogether or email pmeditorial@haymarket.com 

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