How are HR consultants faring in the face of coronavirus?

19 Mar 2020 By Jenny Roper

Freelance people professionals are likely to see less demand as firms reduce their operations, but there's an opportunity to model flexible working and alternate delivery methods for meetings and training

As well as presenting huge challenges for in-house HR professionals, the spread of Covid-19 is also seriously hampering the work HR consultants and interim professionals do. We asked three what the impact is likely to be for them:

Neville Pritchard, founder of People in Flow 

“Any HR, L&D or organisational health consulting firm or individual consultant will be affected by the ways in which governments, clients and individuals respond to the current pandemic. We are not alone. Scandinavian Airlines is taking 90 per cent of staff off work; pubs, restaurants and retail outlets are all in lockdown. 

In HR consultants’ cases, all three dimensions of our businesses have already been impacted far more than by the uncertainty Brexit caused. A breadth of clients geographically can be helpful, but in this case there is nowhere to hide. Consultants will be hit because they can't go into organisations and see, hear and feel reality. And given the nature of our trade, the immediate impacts may have greater long-term consequences. 

These impacts include less business through potentially having to self-isolate themselves; open workshops being cancelled; paid speaking engagements cancelled; and challenges for organisations will drive funding issues across industries.

The obvious steps are to replace face-to-face time with digital, virtual and technology-based meetings, training programmes and workshops. It’s doubtful the government will offer any form of compensation HR consultants would be eligible for. There are many businesses, well beyond HR consulting, all being impacted. The processes for any support such as immediate sick leave need to be thoroughly consequence-tested. Small and medium-sized businesses simply do not have the resources to take the hit on behalf of political intent.” 

Melanie Steel, owner of People Change Expertise

“For those interims who aren’t in contract or are unfortunately being subject to last-minute delivery cancellations, this is a difficult time against what was already a challenging economic backdrop. It is likely to lead to a pause on demand at least in the short term. This we know is one of the disadvantages of running your own business and again it’s a time to get inventive – I have already seen from social media that the best consultants are looking at services they can provide and keeping close to their network. 

For those interims and consultants well and not self-isolating, we need to demonstrate it’s business as usual. Firstly, we are personally used to working flexibly and we can help support others who may not be as familiar or confident using this technology. We should also try to positively influence businesses not to cancel meetings and training events but instead help them see there are alternative delivery methods. We are all familiar with watching TV, streaming services and listening to podcasts – so why can’t we do that in the workplace? 

Lastly, I think governments need to do more than offer statutory sick pay – which many people couldn’t afford to live off for any length of time. There have been discussions about introducing a mitigation fund to help freelancers. They could ensure all banks and utilities companies follow the lead of those that have announced ‘payment holidays’ of up to three months for those affected by coronavirus. This could help the self-employed who have big financial commitments.” 

Kelly Swingler, founder of The Chrysalis Crew

“As news and updates continue, the need for HR to help make things happen is greater than ever. But there is uncertainty about the future. If organisations do close and you’re self-employed, the likelihood is you could find yourself with little or no income, especially if you are providing face-to-face support. If you’re an interim HR consultant, the likelihood is you will continue to be paid as normal. 

Now is the time to be having the conversation and demonstrating you can work virtually, perhaps helping your clients implement greater flexible working – for their benefit and yours. Other than a couple of workshops being rearranged for later in the year, my world is so far business as usual. We’ve always worked with clients virtually – including coaching – due to the global spread of our clients. 

This is an opportunity to change the world of work. Focus on outcomes not hours worked and, if you can, stop selling time for money and instead sell outcomes and deliverables. HR consultants can minimise their own uncertainty and continue to provide a great service to clients.”

For more news and expert advice on dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, visit People Management’s resource hub

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