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Six key initiatives for managing your workforce in COVID phase II


As the pandemic continues to evolve, anticipating the impact remains a priority for business leaders. Our clients and market surveys indicate that workforce impact is consistently ranked as a top concern. While the outcome of COVID-19 remains uncertain, some risks are likely:

  1. Continued restrictions on in-person interactions, including commercial transactions, until a critical mass of community immunity against COVID-19 can be attained
  2. Periodic spikes in infection as restrictions are relaxed, leading to the reintroduction of localized lock-downs
  3. Disruption, perhaps significant, in supply chains and distribution channels as buying habits change or as markets encounter recurring stop and start cycles

Organizations will need to respond effectively as the landscape changes. New demand patterns and supply constraints will require innovative, yet practical, measures in order to remain viable. Identifying and reacting to change quickly will be critical, including the ability to manage the workforce in a flexible and effective manner. What key workforce initiatives should you consider?

Current state picture – A comprehensive understanding of the current state of business, resources, and capacity is critical to determining next steps. Identifying obligations and options for existing employment and labour contracts will establish the current direction. It is essential to mitigate potential legal risks if there is a reduction in workforce. As a general rule, determining who is affected, how, and when to make changes must be supported by genuine business requirements.


Immediate steps may be needed to manage sudden shifts in supply or demand. Consider the following three initiatives to minimize adverse impacts to your workforce:

  1. Enablement – Ensure that your workforce has the necessary equipment and skills to continue performing their roles. This includes supplying enough PPE, while equipping employees to transition quickly to operating remotely from time to time (or an extended period). Psychological stress and technology or privacy challenges should also be regularly addressed. An effective engagement or communication plan is an essential component of enablement. Keeping your team informed of strategy, direction, and important organizational developments with timely and regular updates will provide assurance and reduce anxiety.
  2. Capacity– For some organizations, this pandemic has created opportunities, but for many it has decreased operational demands. If your business has increased and additional resources are needed, it is important to determine how to create flexibility in employment contracts, scheduling, and even permanent staffing opportunities. Conventional recruiting tactics and employment arrangements may not provide the desired operational agility. Securing qualified staff quickly while managing long-term risks or obligations will be a delicate balance.

    If the operational demands have decreased, but you are still able to operate in some capacity with the current skillsets and number of staff, a reduction in hours or a Work-Sharing program can help retain employees while meeting the new business demands. A Work-Sharing program enables the organization to employ staff at a reduced capacity while allowing them to receive financial support from the government for the resultant pay gap. With available support to staff, the reduction in hours can present a mutually satisfactory solution for both staff and the company.

    Deciding to reduce the number of employees for a temporary period may be necessary for the business to remain viable. However, this comes with certain risks, including employment standards and human rights considerations. Consider both the interests of the employees and organization when deciding who will be affected, layoff timeframe, and how it will be communicated and tracked. The new Infectious Disease provisions in the Employment Standards Act provides employers with new tools in managing temporary staff reduction due to COVID or other illness.

    BDO assists clients with workforce capacity analysis and forecasts, options modelling and impact analysis, and program and development. These measures can help manage short-term labour changes as the pandemic continues to impact business.

  3. Coordination – Planning and processing information should be centralized so corporate talent needs and strategy can be determined holistically. It is also important to ensure consistent and timely messaging to staff. Identifying critical roles and developing a business continuity plan to review existing and potential capacity will assist in the redeployment of resources.


It may become apparent that “business as usual” is different than it used to be, resulting in the need for more permanent adjustments. Workforce reorganizations and adjustments may be required due to new efficiencies or altered operations.

  1. Redesign – Organizations should analyze people needs in relation to new business goals or requirements. Examples may include a shift to online commerce or vertically integrating key components of the supply chain. This analysis should include an examination of roles, responsibilities, organizational structure, the related skillsets, behaviours, and the types of leaders that are required.
  2. Terminations – There may be a permanent staff reduction due to the elimination or repurposing of roles. Following all legislated requirements and understanding additional considerations above the minimum standards is critical to reducing liability. Being mindful of how this affects both existing and remaining staff involves a thorough plan including proper communication, logistics, and post-termination considerations.
  3. Flexible Work Arrangements – While working remotely may be the “new normal” for some organizations, it is not possible for all workplaces. Flexible work also includes a variety of shift arrangements, autonomy to leave work in small increments when needed, part-time work and job sharing, and other arrangements that meet both personal and operational demands.

BDO can help

Our People Advisory team provides trusted HR advice and guidance to organizations as they manage operational and strategic workforce demands.

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