Staff absences can cost businesses lots of money. Whether it’s due to sickness, disciplinary issues or some other mitigating circumstance, not having staff sitting at their desks being productive can really impact your company’s bottom line.

Absences can be a real headache for HR teams too. They might need to organise cover, request staff members on holiday come in to help or search for a freelancer to temporarily plug the personnel gaps in the company.

As annoying as staff absences can be, they are a normal part of running a business. Sometimes people are sick or need to take a period of leave quickly for personal reasons and that’s absolutely fine. A sharp HR team should have processes in place that will help minimise the disruption when this happens. 

Two or three absences at any one time should be fine for a company to deal with. But as the UK lifts lockdown restrictions, businesses are finding that lots of staff are being told to self-isolate by the ‘Pingdemic’. This is forcing workers to stay at home, if they’ve come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus and is creating disruption for companies up and down the country.

In this article we’ll discuss what the Pingdemic is, how it’s negatively affecting businesses and what your company can do to avoid it.  

What is the Pingdemic?

To control the spread of the virus, the UK government released an NHS backed test and trace app, otherwise known as the NHS COVID-19 app. The app, which lives on your mobile phone, uses bluetooth to connect with other phones around it in social situations and keeps a record of everyone you’ve been in contact with. 

When someone you’ve recently seen tells the app they have Covid you’ll be ‘pinged’ by it and asked to isolate for 10 days. The goal of this isolation is to break the chain of transmission in society and bring the pandemic to a quicker conclusion.  

While this approach sounds easy enough on paper, with all the UK’s restrictions on social distancing relaxed this has led to a huge number of people being pinged and told to isolate. This Pingdemic (a play on words that combines ‘pandemic’ and ‘ping’) could see as many as 4.5 million people forced to isolate by the end of August 2021. This is a clear indication that Covid will be affecting our lives long after all social distancing measures have disappeared.

How is the Pingdemic affecting businesses?

Recent research from the CIPD has uncovered that almost six in ten (57%) HR professionals have had to deal with staff shortages since July the 19th. 

Combine this with reports from several industry bodies (healthcare, transport, retail and manufacturing) that between 5% and 10% of their workforce are isolating and a clear picture of widespread business disruption is emerging. These shortages are a direct result of the NHS Test and Trace app and the Pingdemic.

All this disruption equates to a loss of productivity for businesses, increased stress and worry from staff; and HR departments, once again fighting fires because of the pandemic.

Many businesses could struggle to operate effectively if 10% of their staff had to isolate and couldn’t work. This means managing the Pingdemic should be a top priority for business leaders and their HR team, who will likely deal with the bulk of the disruption caused by staff isolating. 

How can your business become resilient to the Pingdemic?

If an employee is pinged whilst at work they must leave immediately. It’s the job of the HR team to enforce this rule and businesses found employing people who should be isolating could face government fines. An employee who has been pinged cannot return to work until their isolation period is over. 

With rules this strict around isolation, it’s vital that companies and HR leaders have safeguards and processes in place to reduce disruption when staff are isolating. Thankfully, there are now multiple ways you can make your business Pingdemic resistant. Some of these methods were developed during lockdown and you’re probably already leveraging a few to keep your workforce safe and productive. Below we’ve listed 5 things employers can do to weather the Pingdemic storm.  

Stagger times in the office

The traditional “9 to 5” was disappearing long before the pandemic forced us all to work from home. The 2010s saw a shift towards flexitime as employees demanded more flexibility in their lives to care for children or pursue passion projects. 

This has made many companies open to the idea of flexible start and end times to an employee’s day. For managing the Pingdemic this is an effective strategy for letting all your staff members work from the office but spreads them out over a longer day so there’s less contact between them.  

By stretching your working day from 8am to 8pm and having staff starting and finishing at different times within that 12 hour window you can guarantee they get a full day in the office whilst reducing contact with other members of staff. 

This will require employee agreement, so make sure your staff are happy with some stranger working hours before implementing this change. You’ll probably find some team members are excited to work 12pm to 8pm so float the plan to your team first and work your rota around their needs.  

Keep remote working

If you or your staff still feel it’s unsafe to return to work you can always continue remote working if it’s possible. This greatly reduces the risk of staff isolating as, in essence, they already are. Also if your employees have remote working stations already set up in their homes there should be no disruption to your business if they’re asked to isolate. 

You could also take a blended approach to returning to the office and, much like the point above, have staff return to the office part time, on certain days to avoid too much contact with each other.  

This could see staff in the office for two days a week and working from home the other three. Doing this gives your employee a (much welcomed) change of scenery and allows them meet up with colleagues to discuss projects and socialise. 

By staying fully or partially remote you’re reducing the chance of team members getting pinged from within your organisation. This strategy doesn’t safeguard you from staff getting pinged whilst out and about. If that happens you’ll need to make sure they have access to a remote working station from home so they can stay productive while isolating. 

Many companies are set to adopt this blended approach to working post pandemic too. So, if this is a business-as-usual way of operating for your business all you need to do is keep on doing it. 

Use absence management software 

There’s no shortage of HR management software on the market. There’s a platform for every HR team and they can do a whole host of things. Absence management is just one of those things but in the case of the Pingdemic it can be vital for keeping your business up and running, especially if you don’t have the capacity to support remote working. 

Absence management software allows you to manage sickness, holidays and gives you a deeper understanding of the trends in your company regarding leave and sickness. It can also show you available team member’s that are able to cover staff isolating. It gives you a clear view of all the people assets in your business so you can best deploy them to minimise disruption.  

Phase 3 is an independent HR consultancy that helps businesses select the right HR software for them. If you’re interested in a new piece of HR software but are unsure where to begin looking for one you can contact us and ask about our consultancy services.

By having a greater understanding of the distribution and skills of your employees you can move staff members to departments where they’re needed most. Absence management software can help you take a data-driven approach to managing the Pingdemic by giving you greater control and understanding over your businesses most valuable resource, your staff. 

Pull in staff from other locations

If your business is large enough to have multiple offices you can always temporarily re-distribute employees to make sure vital business functions are being completed. For example, if you have two sales offices at opposite ends of a city you could move some salespeople from one to the other if several members of staff have to isolate. 

This will likely mean neither office is operating at 100% efficiency but it will stop you closing one temporarily and, overall, this will be more beneficial to your business. Absence management software can show you these kinds of insights and by taking a proactive and flexible approach to where staff are working you can make sure all your business functions are running. 

Doing this in combination with a remote working strategy should mean your business loses very little in terms of productivity. All your sites can be manned in case the phone rings and your isolated team members can complete their work from the comfort of their own homes.    

Use an agency

Sometimes it might not be possible to shift staff around or have them work from home. If a team member is ill and nobody else in the business has the skills to cover their role then working with an agency may be the best way to solve that problem. 

This could happen in a small company when their sole payroll expert has to isolate or is ill, for example. Agencies are available for exactly this purpose. There may be times when the Pingdemic gets so severe that outsourcing some work temporarily is the most cost effective and least stressful way to keep your business ticking over. 

If you’ve never used an agency before, the notion of outsourcing some of your work can be quite scary. Especially when the Pingdemic is already causing havoc in your business. But agencies are there to help and can take on as little or as much work as you need. 

If you’re running a small business having an external agency on hand to help is usually the quickest way to get back up to full strength when someone has to isolate.    

Phase 3 helps businesses run their payroll when things like the Pingdemic make life difficult. We offer partially and fully outsourced payroll solutions to your team and our consultancy service can provide you with actionable advice and guidance on how best to overcome the Pingdemic.  

Is the Pingdemic causing you issues? 

If you’re struggling with the Pingdemic and it’s forcing lots of your staff to self isolate, maybe Phase 3 could help you. As a HR consultancy we can enter your business, review your processes and suggest improvements that’ll reduce the stress of the Pingdemic and increase productivity during this time. If you’d like to discuss partnering with us you can contact us here.