An industry not traditionally geared up for flexibility is having to move quickly.
Around one in two dealership managers has been working at home since the UK Government told all car showrooms to close temporarily in the coronavirus crisis.
The new Job Retention Scheme allows dealers to ask employees who would face redundancy or being laid off without pay to agree to furlough – remaining employed on 80% of salary but being inactive for at least three weeks.
Yet an AM poll, which asked what proportion of general managers, sales managers and service managers had been placed on furlough by their employer while dealerships remain closed, found that 55% hadn’t been, and 82% of these have continued working from their home.
It’s a challenge to overcome for an industry which is full of traditional job functions not typically geared up for working remotely or flexibly.
But numerous organisations are now providing online support to all industries.
HR body the CIPD advises companies to set clear expectations of how home-workers should keep in regular contact, and senior managers must remind them how their work fits in with short-term goals – but be prepared to flex those goals to minimise stress on their direct reports.
Employers are still responsible for the health and safety of the staff sent home to work, including their mental wellbeing.
So the CIPD’s advice is to encourage staff to work in an appropriate place, take daily rest breaks and structure their day to follow their usual work practices.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) expects homeworkers to have the same kinds of security measures as they’d use in usual circumstances, to protect customers’ personal data, but said it understands that resources might be diverted away from the usual GDPR compliance or governance currently.
“We won’t penalise organisations that we know need to prioritise other areas or adapt their usual approach during this extraordinary period,” said the ICO.
It will not penalise organisations that it knows have adapted their usual approach.
Empathy and compassion will allow senior managers to connect well with other home-working employees currently, said Headspace For Work’s European general manager James McErlean.
“In the first instance it’s important to check in regularly with teams, and try to observe subtle cues that go beyond what members say.
"These can be revealed in their energy levels or tone of voice.
"There’s also an opportunity to practise mindful listening (to really listen without judgement) and allow staff to express how they feel mentally and physically.
“It’s vital to acknowledge that a wide range of emotions will be felt across the team.
"So take the time to acknowledge the diversity of experiences at play and respond to them in a skilful way, with kindness and without giving way to judgement or frustrations that cansometimes arise,” said McErlean.
Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner, said one of the top engagement drivers for employees is seeing their work contribute to company goals, so objectives and successes must be shared regularly.
And firms which have long claimed to be all about their people need to now show they live by those values.
Kropp added: “Managers need to redouble their recognition efforts, as effective recognition not only motivates the recipient but can serve as a strong signal to other employees of behaviours they should emulate.”
A new world?
One benefit of the current set of circumstances will be the proof that elements of motor retailing can adapt to different ways of working.
Carlos Ruiz, managing director of HR consultancy Portas Global, said: “When everything returns to normality let’s learn from the lessons and focus on what will make remote working a natural extension to the office environment.
“As an employer this imposed transition will be challenging but you will swim instead of sinking if you embrace the proper implementation approach of a remote workforce.”