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Operational Resilience: People

In our third Post Pandemic webinar, our panel discussed the topic of people in the context of Operational Resilience (OR).

Shoosmiths’ Partner Sam Tyfield spoke to colleagues Yvonne Oakenfull (Learning & Development Manager), Kevin McCavish (Partner and Head of Shoosmiths’ London Employment team) and Karen Mortenson (Principal Associate in our London Employment team).

What does operational resilience mean when we are talking about people?

  • “Resilience is the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge or adversity” - HeartMath Institute.
  • In the context of OR, it is important people feel supported, both physically and mentally, and are connected and able to communicate confidently with others.
  • Businesses need to ensure they, and their staff, can adapt to new challenges. As part of this, firms should take steps to:
    • ensure there is sufficient capacity in the event a process goes down, or a person leaves or is unavailable.  The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that it is better to have some slack rather than being short-staffed. While this may run counter to the profit ethos of some firms, it offers additional security in the context of OR.
    • encourage diversity - a resilient workforce will benefit from different ways of thinking.
    • build strong teams - starting with effective hiring practices, right through to succession planning.

Do diversity and inclusion feed into operational resilience, and if so how?

A firm’s culture is key to its success - and diversity and inclusion are key to culture.

  • Firms should ask if their culture makes everyone feel valued. Do staff feel free to ‘speak up’?
  • An inclusive workforce will attract and retain the best talent. Diversity of thought can result in creative responses to new and unanticipated stresses on the business.
  • Remember: multiple mindsets can lead to multiple solutions.

How do we maintain strong teams, when more and more staff are working remotely?

Remote working can be positive. Employees may welcome the flexibility, and few object to the improved commute.  It can help attract a wider and more diverse workforce, including staff and candidates who may have previously felt excluded (for example, as a result of a disability or caring responsibilities – or simply because they lived too far away).

But there are pressures that flow from remote working. Maintaining effective communication is crucial. Staff need to be in regular contact with each other and with management and firms should:

  • Encourage an ‘open door’ policy and take active steps to encourage communication and provide regular feedback, both positive and negative. This could include anything from scheduled 1-2-1s, to informal ‘drop ins’, virtual coffee mornings and wine tastings.
  • Ensure staff are adequately supervised – and that employees’ training needs are not overlooked.
  • Ensure staff have the confidence to put their hand up and admit when they have done something wrong, or if they need additional support. It is much easier to address an issue early rather than waiting for it to develop.  Positive contributions to the business should also be encouraged – perhaps by way of a virtual ‘suggestions box’.
  • Remember that their duties as employers apply even where staff are working remotely - for example in respect of working time, and ensuring, as far as possible, the health, safety and welfare of their workers. Practical steps could range from encouraging regular screen breaks, providing a new keyboard or mouse, to speaking to HR if employees seem stressed or are regularly emailing late at night.
  • Consider whether they should introduce a ‘right to disconnect’. France introduced this in 2017, while the Irish Workplace Relations Commission published a Code of Practice in March 2021 on “an employee’s right to be able to disengage from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails, telephone calls or other messages, outside normal working hours”.

What about hybrid working?

Hybrid working could potentially offer the best of both worlds. But businesses must remain alert to the risk of discrimination, for example if staff working from the office (who may, for example, be younger) are favoured over their counterparts working from home.

What other steps can businesses take?

  • People are key to any business continuity plan and need to understand how it operates in practice. A practical step, which we covered in our previous webinar (available here), is for firms to map the critical parts of their business, run scenarios and stress test the outcomes. Firms can and should learn from their mistakes, whether they occur in ‘real life’ or are ‘war gamed’.
  • Firms should ensure they have plans in place for if/when key people are unavailable. This could include implementing formal handover procedures when someone leaves, appointing deputies and ensuring staff do not operate in silos, insisting to do lists are up to date and accessible, and storing emails centrally.
  • Firms should consider how best to protect their business if an employee wants to join a competitor. As part of this, we recommend businesses:
    • Conduct an audit of their employment contracts and ask whether they are fit for purpose. Consider post-termination restrictive covenants, notice periods and garden leave, protection of intellectual property rights and express confidentiality provisions.
    • ‘War-game’ the scenario where one or more employees is poached and/or seeks to take clients or colleagues with them.
    • Consider ways to encourage retention, such as deferred remuneration schemes and long-term incentive plans.
    • Review their IT security and identify any vulnerabilities (available here).


  • OR is a day-to-day issue that includes disaster-planning for an emergency. Staff-related disruptions can be difficult to predict but can cause long-lasting damage.
  • An environment where staff can communicate effectively, have the confidence to raise concerns and ideas for improvement and are well connected will provide the basis for a resilient workforce.
  • Training for staff and senior management is key, while on an individual level staff should think about their own wellbeing strategy.
  • Businesses should ‘war-game’ their operations and stress-test their processes, practices and people.

If you weren’t able to watch the webinar live, you can catch up on the recording below.


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2022.

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