Covid-19: How Honest Burgers is using tech to keep furloughed staff connected

When Honest Burgers decided to shut its 39 outlets ahead of the lockdown to protect employees’ health, the company communicated its plans directly to its 700-plus workforce across the country via Facebook’s Workplace. 

“When we went live, tears were streaming down the face of our head of ops,” says Chantal Wilson, head of people for Honest. The company had devised its own wage retention plans prior to the the government’s scheme. That meant employees would get half their wages regardless of whether they were working. “We felt bad we could only give them 50%,” says Wilson. 

But the feedback from staff was very encouraging, she says, with positive comments instantly appearing on the live video.

After the government announced the coronavirus job retention scheme, where it will pay up to 80% of people’s wages, Honest’s own plans were set aside. But it has continued to use technology to be open and supportive, with its founders holding daily video chats to keep staff updated throughout the crisis.

Honest partnered with Workplace a year ago, but Wilson says it is “far more than a communication platform.” One feature which has proved useful is its bot tool, which the company has synced with its own HR systems. That meant people could ask it how much they would be paid under the wage retention plans and receive a specific to their incomes. “Within two hours, everyone knew what they were going to earn during the pandemic,” she says. Manually, that process would have taken days.

Furloughed staff can also temporarily move into the care and retail sectors to carry out essential work, with the bots providing information about other job opportunities and advising on earning potential.

Staying connected

From this week, Honest is beginning to reopen some of its outlets as delivery-only. “However, we’ll still have 600 people on furlough and a big focus is how do I keep us as one business.”

Keeping up staff morale has been very important. “Being at home… we worried that our workforce, some of who are single mums, aspiring DJs and so on, would struggle so we created a Home Front programme, as a retention programme, with lots of activities on it,” she says.

“We have HIIT [high-intensity interval training] classes with our founder, Tom, where he dresses up in 80s gear. We get 200 people logging on to work out with Tom.” The sessions are also available on catch up. 

“We love community driven content, the platform is open to our people. We have a nutritionist who works in our restaurants… and teach people how to eat healthy at home.”

Workplace also incorporates the company’s learning management system. So staff can log on for work-related training as well as for personal development including sessions on finance and mental health. 

Honest began life as a unit in Brixton Village food market in 2011. But despite its growth, Wilson says maintaining a culture that values personal interaction has not changed. “This is a baseline of what you should do [for] your employees,” says Wilson. “Not speaking to your people is unacceptable."