The impact of Covid-19 pandemic on health, economies and markets is an unfolding story that is unprecedented, complex and fluid in its ever-changing dimensions. One of the biggest visible impacts of the virus has been on the organizations, people and the nature of workplaces. As the coronavirus spread invisibly across the globe, nation after nation declared lockdowns and organizations scrambled to comply with lockdown restrictions while striving to keep the operations going. The current humanitarian and economic crisis forced people and corporates to consciously step up and reset priorities for steering growth and stability while weathering the storm. Work-from-Home (WFH) became the immediate solution to business continuity. As the guidelines from MHA kept pouring in, the task of HR became more compelling & complex. However, post initial shock effect, gradually the HR functions stepped up to transform and re-set its priorities.
How do leaders manage radical changes by redefining guidelines pertaining to people, process, technology and governance?
The spiralling effect of lockdown forced organizations to downsize the businesses, go in for cost cutting, minimise office expenditure, enforce salary cuts, manpower pruning, search for other streams of revenue, uninterrupted employee and customer engagement etc. These measures, coupled with restrictions imposed by MHA and State Govts gave birth to numerous challenges for the HR on ground in form of agility, creativity and flexibility in functions:
- Leadership deficit: Usually communication had been led by the Top Team but need of the hour urged downstream delegation. Voice of the regional leaders across the company assumed greater importance. Few days of policy paralysis at the top exposed vulnerability and leadership deficit.
- Crisis response: Crisis response fell into three categories – Communication, Remote Working and Reporting. Communication assumed vital dimension – coordinating responses across teams, business and geographies. Transforming lateral functioning into cross functioning between managers and teams became top priority. Command and control business continuity model needed to be aligned and to be in sync with geographies.
- Response to rapidly evolving situations: Need to re-organize company goals and their alignment among executives and managers.
- Safety protocols & mental health: Despite flow of information on social media, communication on safety protocols, hygiene practices, emergency numbers, list of hospitals, guidelines for quarantining and isolating had to be disseminated through company gateways. Need for mental health, resilience, family support, and dealing with uncertainty assumed bigger dimensions.
- Agility of sales team: Sales teams are still engaged in classical way of marketing despite client being in crisis mode, not quick to understand shifting concerns of the client. It is difficult to manage the mind-set of the marketing team. Mode of thinking of sales people needed a paradigm shift since not engaged with digital projects and not digging into client’s pain points. Poor communications with clients to exploit the new pipeline opportunities was also a gross deficit.
- Human centric approach to lay-offs: There’s really no avoiding the fact that layoffs are tough, both for the individuals who suddenly find themselves without a job and the organization they leave behind. Organizations tended to experience impaired reputation, reduced longterm performance and lower employee engagement on this context. In this pandemic-induced economic crisis, organizations faced the negative consequences of layoffs as they had to make difficult decisions to preserve the overall health of their businesses.
Impact on HR practices & Re-setting the Priorities
- Work from home (WFH): Re-defining the policies to ensure that employees could work seamlessly and securely. WFH may impact decision-making structures because of the constraints of video meeting platforms. Smaller teams may be able to collaborate better and take decisions faster.
- Work places: As organizations get more comfortable with employees working remotely, the requirement for office space and fixed workstations may reduce drastically. However, policies had to be redefined for workplaces for functioning with minimal staff with required safety protocols.
- Infrastructure: Supporting the employees with infrastructure – like provisioning of laptops, data cards to ensure business continuity to facilitate WFH. The procurement of masks, hand washes, and sanitizers was critical even though supplies fell low in the market.
- Human connect: Amid a rapidly unfolding health crisis, employee safety became prime concern. Safety and social distancing compliance, and regular disinfection/ sanitization of premises have become an essential component of keeping employees safe.
- Motivation: Keeping employees engaged, motivated, safe and productive is vital to keep up the productivity graph. Motivation became a critical key responsibility areas (KRA).
- HR practices: Recruitment, on-boarding, and learning and development will remain impacted. Recruitment is likely to focus on tech-savvy talents who can perform better in a predominantly digital workplace. Processes for on-boarding new hires will have to change to become fully digital. Training and skilling will reconfigure for an online-only mode.
- Integrity and commitment: Standard attendance and leave policies will no longer work. Organizations will have to place a higher degree of trust in the integrity and commitment of employees working remotely.
- Technology adoption: Having larger remote workforces will push organizations to ramp up technology adoption and digitalization, enable dispersed operations, and collaborative functioning.
- Employees who were displaced during the crisis found that the negative impact of being retrenched touched all aspects of their health, from their physical and mental well being, to their financial and social security.
- Major concerns of employees centered about their salary, job security, health and well being.
- Leveraging cloud-based collaboration tools for audio and video conferencing – simplifying communication with internal users as well as clients without any impact on productivity.
- Develop applications in the cloud native environment for revenue generation as well as seamless continuity of business to enable the marketing and sales team.
- New-age mobility platform-based mobile app to keep a check on employees’ health and well-being along with disseminating required information for safe office resumption.
- Monitoring & tracking of data collected through the application on a daily basis by leveraging analytics for insights and decision-making.
- Implementation of Robotics Process Automation (RPA) in a number of processes that are both internal and client-facing to help eliminate the most time-consuming and tedious manual processes while saving employees’ time and efforts.
- Modernization of Data Center The Modernization of entire data center environment and moving it to a co-located hybrid cloud model is the demand of the time. This leads to moving the majority of the critical workloads and collaboration capabilities to cloud, investing in high-end security infrastructure to maintain a secured environment in the data center, implementing software-defined network in the data center and in state-of-the-art hyper-converged infrastructure for specific workloads such as VDI, analytics etc., and considering software-defined storage to continue to drive modernization.
- Initiation of the implementation of Business Continuity Plan (BCP) by ensuring availability of the critical infrastructure, network bandwidth and secure remote connections.
- Focus on business outcomes, teamwork, and collaboration. Most companies will have to adapt to ‘measuring results rather than activities.’ This is going to be a fundamental shift post-COVID-19. This will bring in a culture of transparency, with a scoreboard being available for everyone.
- From annual to weekly plans. The situation calls for organizations to refine their assessment of employees’ work and the rewards they receive, such that it is a fair and equitable reflection of their contribution to the organization. One way of doing it is – making the shift from annual plans to weekly plans.
- Upping the Security Ante. Cyber security remains a grey area & big concern that needs top space on priority list to safeguard business interests. Ignoring it is likely to cost dearly in case of cyber-attacks.
I feel, many of these changes are already afoot, and organizations have been in a constant mode of reinventing practically every process and policy. While this situation was unforeseen and unanticipated by everyone, the ones who were prepared in advance were able to transit smoothly. Amongst these, the large technology firms stood ahead of others and immediately switched to remote working for all their staff. They worked around their pre-existing infrastructure like data on the cloud, office chat groups, remote access to critical tools, enterprise CRM solutions and could easily function remotely. Imagine how easy the transition to remote working would have been if every organization was well-prepared in advance! That is the mandate and policy change challenges that we foresee for the HR leaders and the industry to ensure that their organizations are prepared for every eventuality. Big Question is – Is it time for the collaboration of humans and technology? In the current situation, companies/HR heads should use next-gen HCM (Human Capital Management) solutions to ensure such disruptors do not impact work & built in systems and strategies to ensure work productivity is not hampered while taking into account employee well-being. It is time HR understands what keeps people engaged, what drives productive workplaces, and what enables a true merging of human capability with technology.