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Establishing A New Normal - An HR Perspective

Establishing A New Normal - An HR Perspective

Posted on 24th Jul, 2020

Establishing A New Normal - An HR Perspective

As COVID-19 continues to impact nearly every nation, attention has increasingly turned to the virus' influence on daily routines, with the Covid-19 corona virus becoming a juggernaut for one of the greatest transformations of our lifetime; so much so, that how we shop, exercise, communicate, learn, and of coursework, will be changed for good!

During the toughest phase of today's pandemic, HR organizations were one of the most disrupted businesses, with stay-at-home orders forcing employees into their home offices, with liquidity deficiencies making lay-offs necessary, and with once ambitious hiring plans go through painful cuts.

Now, as countries and states commence with the lifting of restrictions and consider reopening their economies; businesses, small, medium and large, need to prepare their re-entry strategies and be agile, leaving most trades racing to set up effectual, resilient and efficient workspaces that keep the leadership and the employees in touch, and ensuring that the lines of communication open.

With the economy entering the "new normal," categorized by a suppressed economy and the ever-impending threat of lockdown measure cracking back down, many HR departments and HR professionals too, are re-appraising their agendas. With every aspect of this 'new normal' permeating into all facets of employee life cycle, HR needs to be more adaptable and flexible than ever, to effectively address the plethora of these new hurdles while simultaneously ensuring no harm to both the well being of both the organization and the employees.

With this view in mind, here's a framework for HR in dealing with this "new normal":

  • Listen
    • Unequivocally, now is the time for HR world over take the opportunity to listen to employees, and harness their ideas and enthusiasm on how to use the situation to become better. Emerging from this unprecedented situation, the best companies will be those which redouble efforts, pull their talent closer, communicate, and invest in talent for future growth.
  • Ensure Business Continuity
    • The first step in maintaining continuity of business, begins with the initial response - including endorsing health and safety measures such as social distancing protocols to control the spread of the virus, deploying work-from-home policies, and launching mass on boarding programs (especially for companies - such as home delivery companies - that need to expand services they offer seeing a greater demand due to the pandemic).
    • Recovery, features as the next big phase, and this step involves the developing of solutions to alleviate the outbreak's impact on health and well being of employees and actions taken to normalize demand and supply to allow the business to recover from the sudden changes in the conditions.
    • In this era of crisis-oriented business recovery, establishing a new normal and adjusting to circumstances as the conditions demand, forms the final step in ensuring business continuity. In this phase, too, HR plays a key role, stepping up and demonstrating their value as business partners, offering data and expertise and outlining the options business leaders need to take to manage dynamic factors requiring agile responses.
  • Focus on Worker Well-Being
    • Companies that focus on solely on the future of work are often the quickest to be consumed by the impending disruption of jobs, automation, and changing workforce demographics.
    • Today more than ever before, the future of work hinges on the future of workers' well being - with anxiety over the corona virus adding itself to an already extensive list of stressors employees face.
    • With the growth of the digital space, an 'always on' mode of working, stresses in managing work-life balance, assisting workers with their well being - even if only viewed as an investment in the company's future - has never been more important.
  • Boost Training and Investment in Remote Working
    • Globally, companies are dealing with the pandemic by mandating or encouraging employees work from home. As the virus spreads, working from home is the new normal for workers.
    • Remote Working is here to stay! With the pandemic forcing us to become comfortable with working remotely, over time it is likely for us to think twice about taking that flight to a meeting, instead preferring to connect via video-conferencing.
    • Results, HR must note, are likely to take precedence over face time, in measuring productivity!
    • One of the ways the HR in most companies is successfully paving the way for remote working, is through training - offering modules including worker training and manager training, mentoring, coaching, and even employee resource groups targeting remote workers and their families.
  • Look at the Covid-19 as an Opportunity to Redefine the Business
    • The current pandemic is fundamentally shifting how we live and do business, potentially accelerating the 4th Industrial Revolution, fuelled by "smart" technologies including AI.
    • Rethinking assumptions with regards to existing business practices, using this disruptive experience to effectively prepare for any such eventualities in the future, and cross-training employees to add new skills to their repertoire, are some ways companies and their HR departments can work at redefining their businesses.
  • Revamp Hiring
    • In creating short-term or long-term plans to manage crises, HR needs to be able to identify critical roles swiftly. Depending on the type of business these positions include jobs which drive business priorities in affected areas, jobs which are directly linked to production or service delivery, and those roles which are played by key contractors and customers.
    • To achieve operational resilience, HR teams must review these crucial functions to determine if their organization can manage surges in activity, and identify additional staff to serve as a backup.
    • Creating role categories is the first step to be taken in planning for uncertain times:
      • Essential Roles: employees who must be available under all circumstances
      • Temporary Suspension Roles: these include workers who can be suspended for a short period without affecting business
      • Extended Suspension Roles: workers who may be suspended for an extended time or indefinitely, without impacting the business
    • Once employees are categorized as above, HR teams can evaluate whether they have a sufficient number of employees to manage essential duties as conditions evolve and, if not, take on steps like cross-training, certification, or finding temporary or contract personnel to serve as backup.
    • The "new normal" is also likely to see a transformation of hiring decisions from being degree pedigree based, to skill based.
    • An emphasis on uniquely human skills such as critical thinking and creativity, is likely to surge sooner rather than later, with mechanical tasks shifting to machines - a trend which was already set in motion by AI, only to be accelerated by the pandemic, considering the insusceptibility of machinery to illness.

HR professionals thus, in seeking to see their companies through the pandemic are taking significant efforts to maintain business continuity, drive transformation, and ensure the right people are in the right locations to help their company fulfil its mission, whether that location is at home working remotely or on the front lines delivering essential services. Teams that complete these steps early and make adjustments as conditions warrant are better positioned for success in a crisis.

As the current corona virus outbreak demonstrates, it is vital for HR to have the capabilities to respond to an emergency quickly. But with this pandemic representing uncharted territory in many ways, the importance of HR always having the capacity to maintain continuity, drive organizational transformation, and optimize staffing, is further highlighted.

By enhancing these competencies now, HR is defining the new normal - and refining its businesses' people management skills in ways that is likely to outlast the present crisis.