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COVID-19: How Are HRs Handling And Ensuring Seamless Work Transitions

Organizations worldwide are tackling immediate issues of keeping employees safe, ensuring optimal utilization of staff, and maintaining the continuity of business operations.

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As the Coronavirus takes over the world, can HR leaders help businesses manage the crisis? Will the improvised methods of managing business paves the way for better integration of human and digital workforce? Let’s find out!

These are unprecedented times, trying times and unchartered territory for all of us. COVID-19 has taken the world by storm and brought forth a new norm as to how organizations manage the business. Organizations worldwide are tackling immediate issues of keeping employees safe, ensuring optimal utilization of staff, and maintaining the continuity of business operations. Irrespective of the case, companies worldwide are going out of their ways and doing their best to ensure seamless deliveries and consistently improve productivity even during these extraordinary circumstances.

Let us examine the immediate impact and the long-term effects of how the pandemic will forever change the way companies manage their business and the crucial role of HR to help mitigate the issues in its aftermath. Before even COVID showed up, India’s economy had already started to show signs of weakening and growth appeared uncertain. With the advent of COVID, this has become a reality with leading rating agencies pegging India's growth rate very low for the year 2020. This coupled with slowing down of investments would invariably have a long-term effect on the industry-leading to the consolidation of businesses, lower earnings which may well drive layoffs and recruitment freeze. An important significance here is that we currently foresee demand-supply disruptions.

In such a scenario, the role of HR is very crucial in how they will handle the ongoing crisis and ensure smooth operations of their organizations. Today, HR is no longer working behind closed doors and is a crucial part of driving the company’s success. During these unprecedented times, the role of HR leaders becomes all the more important and they are expected to respond quickly and comprehensively, considering immediate, short-term, and long-term consequences of this global crisis.

Safe Harbor- with the kind of crisis that is expected to be handled, HR is expected to play the role of a safe harbor. There will be a disruption in the areas of demand and supply - be it in manufacturing, telecom, travel, airlines or other sectors. A key role of HR will be to keep the workforce engaged, involved, and committed to the success of the enterprise. Particularly in challenging times like these, HR needs to double its efforts in making sure every employee appreciates the challenge, participates voluntarily without any fear, and stays motivated. At the same time, HR should make sure all required assistance or measures are taken to ensure employee healthcare, well-being, and provide ways to a new workspace of remote working.

Policy Management- In the long-term repercussions, there are going to be strong changes to policies as earlier, WFH (Work from Home) was never given weightage for organizations to adopt. This will lead to policy changes to put into place to adopt WFH. But this in turn is sure to throw up another challenge. WFH will come with its own set of challenges – one has to ensure continuity of the business operations; ensure productivity is addressed, how to create a positive work environment for employees when working from home while keeping them motivated.

Cultural assimilation of WFH into the organizational culture - Work from home is not culturally accepted for certain industries. HR, therefore, has to ensure that all the sensitivities involved are taken into consideration while crafting a policy.

Virtual teams working from home- HR leaders need to understand the challenges of working from home in a virtual environment- connectivity, sensitivity from a culture perspective, from risk perspective, etc. Until now few employees or a set of employees when needed alone were asked to exercise this option of WFH and was not a common practice. Now that this becomes inevitable given the social distancing being advocated by Governments, making this transition to a virtual team who stay engaged without huddle meetings and fun gatherings is not easy and puts an onerous responsibility on HR.

Information security and Data Privacy: Most of the information technology industry were hit by Data Protection Regulations across the globe and need to keep not just the process but also practice new standards. While technology has evolved significantly and enabling WFH is not a serious concern including the end-point security, data privacy in an unknown and uncontrolled workspace is still a challenge and educating employees in observing there is a major responsibility of the Infosec teams, but the onus is on the HR teams to make it work.

Internal Communications: Company leaders and HR heads should ensure that communication channels with employees are active, open, and transparent and share insights about the operations, development within and outside organization for employees to stay engaged and identify their roles and contributions to the organization.

The aftermath of the Pandemic:

How businesses will relook at the way they manage the business and the role of HR

Businesses need to ensure that when employees come back to the workplace, post lockdown, they implement long-term measures. Every enterprise needs to ensure completion of all its contractual obligations or delivery obligations or service level commitments. All of these form the crux of the business mandate. There is pressure because of this mandate and no business would like to compromise on their service levels.

Therefore, there is pressure on HR from the perspective that it takes into account the following:

· the demand-supply disruption, productivity or profitability challenges

· being able to deal with the new paradigm of recruitment freezes

· bringing onboard new methods and practices for Virtual work zones

· formulating policies for managing culture and productivity in light of the current disruptions

· powering e-learning as a key tool for learning and development practices in the organization

· Since the workspace is virtual, capturing time and powering employees to project manage independently through an effective tool or mechanism

· Adopting technology that will quickly power these practices and enable a collaborative workspace

The silver lining is that organizations quickly responded and dealt with the unprecedented fallout. Many companies had initiated work from home, implemented travel restrictions, and formed crisis management teams, which helped them, continue their operations cohesively.

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.

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 and build 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.

It is rightly said that the future of HR is here, and it is now! ‘Change is the only constant’ and companies who will adapt according to this global change will survive and the rest will be history!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Subramanyam S

The author is CEO of Ascent HR

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