04th Nov, 2020
Marcom, , Designation
How do you visualize the new normal of work and workplace beyond covid?
It has been more than six months and the world is still struggling to contain the Covid spread and its adverse impact on human race. It has created an economic and labour market shock; it is also impacting organizations adversely with respect to financial viability, employability, and workplace culture. The organizations activated “Business Continuity Plans”, driven by a dedicated unit of team members in alignment with official health guidance and government advisories.
Whilst the corporate world was predicting and warming up to transformation, the covid crisis took it by a storm and consumed the working pattern and behaviour in no time. All these changes are abrupt and have happened in no time. It is now that the organizations are caught up in a VUCA (Volatile Uncertain Complex Ambiguous) situation, more than ever. This has forced the organizations to shift to fastest gear, press the peddle to strategize and accelerate the transformation process to mitigate financial risks and cope up with distressed situation.
This VUCA scenario has propelled organizations to a “New found Normal” bringing a shift in organizational architecture and all-time high dependence on technology, transforming business operation design, resetting & strategizing the capital & operational costs, redefining flexibility norms, culture initiatives and agility in decision making.
This “New found Normal” shall continue to transform the workplace culture, talent requirement and workforce management. The companies as pushed to an edge with several businesses on the verge of shutting down and millions of jobs at risk shall step towards faster adoption of gig economy for survival in the coming times.
What may be the stark differences between pre and post covid work and workplace?
Some of the biggest stark differences between pre & post Covid work and Workplace may come from the overall impact on the global market and diverse industries. The major economical setback may come to aviation, tourism, entertainment, real estate& retail industries, and they may take longer time to revive. Covid 19 has acted as a catalyst for few sectors such as medical e-services, e-commerce, Information Technology & Agriculture.
The current situation has given rise to immediate adoption to virtual workplaces for the business continuity. This has led to a shift in talent requirements and a renewed focus on upskilling. “Working remotely/From Home”shall continue as requirement and “New found Normal” rather than being treated under as an employee benefit under employee value proposition umbrella.
The organization behaviour shall undergo tremendous change in the times to come.
This also may lead the governments to revisit their Information Technology &General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) policies & compliances in aid of the companies.
Whilst the organizations are already reviewing their investments on real estate & workplace infrastructure, the current & future investment focus shall be on technology spends to enable and upscale virtual workplaces.
The organizations shall adopt gig economy faster for financial survival. The newfound flexibility shall set new norms wherein the traditional full-time employment shall be passé.
The new found flexibility norms shall diminish the thin line between work-life balances and may add to mounting stress for the employees. There will be a higher need felt by the organizations to put “EAP – Employee Assistance Program” in place for providing mental health support to the employees.
The employee value proposition shall undergo a change due to lessened In-Person proximity with talent and thereby leading to evolved employee engagement strategies in line with remote working.
Last but not the least, the set-ups where human intervention shall continue to remain a mandatory requirement such as manufacturing/ medical institutes/ transportation services et.al, there will be social distancing norms applicable. The government may induce additional compliance norms as a mandate to establish workplace hygiene, cleanliness & medical services to mitigate potential health related risks.
Beyond covid, HR professionals will be responsible to create and nurture a work culture that drives mutual trust, empowerment, productivity and inclusion. Can technology help achieving this or HR will have to explore other innovative ways?
The covid pandemic changed numerous aspects of how we live but it profoundly changed the way of working, mandating millions of workers to work from home. The encouraging side of the story is that it put a spotlight on corporate technology to sustain operations, productively and efficiencies.
The transition from in-person “Working from Office” to virtual set up “Working Remotely” has been knee jerk that brings its own set of challenges in evolving markets & organizations wherein this option is not viable for 100% of the workforce but restricted to certain roles/levels.
Managing work schedule adherence and performance, especially for the frontline/millennial workforce in absence of in-person supervision comes across as one of the initial challenges for this transition. Also, some of the employees may struggle to secure seamless broadband/Wi-Fi connectivity, dedicated spot/desk while working from home and the employee psyche may be adversely impacted in absence of social rewards at workplace.
This big transformation task has been entrusted to Human Resource function, shall be instrumental in sustaining and driving the conducive culture post Covid. Human Resource function shall need to recreate the positive aspects emerging from the crisis and shift gears to create learning agility, resilience to navigate through much hyped paradox and deal the situation with much needed cognizance and empathy. It shall become prudent for HR to have an employee communication strategy in place to manage this transition seamlessly.
Technology shall further evolve as a game changer in managing this transition and transformation not only for virtual working set-up, but the workplace set-up as well.
The organizations shall continue to invest in online tools/workplace apps – MS Teams, Zoom, and Google Hangout to maintain the virtual connect with the employees. The apps to draw Daily Activity Reports and monitoring the Peak Productive Hours shall come in handy for performance & productivity management. There are software/solutions put in place to manage data security and related compliances for remote working set up.
At the same time, other workplace apps shall evolve to manage social distancing and safety at workplace. Apps such as “Safe Distance App” shall help decision-making on use of communal facilities within the social distancing norms. The new contactless offices shall help in strict safety measures, keeping employee health in focus.
Human Resource in collaboration with Technology is going to take a centre stage in leading workplace practices and culture transformation post Covid.
What should be the short term and long term strategies and initiatives for employees in this respect?
The current economic slowdown and the financial crisis threat have also led to stress and anxiety amongst the employees. It becomes imperative for the organizations to continue ensuring the well-being of their employees post Covid.
The need to acquire additional skills, upscale and engage the workforce shall be all time high. The organizations are expected to redefine their Talent Management & Capability Building Strategies.
The long-term strategies for people excellence should align the “Org Construct” and “Employee Value Proposition” to new Business Model, Skill Diversification and Learning Agility, Employee Benefits enabling remote working, Conducive Culture inducing resilience, a robust Employee Communication Strategy & Connect Platforms for an all-time reach & easy access. All these long terms strategies shall aid businesses’ revival with sustained financial& employment viability. The most important priority shall remain putting a 12 Months’ Runway in place, enabling the leaders to treat decisions as investments lead with much needed empathy and collaboration.
The short-term initiatives should focus on employee engagement capturing User Experience on workplace apps, Communication Platforms to capture Voice of Employee, virtual party/games/contests/virtual celebrations/Family Day to break the monotony.
Most of all, a well-balanced combination of long term and short-term initiatives for bonding with employees in a virtual working set up.
What one major trend you foresee as new normal for organizations and how HR will make it for smooth transition?
The major foreseen trend as a new normal is emergence of effective “Virtual Workplaces”. Whilst the newfound flexibility may be overwhelming for a while, this new normal shall lead to lifestyle changes but alter the organization behaviour as well. Limited human proximity may lead to profound sense of loss.
The employees may struggle in the virtual environment to secure seamless broadband / Wi-Fi connectivity, dedicated spot / desk while working from home. The employees may be adversely impacted in absence of social rewards at workplace. The FOMO – Fear of Missing Out on the information received during informal conversations in the peer group may add up to anxiety. The diminishing work life balance / schedule may become an exhausting experience. the leaders may feel the heat with the inherent FOBO – Fear of Better Options.
Human Resource function should become super active and be on the front foot to ensure that this transition is smooth. The HR strategy should encompass the business partnering and driving people agenda by enabling the leaders navigate through the ambiguity & unpredictability.
The need to acquire additional skills, upscale and engage the workforce will remail all-time high in times to come. HR will need to revisit and strategize the change management for a faster and seamless adoption to this new normal. Human Resource function is expected to think differently and initiate customized solution that will cater to diverse workforce. The efforts will need to be combined with effective communication strategy, collective decision making, customized benefits combined with empathy and innovation.
Personalized employees connect is another aspect that will help making interactions faster and easier and, consequently, increasing employee satisfaction and reinforce the bonding with the organization.
How you are looking at covid crisis from HR perspective and what are the areas HR cannot afford to overlook?
Needless to mention, Covid 19 has shaken the whole world and its way of operating on all the fronts – Personal, Professional & Social.
Whilst the organizations are still juggling to create new business models, online meetings, people and process management in remote working, it goes without saying that Covid 19 wave has acted as an accelerator for one of the noteworthy workplace disruption and transformations of our lifetime. The “Newfound Normal” is here to stay for a long time.
It is also worth mentioning that this has offered an opportunity to Human Resource function to reclaim its glory one more time as a critical function and a notable driver for creating a success story for the organizations. During this transformation journey, HR will need to be on top of few critical people related aspects.
Future of Organizations shall depend on Future of Employee Health & Well Being. The economic slowdown, challenges for remote working set up, pressure for immediate change of way of working, dual responsibilities, social distancing and the financial crisis threat will lead to stress and anxiety amongst the employees. It becomes imperative for the HR function to ensure the holistic well-being (Physical / Emotional & Mental) of employees by incorporating medical benefits policy & EAP – Employee Assistance Programs in place.
Organizations’ Future Readiness shall depend on Immediate Investments for Capability Building and Skill Diversification. As the business models undergo change & evolve, it will be imperative for Human Resource Function to rejig their talent management & capability building strategy. HR will need to outline and park the investments for Skill Diversification and propagate / practice learning agility to make the organizations Future Ready.
Organizations’ Success shall depend on Leading with Empathy. The overnight change management may become overbearing for employees and lead to mental stress, depression, anxiety, disengagement and thereby hamper their productivity as well. Human Resource function will need to focus on building leadership competencies amongst people managers that focus on adopting and practicing agility to take decisions basis real time information and “Leading With Empathy”.
HR will need to inculcate a culture of a shared responsibility wherein, both the employers and the employees should come together, operate as one “One Big Family” in true sense and support each other to salvage the current situation.
The interview originally appeared here.