In the past six months, we’ve seen the rise of what I can best describe as ‘emergency culture’. Employees are in a constant state of high alert. “Solving the unsolvable is the new normal,” says Flóra Bondici, chief people officer at Trax Retail, a global provider of computer vision solutions. So what happens when HR leaders need to transition from this “now normal” to the post pandemic workplace?
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the world economy, putting some 3.9 billion people, or half of the world’s population, in lockdown or under stay-at-home orders for months. In April, the International Labour Organization forecasted that workplace disruptions would wipe out 6.7% of working hours globally by the second quarter. That’s the equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs. HR departments across the globe sprang into action in response to the crisis to ensure the safety of workers. Everyone did what needed to be done.
The road to recovery, however, is paved with a whole new set of challenges. Here are three key themes surrounding recovery strategies, as seen by global Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs).
Employee Wellbeing: Buzzword or the Next Big Thing?
Earlier this year, millions of people found themselves confined to their homes day after day. Ramping up remote work plans, however, turned out to be only one of the many steps organizations had to take to keep employees safe.
“We held dozens of workshops on the challenges of remote work and made sure to invite people from different departments to each of them. We talked about work and home life and actively encouraged them to share ideas and learn from each other,” remembers Györgyi Tóth, HR Director at Deloitte Hungary. The reception was overwhelmingly positive. “For our colleagues the feeling that they’re not left alone with their hardships was the biggest takeaway from these discussions.”
Helping Employees Overcome Stress
Thanks to the advent of the digital economy and ‘always on’ work schedules, helping employees overcome stress and improve health behaviors had been a top priority in the CHRO agenda for years. And if there’s one thing the coronavirus crisis has highlighted is that it’s here to stay.
“We also launched a ‘remote nursery’ for working parents. With the help of nursery school teachers, we set up a Facebook group. Within that group, colleagues find and share educational videos, useful links and playful learning activities for kids of all ages,” Tóth explains. She adds that HR professionals must be vigilant in looking out for employees who are struggling with anxiety, stress and burnout while in isolation. But they should not be the only ones to do so.
“It’s very important colleagues watch out for each other. If you see that a co-worker is having a hard time adjusting, and you have the means to help out, just do it!”
Should I Stay or Should I Go: Rethinking the Way we Work
In most countries, COVID-19 measures have been slowly lifted over the past few months. So what now? After all, the reentry struggle is real. This is especially true when it comes to safely redeploying employees, in and outside of the HR department.
Some of the areas of greatest concern include work schedules, seating arrangements, meeting spaces and event and visitor policies. Even elevator, break room, and restroom usage cause concern. Each of these issues need to be explored as part of organizations’ reintegration strategies. Not to mention who, among the staff, wants to get back to work in the first place.
Employees Come First
Trax Retail’s policy is simple: Employees come first.
“Our only principle is to be flexible, supportive and understanding. When people face unexpected situations, you must find ways to support them in unexpected ways. We’ve helped a colleague return to their home country for the birth of their first child, had home-cooked meals delivered to single working moms, you name it. Thankfully, we’ve been able to handle just about any ‘now normal’ scenario that’s come our way. Our people find comfort in knowing that we care,” explains Bondici.
At technology solutions provider Continental, leaders first looked to the company’s Chinese branch for good practices. Then other branches started to chime in. “We’ve selected a best practice for each aspect of employee management. We’ve also made sure to collect employee feedback from all locations and respond to their concerns,” says Sarah Frachet, head of country HR at the company’s Hungarian subsidiary.
“Make it safe and keep it voluntary. These are the two cornerstones of our reentry efforts,” explains Tóth. An organization-wide survey has shown that one-third of Deloitte employees would be perfectly happy to continue working from home. On the other end of the spectrum, one-third would welcome the opportunity to return to the office, while the remaining one-third remain cautious.
“We’ve decided to take a hybrid approach and let employees decide for themselves where they want to work.”
The Future is Now: What’s Next for HR?
In many organizations, the HR department has moved on from administration to strategy. In the post pandemic workplace, there were no other viable alternatives. Ultra-competitive job markets, evolving business models and a combination of rapid technology innovation and shifting employee expectations left them no choice but to evolve. Never have CHROs had to deliver so much so fast.
But what role will HR play in our brave new post-pandemic workplace? And the world in general?
The answer, experts agree, is twofold. Human resources will definitely continue its rise as managements’ trusted ally in shaping the way enterprises create value through talent. At the same time, they must offer support on an operational level – now more than ever. With no clear coronavirus treatment or vaccine in sight and a second wave just around the corner, CHROs must work out strategies for taking extra health and safety measures, maintaining workplace morale and, if it comes to it, overseeing layoffs.
But from a much better position than in February and March, when the pandemic started to hit businesses hardest.
Moving on From a State of Panic
“By now, organizations have moved on from a state of panic to stepping up to the challenge and making the new normal work,” points out IseeQ CEO Tamás Püski. The same goes for hiring practices, too. More and more recruiters have embraced Zoom interviews and remote onboarding, not to mention the unexpected opportunities the corona crisis has brought about in talent acquisition. “There’s been a growing regional demand for local talent for months. Several companies in Western Europe who had to let go of people during the first wave, or were in the process of building new teams, are now looking to tap into CEE’s talent base.”
The Post Pandemic Workplace: Resilience in the Face of Uncertainty
In the post pandemic workplace, the most important strategic objective for any business is to build resilience in the face of unparalleled uncertainty.
Meaning that HR executives must find ways to prepare their organizations not for the next crisis – but for any crisis. And to do so, they must start thinking differently about who they hire – and why.
“My parents would always tell me that a good education is a stepping stone to a good career. This is not exactly the case anymore,” says Frachet. Instead of looking at what a person can do during a job interview, recruiters increasingly focus on finding out what they can and are willing to learn to do.
“Make sure you have the right people in the right places. Then make sure they never stop growing.”
Frachet adds: “Moving forward, growth is what HR must be all about.”