The big reset: HR lessons during COVID-19 pandemic


WE know that for the last couple of weeks everyone has been exceptionally locked up at their homes. The coronavirus crisis has presented unprecedented challenges and required businesses to come up with incredibly new ways of doing things. In times of crisis, disruption and constructive change, are not only predictable, but desirable as they mean growth. In this article we will give an insight into the lessons we have learnt.

The COVID-19 outbreak presents explicit potential business challenges around people and commercial operations. On an operational level in organisations, restrictions on employee movement create immediate challenges, but the impact of the fear factor on the workforce is equally relevant.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed many things in our daily lives. Looking at the broader picture, COVID-19 may prove to be a major tipping point for the digital transformation of most workplaces. When you are in a crisis which is beyond any human control, you just make the best decisions you can and big lessons normally come during such a crisis.

Making the digital workplace thrive is crucial

Over the last years, we have all been through digital transformations but somehow they did not make work life better. Many companies have been struggling to communicate using modern ways wrestling with emails, meetings, conference calls, and projects. Well this is now a new norm as we are going to make digital work thrive and we have no choice.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is now a new thing and it is the future of many organisations. Adopting a workplace artificial intelligence leads to more automatic processing for tasks that a company works through each day. The beauty of AI in the workplace is that the same amount of work that can be done in a day or two by employees with the aid of AI can be done in hours.

Always have a business continuity plan in place

Business continuity is a proactive plan to avoid and mitigate risks associated with the disruption of operations.

Business continuity is vital for any business or organisation which provides services to clients in the event its service is disrupted in any way, for example in this case many businesses were affected by COVID-19 which they were not prepared for.

As an organisation you need to be able to quickly and efficiently reboot your systems, and ensure your clients are properly notified and retained. The pandemic has taught us that you have to plan for things before they go wrong and that must be our everyday life. The companies that had such continuity plans were ready to respond to COVID-19.

You can accomplish more work remotely than you thought

One of the positive trends to emerge out of the coronavirus crisis is the successful transition of significant work to remote locations. Obviously, necessity breeds innovation, and we are regularly seeing ingenuity. Remote work is now like a permanent feature for many organisations, so as to reduce being overcrowded at workplaces. COVID-19 could permanently shift working patterns as companies are forced to embrace remote working. For many, it has been an adjustment so far, especially among those who are not used to doing their job from home. More companies may consider extending work-from-home arrangements once the COVID-19 crisis eases up and this will mean a new way of doing things.

There are many options on staffing not just lay-offs

Going through a downturn and making tough decisions to keep your company afloat is hard. However, if you lead with compassion you will touch the lives of your employees in an extra-ordinary way and come out of this potential slowdown stronger than ever before, enhancing the shared values of your staff. Yes, lay-offs are an option and sometimes a necessity. However, COVID-19 has also taught us that there are many options apart from laying off employees. The other possibilities that can be used in managing employee costs are decreasing hours for staff, reducing pay for staff, placement of employees on unpaid administrative leave (potentially with the option of retaining them).

Keep your employees and working environment safe

As an employer, it is your responsibility to maintain a safe and healthy workplace. A safety and health management system, or safety programme, can help you focus your efforts at improving your work environment. Whatever you call it, your plan describes what the people in your organisation do to prevent injuries and illnesses at workplace.

The ongoing situation with COVID-19 pandemic means that employees, or the potentially impacted communities they work in, will be looking to your organisation for a response, guidance and regular communication. Review your travel rules, HR policies, first aid plans and create safe ways to release the arrangements. The working environment should also be considered so that you can continue to provide a safe place for employees and visitors.

Accurate and timely communication is everything

It is very crucial to understand that having timely, accurate and accessible communication in a time of crisis presents its own problems.

When panic takes hold, people look to any and every source of information. This leads to the spread of the grapevine and misinformation, which is damaging to the employees as it promotes fear. It’s a lesson that when a crisis hits you, you need high quality information from trusted sources, which is so valuable in the fight against COVID-19. At the same time, it is important to address the relevant questions and provide the required information to avoid further damage.

Corporate social responsibility is key

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a self-regulating business model that helps a company to be socially accountable — to itself, its stakeholders, and the public. During this pandemic, many companies are reaching out to care for their customers, employees, and communities in order to inspire confidence and cultivate loyalty. In addition to growing brand affinity and strengthening corporate reputation, companies are meeting the needs of internal and external stakeholders. Many companies have given back to their stakeholders during this COVID-19 pandemic and it’s a lesson even to others.

Co-ordination, collaboration and partnerships are key

Strong co-ordination with local and national response mechanisms, partnerships with Health and Education ministries, as well as collaboration with humanitarian actors involved in the response is important. Partnerships ensure the response is built on more reliable demographic and context information (such as the capacity of the health structures) and mean people affected by an outbreak can be reached sooner.

Rethinking succession planning

One of the unintended outcomes of COVID-19 was the exposure of succession planning gaps within organisations.

Succession planning is a process of identifying and developing new leaders who can replace old leaders when they leave, retire or die. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume roles as they become available. If top leaders fall ill, is there a plan in place who could step in? In some cases, those who were on the shortlist as successor candidates may not have stepped up as expected, while others emerged as unexpected leaders. We should use crises to identify those who you trust to get things done.

 Emmanuel Zvada is a global award-winning HR practitioner for 2020, HR disrupter and trusted coach. He writes in his personal capacity. For comments, inbox or call +263771467441.