Ways in which HR needs to evolve post-COVID-19 crisis


guest column:Emmanuel Zvada

The biggest crisis of the 21st century has led to unprecedented layoffs, a transition to full-time remote workforces in several countries, and devastating economic uncertainty. This pandemic has overturned the status quo like nothing else in recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus many weaknesses or loopholes in the way organisations function.

If there’s one thing that this crisis taught the business world, it is that agility in leadership, in technology, and in policies, must be the core of workplace culture in any organisation.

The global pandemic has transformed many traditional workplaces into digital ones over-night. The coronavirus crisis has pushed HR into the limelight, and while being asked to do their normal day job it has been incredible, perhaps superhuman effort needed by HR to always be there always during what has been the worst-case scenario in all HR contingency/business continuity planning of organisations.

HR is the fundamental foundation that supports this new working environment. Being an HR leader during this pandemic is to be aware of the economic and social impacts on workers and being responsible for maintaining a strong leadership that is determined to protect its employees.

The move towards agile organisations
Business agility, also known as organisational agility, is the capability of a business to be adaptive, flexible and creative through a changing environment. Agile businesses respond quickly to opportunities or threats, whether internal (eg, failing business operations) or external (eg, shifts in trends or competitive markets). The ongoing COVID-19 socio-economic crisis is forcing business leaders worldwide to take quick action to respond to the pandemic and its effects on their businesses.

Thousands of companies have crafted crisis management plans, with many of them transitioning to a fully virtual workplace.

Agile organisations must truly empower project leaders or “product owners” and give them real decision-making authority, develop them, and redefine their rapport with immediate superiors.

This takes a very good calibre of “highly aligned, loosely coupled” managers who are able to make decisions and be driven in less formal settings. It also means that decisions must be made at the lower echelons.

Remote work can be the new normal
Remote work is permanent and managers must learn to trust employees. Numerous challenges have kept remote work on the back burner for several organisations. Many have, in the past, claimed that their kind of work could not be done remotely.

But now that these organisations have been forced into remote work, will it become permanent? I think remote working is an opportunity for companies to change their way of working sustainably and reap benefits over the medium-to-long-term. Think of less office space, less commuting, fewer business trips, shorter breaks and greater focus for employees.

A shift into artificial intelligence
Technology can be used to cement and reinforce internal structures of the workforce and ensure employees feel secure and supported during the shift to a digital workplace. It is no secret that businesses that will survive in the near future are the digitally savvy.

HR leaders are currently ensuring their workforce is digitally sound by providing training and upskilling where necessary, maintaining clear lines of communication, and ensuring their employees have all the necessary equipment required to excel in their field.

Virtual training solutions
Now that so many companies are switching to 100% remote work, remote learning will be the norm rather than the exception. Even in industries such as healthcare and essential retail, where employees continue to work on-site, learning must take place in the safety of their homes, minimising the time employees spend outdoors, where there is a possibility of infection.

This has led to a spike in demand for remote learning and virtual training solutions. The ability to reach anyone, anywhere, at any time, is proving an effective training strategy.

Companies are implementing cloud-based, hands-on learning environments that motivate learners and increase the speed of knowledge absorption while making it easy for instructors to facilitate training.

Data analytics transforming HR
Data analytics will continue to be adopted rapidly in the year ahead. Using analytics, data-driven decisions can be made by HR professionals to attract and retain top talent.

The coming year will provide endless possibilities to use analytics in identifying trends and patterns on employee absenteeism, leave frequency, employee turnover rate, engagement level etc.

Data analytics will play a prominent role in increasing workforce productivity and engagement as well as improving workforce planning and talent development.
HR analytics is the application of statistics, modelling, and analysis of employee-related factors to improve business outcomes. HR analytics is also often referred to as people analytics, talent analytics or workforce analytics.

Integration of HR
It is very crucial to note that HR will become a very diverse skill.

HR will be composed of tech savvy people, data scientists, recruiter experts. Those that are technologically savvy will survive. People that are able to do copywriting, for job descriptions that correspond to the company culture. People that are able to read data and forecast trends. People that are on top of the latest technology and can solve problems or bring additional benefits to the com-pany. People that are connectors, socially active and can attract more talent to the company. HR will be about diversity of skills.

HR becoming more social
Intranet, internal social platforms, internal “WhatsApp”, and many other ways of promoting online collaboration and communication across the company will be part of HR responsibilities, workplace WhatsApp groups are gaining more momentum than any other platform of communicating.

HR can use social tools to drive behaviours in office performance by giving extra benefits to high performers of the month or give incentives to employees who are great brand ambassadors. The work experience will be taken live and will bring a stronger social component to an organisation.

Mental health and work-life issues at workplace
Last but not least, a topic gaining attention during and post-COVID-19 is mental health. We have seen a disengaged workforce, the search for purpose, people breaking away from the more traditional career paths. Maintaining work-life balance helps reduce stress and prevent burnout in the workplace.

Chronic stress is one of the most common health issues in the workplace. Our desire to succeed professionally can make us forget our own well-being.

However, creating a harmonious work-life balance is critical to improving not only our physical, emotional and mental health, but also our career’s health.

COVID-19 is forcing almost every business to immediately develop, adapt or improve remote work policies and procedures. As HR pros struggle to keep employees safe and informed, it then helps them to think about what changes will be more permanent and how they will guide employees and organisational leadership through those changes.