HR post-COVID-19: Time to reset clock

guest column:Emmanuel Zvada

THE coronavirus pandemic has caused tremendous disruption in lives and in business, and human resources (HR) is key to supporting companies and catalysing changes at workplaces.

Organisations must rethink, reimagine and reconsider their new role post-COVID-19 and strengthen their operations through a forward-thinking HR strategy. COVID-19 has changed the world in many ways, hence it is crucial for HR to revamp the policies and processes in accordance with the new normal. The question is how has the novel coronavirus changed the role of HR?

And what does the role of HR look like in a post-COVID-19 world?

The lockdown triggered by the pandemic compelled most organisations to allow their employees to work from home and opt for a staggered attendance with variable working hours to maintain social distancing. Had it not been for COVID-19, this arrangement would have remained alien to organisations.

As the world gears up to tackle unprecedented challenges in the post-COVID-19 scenario, it is evident that much will hinge on the ability of the HR function to lead the organisation from the forefront and facilitate a smooth transition from what they used to do and reset their clock into their new role.

The changing HR function
Over the last century, the role of HR in organisations has undergone a paradigm shift from that of administration and supervision to talent management and retention, etc.

The past 30 years had seen the HR function change from the post-personnel time of welfare, disciplinary and training courses through the phases when people were our greatest asset, to the current human capital management.

In the previous years, the profession peaked as a multiple stakeholder influencer, but has now become a function whose key responsibility is cost control and protecting shareholder return. HR’s role has mirrored the changes in business and economics.

Faced with the global pandemic which disrupted all the previous roles, I feel and think it is now time for HR professionals to re-assert their leadership to build new ways of working that create sustainability for organisations and their people.

Digitalising operations
This crisis has presented the IT industry with an opportunity to empower businesses with technology, and further emphasised the need to focus on innovation to survive and thrive.

HR needs to revisit traditional policies and workplace mindset, manage complex reactions to the changes and think about how to ensure stability in emerging expectations and routines post-COVID-19.

The proliferation of technology and the onset of automation has made certain roles redundant, leading to the restructuring of job roles and changes in skill sets and a high turnover of talented individuals. This has had an obvious impact on the HR function in government organisations.

With remote working finding wider acceptance, and demand for automation growing, many leading corporates are depending on technology extensively for recruitment and onboarding employees and mapping their performance.

Many organisations have already begun by automating clerical tasks, embracing e-office, and conducting virtual meetings over internet-based platforms.

The onus will be on the HR function to spearhead this change by sensitising the organisation on the significance of the proposed technology and encourage its wide adoption.

Sustainable and business continuity practices
Business continuity planning is a component of building business resilience in normal times and is especially critical in cases of large disasters.

For businesses to survive, they must be able to adapt their operations to the new environment. COVID-19 is not an average business disruption, it was actually an unheard-of situation.

In fact, we have never seen a situation like this. Moreover, because many businesses never anticipated the impact of COVID-19, it is critical to use the crisis as an opportunity to build a resilient business today for a stronger tomorrow.

It is very crucial that we all learn from the pandemic if we want to improve our future readiness, and no impending crisis is as serious as climate change.

Supporting employee emotional and mental health
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, people have had different reactions to the crisis. Some are excited to get out and return to life as it was before, and others are anxious about the future.

These anxieties will have long-term effects on employees, hence human resources leaders need to prepare for them.

In situations like these, HR is also responsible for managing concerns and apprehensions of employees. As the initial chaos settles, HR has to step up and support employees and prioritise their mental and emotional wellbeing.

These unprecedented times can induce anxiety and raise the stress levels employees, hence the onus is on the employers to ensure these emotions are kept in check so as to keep employees safe, motivated, and productive.

Workplace adaptability and flexibility
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a flexible workplace landscape was developing. The 8am to 5pm work shift was giving way to more novel timetables in this digital economy.

After working from home for weeks, some employees may be reluctant to return to the standard in-person office hours. In this regard some employers may choose to be more lenient than others, but the overall trend is that employees are not prepared to be in the office for eight hours everyday.

It is advisable that companies should adopt flextime, thereby allowing employees to leave early one day and make up for the time another day or adjusting working hours.

Reskilling and upskilling your workforce
As employees return to the new normal, employers face tough choices regarding shortcomings in skills and knowledge that were exposed by the forced telecommuting following the pandemic shutdown. Reskilling and upskilling are both important tools for closing the skills gap in today’s technology workforce.

Upskilling involves learning new skills or teaching workers new skills, while reskilling involves learning new skills to qualify for a different job or teaching employees new skills to help them get a new job at the same company or elsewhere.

In that sense, reskilling focuses on creating new skill sets so that individuals can qualify for new positions and upskilling teaches new skills for the same job.

Unlike reskilling, upskilling merely requires an enhancement of skills for a role that remains relevant. If organisations want to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis they should start reskilling their workforces now.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global economies and businesses, and HR has been at the heart of it. With organisations now on the cusp of recovery, the role of HR is becoming even more important.

As the role of HR becomes extremely critical in the post-COVID-19 era, it is imperative that the HR teams possess in-depth and expansive knowledge of their function, remain agile and aligned to the organisation’s culture, and are willing to go the extra mile to assist the employee.

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