The role of HR during, after COVID-19 pandemic crisis

guest column:Emmanuel Zvada

How to manage employees through a pandemic probably was not a module that many Human Resources (HR) professionals, including myself, covered during our training to be HR practitioners. But as they say, desperate problems call for desperate solutions. HR practitioners must take the bull by its horns to make sure that organisations survive during and after this pandemic.

Over the past years, the HR function has experienced drastic changes, particularly in the way employees work, learn, and communicate.

Undeniably, no one would have imagined that the COVID-19 outbreak would accelerate one of the greatest workplace transformations of our time.

Faced with any crisis, the first response from all of us is to say things will normalise.

Yes, I’m in agreement that hope is needed but I am also of the opinion that during such a major disruption, HR should create more disruptions.

It is also observed that at such times, creativity flows instinctively hence it is the responsibility of HR to come up with strategies, policies, systems that will make organisations thrive during this pandemic.

The future of work and HR’s role

Working from home is the new normal now. But is it here to stay, or is it just a temporary solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are the questions that HR need to analyse, project and proffer recommendations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people all over the world into their homes and gave them no choice but to work remotely.

But how many people are working from home because of the coronavirus, and how productive are they.

After the COVID-19, some employees will definitely go back to the office, but some might want to keep working remotely.

Given room to decide most employees prefer to work from home because this allows them to save time on an everyday commute, have a better work-life balance and be more productive.

Process and policy changes related to COVID-19

HR professionals must consider policies for scenarios that were not fathomable a year ago.

With the strain of the coronavirus confining everyone to their homes, remote work will continue to have significant relevance even post COVID-19.

To ensure its success, companies will have to develop processes and inculcate policies that enable flexible working — establishing guidelines for working remotely, managing employee productivity in physical and digital workspaces, and formulating guidance for managers handling a distributed workforce which will be working from home.

HR needs to review policies to make sure they are in accordance with the laws of the land.

Policies specifically on leave, compensation, insurance have to be discussed to find out ways in which more benefits can be extended especially to the frontline or critical workers.

For jobs that are considered essential and require employees to be physically present, strict procedures need to be adhered to ensure workplace hygiene and safety.

Processes need to be redesigned to ensure minimum manpower presence at any point.

In other words, employers need to get guidance from credible sources like World Health Organisation, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, etc and enforce the recommended standards at their facilities.

Focus on health and well-being
The pandemic has certainly given everyone an increased focus on health and overall well-being.

Businesses also have increased their focus on employee health and well-being during this pandemic.

The starting point when considering employee well-being is the benefits package that a company provides.

COVID-19 is reshaping the way companies view employee benefits and it is important that plans are reviewed and possibly restructured.

HR teams will have to support and make sure that remote employees receive adequate attention and help. Part of the effort in boosting health and well-being will be to ensure people create boundaries between work and personal time.

Encourage employees to understand that they are not obliged to work beyond their contracted hours even when working from home.

Greater emphasis on company culture
Reimagine workplace traditions and coming up with new ones is key during this pandemic.

The traditions of a workplace are its ongoing and recurring practices. They are its agreements, customs, rituals, ceremonies, activities, and physical workspace arrangements that guide the way the organisation operates and can be formal or informal.

It’s easy to maintain culture in an office where everyone is surrounded by co-workers setting an example.

But with a dispersed workforce, you can’t sail through if you have cracks in your culture or if you didn’t have a strong culture in the first place.

A positive workplace culture is not something that is ever achieved, but an ongoing process that requires attention and intention.

It should nevertheless be the role of HR to make sure that he/she creates a good culture to ensure business continuity.

Utilise the power of virtual learning processes

Even though many employees are working remotely, companies still need to provide mandatory training to their workforce.

Face-to-face training may not be an option during the COVID-19 era, for many companies, online training is the only choice.

In fact, some HR practitioners were already relying on e-learning before the pandemic.

During this pandemic businesses that have typically relied on face-to-face/classroom learning will have to develop a proof of concept for learning using the latest online technologies. Zoom has done a good job of enlightening businesses and consumers of how accessible and flexible technology is.

It will be noted that the remote working model and increased leverage on digital technologies will increase the need to upskill and reskill the workforce for it to be well equipped with the new technologies.

Tracking productivity and engagement using data
As the workforce is progressively spreading out, and as new ways of working are emerging, HR leaders must keep track of their organisations’ pulses.

Efficient data collection and mining tools will be key to understanding the nature of the changes.

Achieving business goals during this pandemic begins and ends with an efficient and highly productive workforce.

Yet productivity remains a constant challenge for many businesses.

This is where data comes into play in tracking productivity and engaging employees.

A data-driven workforce is one that uses numbers and metrics to identify trends, challenges and insights in order to stay ahead of the curve.

Using data to support your employees’ productivity can help management provide the support employees need to remain not only productive but also engaged and committed to their work.

With the current disruption in industry, traditional ways of working have become things of the past.

It is crucial for HR to revamp policies and processes in accordance with the new normal.


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