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The present workplace looks pretty different from what it was just four months ago. There is less paper, more technology, smarter workstations… but most importantly, there are no people! And no, this is not because of automation, but it is the impact of understaffing as a result of COVID-19, a.k.a. the coronavirus.
Most – if not all – companies have closed their doors, schools have closed their gates, and for those companies still deliberating the course of action, many employees have put in requests to work from home. These are all disruptions coming out of the coronavirus crisis and make for choppy seas that CHROs and other senior HR leaders must navigate.
The pandemic is a human tragedy, with technology and people at the frontline of the crisis. How we work and live are set to change, possibly irrevocably, and companies need to maintain stability and business continuity, as new ways of working become the norm. By and by, technology will help to strengthen resilience in business operations.
Going ahead, the most important focus areas will be the following:
Keep your employees healthy
Along with doing their jobs, employees need to stock up on necessities, manage children not going to school, and take care of loved ones, all while staying healthy themselves. HR leaders must demonstrate empathy and flexibility, providing arrangements for flexible shifts and work from home. There may be cases when employees are needed at the workplace, and one company, for instance, has divided its workplace into distinct zones, mandating no crossovers between zones and seeking to isolate a zone that may, unfortunately, come up with a COVID-19-positive employee.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal health agency in the US has shared a useful guideline for measures to be taken during coronavirus. These are of course specific to the US rules and regulations, but CHROs can take more than a few hints on what to do. The top recommendations are given below:
Manage business continuity
“The show must go on” rings particularly true in these circumstances. Companies cannot just pack up and leave, and they need to see how to best adapt to the new conditions created by the coronavirus.
Communication is invaluable, and there must be transparency with the C-suite and with employees about the current situation and steps being taken. Regular briefings aid routines that breed confidence and trust and any delays must be properly planned for and communicated. CHROs must be the figureheads for employees, serving as the chief sources of information and the guides who help the group get better.
Facilitation is equally important, especially when it comes to working from home. Aside from permitting it, companies could – subject to their budgets and requirements – provide or reimburse upgraded Internet plans and devices for employees at home.
The culture change remains prime, though, with learning sessions and best practices driving this change. FOMO – or Fear of Missing Out – is real… though here it is about missing out on the next big project or the next promotion or pay hike. Companies must ensure that work from home does not get in the way of due, fair opportunities, and reassure employees accordingly.
Maintain company performance
For companies to come out of the crisis completely unscathed would be rather wishful thinking. What is important is to try to minimize the negative effects on company performance to the extent possible. The CHRO must work closely with the CIO to de-risk remote access to sensitive data or software-development environments, along with enabling work from home through multifactor authentication. Employees must be educated about protocols for safe remote work, and procedures to identify and escalate threats.
Another factor to consider is the possibility of an economic recovery post the worst of COVID-19, and the pent-up demand therein. Customers are likely to move to pre-crisis – or higher – spending levels, and the CHRO help to maintain the right competitive distance. Investing in upskilling employees could be a great tactic, as could training them on new business models and incorporating their suggestions on future-readiness.
The full impact of COVID-19 is open to speculation at this point, with post-apocalyptic scenarios certainly ruling out business as usual. The shifts need changes in how companies manage their people, their most valuable assets for dealing with the crisis and coming out with minimal scathes.