Companies in most industries are feeling the impact on their business performance as a fallout of the prolonged pandemic. While it is not easy to make a prediction of when this period of tumult and uncertainty will eventually pass and how the new contours of the business environment will be, it is inevitable that companies are actively strategizing and innovating to revive business growth, profitability or simply hold their heads above water.
The natural instinct of most organizations, as they think about reviving their business performance, would be around ring-fencing current customers, unlocking new growth opportunities through new markets or customer segments, or cost optimization etc,. In this article however, I draw attention to the proverbial ‘dark horse’ in the mix – people practices.
As leaders are compelled to reimagine the forces that will fuel their growth in the new paradigm, harnessing human capital will be crucial in driving the change. HR leaders have the vantage position to drive this transformation. It isn’t a trivial change though!
HR leaders face the task of straddling several priorities from keeping employees safe, motivated and productive at a time when the world outside is crumbling to its knees. In addition to ensuring adequate enablement and engagement, they will need to take certain tough decisions. How do they then adapt and transform the system for a rebound?
The key challenge emerging in the post-covid environment is the fluidity around the emerging work environment. Is 'work from home' here to stay? How will this affect productivity and compliance? How do we build and sustain a common ethos across the workforce? As organizations prepare for this new rhythm, they must undergo a systemic reimagination of the new work paradigm while sensitively balancing culture with business expectations.
As companies chart their own path to transformation, here are four core pillars that HR leaders and businesses need to focus on to ensure there is a harmonious activation of the plan.
Renewed focus on safety and wellness
It is truer now than ever before that the foremost priority for organizations is to ensure the health and wellbeing of its people. Existing employee wellness programs need to be suitably upgraded approaching wellness as a holistic, multi-dimensional area. In the COVID context for instance, organizations must support and enable the vaccination of employees and their families. Communication about the leave benefits and other support mechanisms must be made clear and updated from time to time.
Enabling productivity in a ‘hybrid’ environment
The global pandemic has been a sudden wake-up call for organizations requiring them to adopt Work-From-Home policies in order to keep their employees safe. The impact of this shift hasn’t been consistent across organizations. However, it is increasingly becoming clear that organizations will necessarily gravitate to a ‘hybrid’ model as they settle down into a new normal. This makes it essential for organizations to provide the necessary enablement for employees to remain productive in the new ‘hybrid’ workplace.
The adoption of video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and the like was swift and spontaneous. But the move now needs to go beyond by way of providing the right infrastructural support including High speed internet, power backup for internet, communication tools such as good quality headphones, ergonomic comfort with home-appropriate workstations, cloud computing and storage, apart from other productivity tools to enable remote working. With the right tools, this arrangement can enhance productivity while keeping the employee morale high.
Alongside improving the IT enablement for employees to be productive while working from home, a parallel shift needs to be in expediting the digitization of various information systems and organizational processes as is appropriate in the respective context of the various organizations. These investments will need to be combined with efforts in tightening infrastructure and practices around IT security, data protection and compliance.
Sensitivity to individual circumstances
There is enough emphasis on the physical tools for enhancing productivity. Psychological well-being, however, is not as straightforward. Every individual has had a unique experience with the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, the home situation was hardly ever a factor while planning a meeting, or scheduling the team outing. Child care or care for the elderly were not in active conversation but the pandemic has brought these to the fore. Hence personal circumstances must be taken into account while staffing and scheduling. Individual line managers will need to own up more accountability in this regard. Undoubtedly this makes it complex for managers to plan and run their projects. But creating an open environment for staff to feel comfortable about their personal circumstances will help them balance it with the team / organizational priorities.
Buttressing communication and culture
I believe that organizations that have a strong culture deeply rooted in time-tested values, will harness the transition more effectively. A strong organizational mission, people’s alignment with the organizational priorities, clarity about their individual roles in achieving the organizational goals are some of the ways in which a strong culture manifests itself. A healthy work culture becomes a strong catalyst for high performance. Leadership will play a crucial role in building collaboration among the remote workforce. Acknowledging the deeper emotions of grief, anxiety and loss will go a long way in building a strong organizational connect. Frequent, two-way and consistent communication will help nurture trust and confidence. Teams that thrive on collaboration and feel cared for, tend to be more adaptable and have better collective resolve to overcome challenges.
The International Monetary Fund has projected an impressive 12.5% growth rate for India in 2021 indicating that the economic activity in the country is now returning with renewed vigour. However, this growth must be earned by each organization, through its people. Unless our people don’t feel mentally and emotionally aligned with the organization’s goals, it won’t be possible to harness their inherent potential. This shift doesn’t come fast, or easy. But, the best time to start is now.