These are extraordinary times we are living in. Businesses have experienced significant disruption over the last few months. From the way we function to the ways we interact with each other; nothing is how it used to be earlier. While the uncertainty still looms, it is commendable how businesses have been quick to adapt to the change and implement new ways of working in a matter of days or weeks. Although much has been debated about the pros and cons of this new normal, one thing is inevitable. Workplaces have to reopen. And when it does, the most important question will be – are businesses ready to welcome their employees back and provide them a safe workplace? Can we operate the same way that we did a few months ago? Probably not.
Enterprises will have to ensure adequate safety and confidence-building measures are in place before we are even ready to welcome our employees back to the office. While business leaders and managers grapple with these new challenges, adaptability and agility will be the defining factors in the success of enterprises, both large and small. And as we navigate through this unknown terrain, the HR function probably has the biggest responsibility on its shoulders.
A new definition of a safe workplace – Reshaping the role of HR
A people-first approach is critical to ensuring a safe and secure workplace in the future. And this transformation will have to be led predominantly by the HR function. There are innumerable questions HR leaders are grappling with on how to create a safe environment for their employees, how to mitigate health and safety risks, and how to navigate the employees through these difficult times.
Some of the big challenges facing HR Managers as businesses resume in the workplace include:
- Ensuring a safe workplace for employees
- Winning employee confidence (to return to their workplace)
- Defining and implementing new processes
- Risk mitigation and crisis management
- Effective communication and grievance redressal
Apart from these, there are as many as 70 workforce-protection interventions across manufacturing, office, retail, and field environments at pre-entry, travel to work, at work, common spaces, and post-infection levels, as identified by leading consulting company McKinsey. However, the key to the successful implementation of such processes lies in its efficiency and accuracy. And this is where technology plays a significant role.
How can technology help HR build the new workplace?
It was the technology that helped us manage business continuity and sail through the crisis. Thanks to the advancements in the field of automation and AI, most of our employees have been able to work remotely without disrupting their productivity. And this is exactly how technology is going to help HR rebuild safe workplaces.
Many enterprises have already started leveraging technology to ensure a safe, transparent, and conducive workplace for employees to return while ensuring a high level of control for HR managers in ensuring the safety of the workforce. An automobile giant based in India is leveraging technology to facilitate employees to self-check themselves for COVID-19 symptoms while entering office premises. This is just one of the steps taken towards ensuring employee safety and workplace security. The new norms of a safer workplace include employee health status recording, daily health screening, and reporting, automated access control based on recorded health parameters, inventory management, contact tracing, among others. And technology can help HR streamlining these processes without disrupting their everyday operations.
Some of the areas where technology can help HR rebuild a safer workplace are:
- Building confidence amongst returning employees – Before reopening the offices, HR teams will have to regularly communicate with employees to check on their health and preparedness to return to the workplace. Adequate confidence-building measures and new workplace policies need to be worked upon. To facilitate this, AI-powered tools can help design surveys and check employees’ preparedness and help leadership teams make appropriate decisions.
- Facilitating Health screening at workplaces – Once employees are back in the office, they will need to be screened regularly for any symptoms to ensure their safety and the safety of others around them. Technology helps build a continuous measurement and tracking system that provides patterns and actionable insights. This will reduce the risks associated and ensure business continuity without frequent disruptions.
- Continuous Sanitization & Tracking – Workstations and floors will need continuous sanitization and tracking before, after, and during shift changes. Ensuring efficiency in tracking and reporting these are critical for managers to utilize spaces better while keeping a check on increased costs associated with these new processes. Automated processes will help assign employee shifts and facilitate accurate and real-time inventory management.
- Crisis management – In the case of an employee testing COVID-19 positive, associated actions, contact tracing, etc., will become essential to avoid further spread and panic. Technology will help navigate employees through difficult times and also alert the premises and the management for the safety of the other employees, maintaining a safer workplace throughout.
As offices reopen, workplace safety becomes a priority and the role of HR gets transformed significantly. Technology is at the forefront of this transformation and enterprises that leverage technology to rebuild their workplaces will no doubt have an edge over others. So, one thing is evident - if the new normal is here to stay, so is technology.