Henry Ford once said ‘When everything seems to be against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.’ There are few disruptions that have the ability to catalyze a monumental transformation. The COVID-19 pandemic probably is that big disruption of our times that has challenged the status quo, turning lives and livelihoods in topsy-turvy and to a distinct contraction in the economy. Over the past three months, as countries world-over adopt different degrees of lockdown, traditional workforce structures and styles have undergone significant changes. This new reality has put organizations in a tight spot, compelling them to make a choice between ‘wait and watch’ or ‘jump and act’. So, we can either use this storm to deter us or use its headwind to leap forward.
The ‘work from home’ approach became a natural transition to perform day-to-day tasks and ensure business continuity. Client servicing, collaboration, brainstorming, accounting, there is a long list of roles that have been successfully and seamlessly executed remotely during this time. Technology has truly emerged as a savior and hero.
Seen skeptically in the past, work from home has compelled companies to trust and depend on its workforce to perform the same tasks with diligence and accountability. A key concern for most employers has been monitoring and recording productivity which can now be supervised by digital HR tools. The results, surprising to leaders from the old school of thought, have been positive. Most employees have stretched themselves beyond business as usual and risen to the task. Witnessing the disruption to business from close quarters, they have extended collaboration tools to customer and other value chain partners and gone beyond their roles to stand-by their fellow colleagues, leaders, and company.
Crisis is the best time to test the strength of a company’s culture. Are people-centric policies, inclusion and diversity initiatives and values done as a tick in the box, or do organizations genuinely take care of their workforce? Here again, technology has paved the way for the Human Resource function to adapt and respond in real time to the professional and personal needs. In many ways, it has presented a demonstration of how an organization can truly give back and stand-by its people that help protect its culture. It has enabled transparent communication at a time where pressure and anxiety of losing jobs is at an all-time high. Podcasts by heads, regular team catch-ups and online mental health workshops, enabled by technology, are proving to be very helpful.
Technological advances have transformed our ability to not only recruit, hire and train remote employees, but also to keep those foundational initiatives not lose momentum. On-boarding new employees, familiarizing them with the structure, and helping them engage with their team members despite no physical contact, has been made possible through digital platforms. Even during mergers and acquisitions, seamless transition to new processes and initiatives have been made possible due to a strong foundation of technology aided by digital tools.
Even high-impact activities like Town Halls, Annual General Body Meetings and audits are being carried out virtually. With the help of webinars and team meetings, mentoring sessions and internship programs have continued with the same vigour, representing a company’s commitment to its employee’s growth and future.
To me this signifies that the reluctance to modernize was pushed out of the window much like traditional HR methods and overdue digital adoption took precedence. What we are going through is nowhere close to ‘business as usual’ but rather it’s ‘business as unusual’. Social distancing and contact-less measures will be a norm for some time and companies can no longer depend on conservative measures but instead will need to take bold decisions and bold investments. Both organizations and people need to question what needs to be preserved, created, accepted, or eliminated.
As we can see possibilities powered by technology are enormous. At the same time, we must not forget the lessons from COVID-19. The resultant impact on the economy has necessitated growth-oriented organizations to rethink their actions and commitment to their people with the same focus as they concentrate on re-aligning their business offerings, processes, and business models.