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Rethinking HR in the Post-Covid Scenario

Finally, the times we have all been waiting for is coming. The coronavirus lockdown is slowly phasing out. And though we still have to be extremely vigilant, businesses have started opening up and a return to a somewhat normal situation is on the horizon.

Amid all the uncertainty, individuals, communities and professionals have responded with empathy, understanding, and strength. The focus of organisations has not only been to keep the company operations afloat but also deal with layoffs, furloughs, and shutdown. They also had to manage quickly changing ground situations like tackling employee grievances, establishing safety measures were necessary or at least think about them, protect the health of employees, and come up with various workforce strategies to support employees as they worked from home.

Inadvertently, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink our work cultures, workspaces, and work relationships. It has laid down the foundation for a new ecosystem. While there is no one-solution-fits-all approach, HR needs to start thinking about things cohesively. And here are a few pertinent questions that will help to broadly outline some of the top priorities for HR teams as we come out of lockdown.

#1. Is there room to rethink the organisation structure?

To rethink the organisation structure first conduct a review of how the business has been affected. What has changed and what changes will come about in the functions and roles. More importantly, review how working from home has panned out for each department or function within the organisation. This will give you a better handle on how things have been working. Outlining what has worked well and what hasn’t will offer effective pointers as we move towards a new normal.

For instance, if your marketing team is working from home for most of the time and it is not critical for them to work out of an office, you may choose to go the TCS way and have this team in office only 25% of their time. What this could lead to is perhaps a change in the manager-employee ratio. Where you had one manager supervising thirty employees, in a remote working situation, you might have to change the ration to fifteen employees under one manager’s supervision. Likewise, there could be hybrid roles resulting in the grouping of work functions which too could lead to changes in the organisational structure.

The net effect, your organisation structure will undergo a sea change based on what you define as your new normal considering various factors, most critical being the new business context & cost implications.

#2. Can we restructure employee salaries?

The lockdown has brought business to an abrupt and grinding halt. The most difficult aspect of the current situation has been to grapple with the management of the inflow of revenues and expenses. As a part of this, several companies have been forced to lay off people, and reduce salaries. To economise, HR may soon have to further optimise costs and the best way would be through salary restructuring.

Continuing the above example, if the marketing team now has to work from home, to restructure the salary to suit the current situation, the salary breakdown will have to factor in new expenses whilst taking away certain other expenses that are not applicable anymore. Perhaps include an allowance for home infrastructure for work or an easier online network to navigate remotely, to work-friendly furniture allowances, of course in place of ones that may be irrelevant now like travel or petrol allowances. Besides, HR has to make changes keeping in mind basic compensation, and also come up with new ways of measuring employee output in the work from home situation to decide bonuses.

Should you have to restructure your salaries, HR has to brace itself to tackle employee grievances. Understanding the ground situation, providing reassurance, as far as possible and displaying patience and maturity will help maintain stability for both employees and the organisation.

#3. Will we need new employee policies?

The overall trend is that employees aren’t required to be in the office for eight hours every day. For instance, after working from home for weeks, some employees may be reluctant to return to the standard office hours. As an organisation, whether you choose to go the work from home route or phased attendance, HR will have to come up with a new code of conduct and employee policies that tie in with the new normal.

How do you measure attendance and leave while working from home? How do you monitor how employees are conducting themselves? How do you define online etiquette? These are some basic questions that come up and there sure are many more. These responsibilities rest on the HRs shoulder and these are policy-related matters. Just the way HR has had to have to come up with a framework of how employees should interact with each other in the office and implement hygiene and social distancing measures post the lockdown; I strongly recommend that HR begins to also review existing employee policies and upgrade them now to support your new normal going forward.

#4. How should you tackle performance management in the post-COVID world?

As the ways of working change, the method of evaluation has to also. No matter the situation, performance has to be measured and feedback should be given. Employees should not be judged only based on their functional responsibilities. In the current scenario, the traditional job role may have completely pivoted to something else, requiring the employee to take more initiative to step up and support the organisation.

Some of the key values that need to be considered in the new normal are accountability on the part of the employee and trust on the part of the employer. The approach has to be more output-driven, the feedback system also needs to be more empathetic. As we discussed in our previous article, performance and productivity have to be distinguished from each other.

Revisit your performance appraisal system before it’s time for the next review cycle. Adjust it so that you continue to get the desired output even in the new normal. Maybe your process or the performance appraisal tools (form) does not need to change, but you can’t ignore the challenges that employees are going to face while filling in the next review forms. Preempt the different scenarios and prepare your guidelines today.

#5. How would you handle employee concerns?

Several issues have come up for employees in these past months of self-isolation and working from home; ranging from job security, financial constraints, health and well-being, as well as managing work-life balance.

While issues of mental health, stress, and personal finance have always existed even before the pandemic, they have become more apparent now, and organisations have to look into hiring counsellors, or offer helplines, and other avenues of support to employees. In earlier times, the HR only had to conduct regular floor walks or one-one sessions, or pay attention to the grapevine to get a sense of the organisation. Post COVID-19, where most organisations will not have a 100% attendance for a long time, the HR needs to rethink these older ways of doing it.

The role of HR would be to be neutral and work towards improving interpersonal relationships so that overall employer-employee relationship is affected positively. This may be a good time to relax working hours or add flexibility or encourage employees to communicate by developing such forums. As the lifting of the lockdown is going to be implemented in a phased manner, it is good to segregate the essential roles from the non-essential ones.

In short, HR has to think about reframing the entire employee experience. Having a culture of engagement and recognition is key in developing a resilient workforce, not just in times of uncertainty, but overall, to minimize employee stress, burnout and detachment.

In a post-COVID-19 environment, organisations of all sizes, and its people, are bound to face significant change and disruption at some point, if not frequently. That change can potentially be crippling. However, if employees are prepared to absorb these sorts of fundamental changes within their organisations, to adjust to them while continuing to work toward targets and goals, then we can expect to see their companies thrive through the uncertainty.

All companies need to do is to shift toward a more humane approach and HR has to be agile in its responses, to meet the requirements of fast-changing conditions. By being prepared, HR will be able to keep up a positive communication that will foster stability and counter uncertainty and change. The focus has to be people first, and business will follow!

At Yellow Spark, our expertise is in developing pragmatic manpower strategies that enable organisations to meet exponential businesses growth. To know more, reach out to us on contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.

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Rethinking HR in the Post-Covid Scenario
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Published on:  June 10, 2020