The impact of Covid-19 on health, economies, and markets is an unfolding story that is intricate and unsolidified in its ever-changing scopes. One of the noticeableeffects of the virus has been on the organisations and the nature of workplaces. As the coronavirus spread invisibly across the globe, nation after nation has declared lockdowns, and organisations have scrambled to comply with lockdown restrictions while striving to keep operations going. Work-from-home (WFH) became the immediate solution to business continuity.
Agility, creativity, flexibility – these are the attributes demonstrated by HR in the lockdown scenario. As employees started logging in remotely, HR functions stepped up to transform brick-and-mortar offices into virtual workplaces almost overnight. Guidelines to ensure that employees could manage WFH seamlessly and securely had to be quickly defined and circulated. In many cases, employees had to be supported with digital infrastructure – laptops, data cards – to ensure that business continuity could be maintained.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased the emphasis on the ‘human connect’ aspect of the HR function. Amid a rapidly unfolding health crisis, HR functions geared up to provide critical communication on safety protocols, hygiene practices, emergency numbers, list of hospitals, guidelines for quarantining and isolating, and much more. Many organisations went the extra mile to help employees handle stress by setting up online classes for employee wellbeing and motivation.
Employee safety became the prime concern, and HR teams partnered with other functions to define ways of ensuring safety and social distancing compliance at factories and plants that continued to operate. Regular disinfection of premises, offices, buses, and colonies has become an essential component of keeping employees safe. The procurement of masks, handwashes, and sanitizers was critical even though supplies fell low in the market.
The coronavirus crisis has helped shine a spotlight on the value that HR delivers in keeping employees engaged, motivated, safe, and productive. However, the WFH concept and minimal staffing situation are likely to continue for some time. The very nature of the virus and its transmissibility have made it clear that social distancing is going to be the new normal for at least a year. This implies that the pandemic situation will impact in recruitment, on-boarding, and learning and development. Recruitment will focus on tech-savvy talent who can perform better in a predominantly digital workplace. Processes for on-boarding new hires will have to change to become fully digital. Training and skilling will reconfigure for an online-only mode.
Some of the changes are exciting in their potential for transformation. In the appreciable future, HR will play a key role in redefining, perhaps permanently, the nature of the workplace. For instance, standard attendance and leave policies will no longer work. Organisations will have to place a higher degree of trust in the integrity and commitment of employees working remotely. WFH may impact decision-making structures because of the constraints of video meeting platforms. Smaller teams may be able to collaborate better and take decisions faster. In some ways, WFH may even be a blessing in disguise. Being able to work from home may help people to balance professional and personal issues better. It may enable more women and people with disabilities to enter the workforce.
Having larger remote workforces will push organisations to ramp up technology adoption and digitalization, enable dispersed operations, and collaborative functioning. As organisations get more comfortable with employees working remotely, the requirement for office space and fixed workstations may reduce drastically. Organisations may be able to leverage WFH concept to cut costs on real estate and brick-and-mortar infrastructure.
Many of these changes are already afoot, and organisations have been in a constant mode of reinventing practically every process and policy. Doing more with less is the mantra in the post corona world. When the world changed practically overnight with the coronavirus pandemic, organisations did too.