Impact of Covid-19 on HR Practices and Future Workforce in 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought several challenges and drastic transformations to global business functioning. There is no aspect of work that seems unaffected by this invisible enemy leaving global leaders and workforce to identify alternatives that could be suitably fitted to restore work functions. The uncertainty that has arisen due to the pandemic has led to affecting the physical and mental well-being of employees across global organizations and in many circumstances made them feel clueless about what is in store for them.
It was on 30 January 2020 that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in India while much cognizance was given to it in March 2020 when the nation started experiencing its impact and spread. Prime Minister Narendra Modi then took a bold step by enforcing the world’s biggest lockdown and abiding by the same, the physical presence of the entire workforce in India became a remote one overnight. This was so ‘new’. This was something never seen or experienced before. With an exception of fewer organizations allowing their employees to work in remote settings or from home and that too in special circumstances, this move from ‘new’ was expected to take time to become ‘normal’.
The economy of the nation has also been adversely affected due to the lockdown indicating the lowest figures since India’s economic liberalization in the 1990 s. The current fiscal year reflected a recession wherein the economic growth fell to 3.1% which was not experienced in the past 17 years in Q4 of 2019–20. This has basically dropped the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth to an 11-year low of 4.2% in 2019–20 (Business Standard 2020). The unemployment rate has also risen from 6.7% on 15 March to 26% on 19 April. In fact, 140 million people lost their jobs during this period (Business Standard 2020). Despite these figures, however, revival, and recovery were certainly in the minds in Indian organizations.
The impact of COVID-19 on health, economies, and markets is an unfolding story that is complex and fluid in its ever-changing dimensions. One of the biggest visible impacts of the virus has been on the organizations and the nature of workplaces. As the coronavirus spread invisibly across the globe, nation after nation has declared lockdowns, and organizations 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 disseminated. 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, a list of hospitals, guidelines for quarantining and isolating, and much more. Many organizations 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, hand washes, 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 HR practices like recruitment, onboarding, 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-mode only.
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. Organizations 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..
Having larger remote workforces will push organizations to ramp up technology adoption and digitalization, enable dispersed operations, and collaborative functioning. As organizations get more comfortable with employees working remotely, the requirement for office space and fixed workstations may reduce drastically. Organizations may be able to leverage the WFH concept to cut costs on real estate and brick-and-mortar infrastructure.
Many of these changes are already afoot, and organizations have been in a constant mode of reinventing practically every process and policy. The silver lining to this unprecedented health crisis is that organizations are finding new ways to become more productive with fewer resources. Doing more with less is the mantra in the post corona world. When the world changed practically overnight with the coronavirus pandemic, organizations did too. The industry is watching the reinvention of the workplace happening before our eyes.