All industries, all levels of society, and almost all countries have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. HR is not untouched. I foresee the following HR Priorities in the coming years as New Normal.
Wellbeing of Employees and Their Families
The number one priority for organizational leadership, including human resources (HR) leadership, is to focus on the health and well-being of employees and their families. This is an unprecedented situation with a very high level of uncertainty and anxiety. As the Pandemic continues, the organization at this point must stand by its employees and their families in terms of awareness, providing resources, and risk mitigation.
Efforts on several fronts are extremely important:
- Employee well-being-Remote working arrangements, flexibility, awareness, regular updates, and focus on the well-being of employees are extremely important as new normal.
- Awareness-Increasing awareness levels within communities is extremely important and something that needs to be strengthened through reinforcements and continuous education campaigns.
- Insurance-Specific insurance policies that adequately cover health risk are important. In addition to regular medical coverage, customized coverage, quarantine-based facilities in the unfortunate situation of positive cases. These are some important steps.
- Removing bureaucracy-This is a time when too many approvals, over-engineered processes can be simplified and the focus can be brought back to moving quickly to do the right thing.
- Having trust-based policies –HR should not act under the spectre of suspicion during this time and aim to cross-check intentions.
Protecting the Interests of Various Stakeholders – Clients, Management, Employees, Families, and Society
Holistic thinking, connecting the dots and looking at the big picture – taking actions in the best interests of all who we serve – clients, management and leadership, employees and their families and the society in which we live is important at this time. We need to raise our social responsibility quotient with a view to the long term.
- Proactively anticipating expectations-This involves proactively looking at the expectations, needs, concerns – both short term and long term of our stakeholders and taking actions to meet those.
- Being more connected than usual-Making the extra effort to establish a personal connect at a time when we are operating virtually is extremely important. Making the connect more informal, deeper, more meaningful, more personal is an art that needs to be developed. Various channels and opportunities that are available need to be fully made use of – video conferencing tools, phone, writing, texting. Forms of staying in touch even when it is a typed text message or recorded video/audio message that makes people feel special are important.
- Responding Quickly-At a time when the landscape is changing rapidly every few days, assessment of risk is continuous, constant monitoring and responding quickly are needed.
- Bringing interests together-Marrying diverse interests, finding common ground, pushing for consensus, taking care to build bridges, encouraging people with differing opinions to come together are important aspects which need to be looked at.
Mental, Emotional, Physical and Spiritual Health
Employee well-being needs to be looked at in its broader scope – mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional. Each of these has been strained more than in the “normal” times. Mental health issues have become more common. Job security, anxiety, and depression cases have increased. Lack of physical movement and exercise increases the risk of disease. Emotional connection is hard to find in remotely isolated individuals. Sensitivity and empathy to these realities are very important.
- Time off-Personal time and work time have intermingled inseparably. The meaning of leave or a break staying at home has changed. So it is important that employees are encouraged to take breaks.
- Staying positive- HR team should reach out, more commonly than normal, and ensure employees stay positive. The focus should be on optimism and on the silver lining.
- Appreciation and rewards-More spontaneous awards almost like a daily celebration ritual need to be created so that employees socialize and celebrate. More reasons to smile, to cheer, to be happy need to be found than at usual times.
- Employee engagement-More disciplined and regular employee connect programs covering a cross-section of employees – right from new joiners to tenured ones are important at this time.
- Motivation and morale-Focus should be on the future, maintaining motivation and morale and happiness, spreading joy. Leaders, HR, and teams should participate and make things joyful.
- Redefining fun-Fun needs to be redefined in its virtual format. Having fun was earlier so dependent on physical get-togethers, parties, celebrations. New avenues have to be found – virtual and stand up comedy shows, selfie contests, songs, and video sharing, watch parties, virtual luncheons, etc.
Business Continuity and Productivity
- Focus-There should be a strong focus on productivity and maintaining the quality of deliverables to customers. This could be challenging in an unsupervised remote environment. It is important to build a work culture of productivity and responsiveness.
- Deliverables-A self-managed environment where people have clarity about their deliverables and take self-ownership is important in a remote work scenario.
- Tools for collaboration– It is extremely important to empower teams with the right tools for collaboration and working together at this time- audio, video, document sharing, coding, checking in, etc
- Connectivity-It is important to provide good quality network and connectivity infrastructure.
- Overall environment based on trust and transparency –The overall environment should be one that provides psychological safety, trust, and transparency. Over-communicate; build trust, authentic leadership based on emotional vulnerability are important.
Ensuring That We are “Winning in the Turns”
“Winning in the turns” refers to the phase when the going gets tough but the tough can overcome anything and emerge stronger.
- Vision, purpose, and values-This is the right time to revisit vision, purpose, and values and to adapt, see the relevance, and tweak them for longevity and future.
- Collaboration-Seamless collaboration across all boundaries- functional, departmental, geographic becomes extremely important.
- Coming together as one leadership – alignment of thoughts, meeting of minds-The unique challenges in the rapidly changing new normal environment cannot be tackled without the leadership coming together as one – putting ideas and minds together, acting as one, acting as an extension of each other, uniting intuitively to achieve a higher common goal.
- Agility-Speed, responsiveness is extremely important. However, acting with speed is important but not with haste. Haste can result in expensive mistakes, thoughtless actions, and avoidable situations.
- Revisiting policies-Policies and processes would have to be re-engineered rapidly in real-time. Dated practices, which have seen their day, need to be recast to meet the realities of a changing world.
- Positioning for future-Overall, the organization, its purpose and vision, its resources, its actions, and strategies need to be repositioned for the future.
The new normal will test the resolve, the intentions, the vision, the strategies, and outputs of the organization. More importantly, its ability to learn, unlearn and re-learn, to strike a balance between planning and execution, and to place a premium on thoughtful and mindful holistic actions. This will position the organization well for the future.