The COVID-19 pandemic that originated in China in December 2019 has spread across the globe by now and will continue to proliferate in the foreseeable future. Apart from inducing panic and uncertainty amidst the general population about who the next victim will be, the pandemic has also significantly disrupted the way business works. New norms about working from home are changing the way employees and managers interact – which, for many, is a source of potential concern about what ‘business as usual’ will look like in the future. This is particularly relevant for the Human Resources Department, which is directly involved in recruiting and managing talent.
Why is HR concerned?
The chief concern that HR officials have is about communicating the company’s stance on the COVID-19 situation to its employees. Several unreliable news sources are spreading false or unverified information about the pandemic online, which is heightening the sense of panic and fear among employees. Given the fact that offices around the world are now working remotely, the company cannot communicate face-to-face with its employees, which could increase the sense of distance from the top management and thus from what the company actually thinks.
Another area of concern relates to maintaining employee morale. Without physical proximity, activities like team events or open discussions with senior leaders are no longer possible. This erodes the personal touch to some extent, which makes it harder for employers to connect with their teams and help boost their spirits. There is also the possibility of employees feeling isolated as they work alone in their homes away from the rest of the team.
How is employee behavior changing?
New mandates from governments worldwide are compelling employees at all levels to work from home. Contrary to HR expectations, however, this is, in fact, boosting their productivity. A significant amount of time that would otherwise have gone on the commute and getting ready for office is now saved. Employees can use this extra time to bond with their loved ones, engage in various hobbies and interests and maintain a less hectic schedule. As a result, they are in a more relaxed frame of mind and can concentrate better on the work that they have.
Given modern technological advances, moreover, connectivity and coordination is an easy matter even when working remotely. Meetings are now being conducted over a call or video chat, while communication channels like Slack are being used to share messages and files. Both employees and clients are now witnessing for themselves how effective working from home can be with the help of technology. This could potentially lead to a major shift in the way business is conducted, with remote working and virtual meetings becoming the norm even after the spread of the virus has abated.
How is management behavior changing?
The current state of affairs allows managers at mid and senior levels to display their leadership and decision-making skills in new ways. At times like this, keeping employee morale up through regular motivation and recognition is more important than ever and virtual communication is ideally suited for that. Managers should stress the fact that working from home gives employees additional accountability and that the company trusts them to make the best use of that accountability. This is also an excellent opportunity to encourage upskilling through online learning platforms –the HR department can subsidize or even fully sponsor the cost of learning and offer incentives for successfully completing courses. Accomplishments can be shared publicly on group emails and Slack channels so that everyone can celebrate wins. Moreover, personal messages and calls acknowledging the difficulties that each employee may be going through go a long way in improving their sense of self-worth as valued team members.
COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis that is testing professional and personal relations around the world. It is the responsibility of each member of each organization to put in their utmost and maintain smooth business relations. While certain concerns may initially slow down progress, steady and positive communication from all parties will help maintain everyone’s morale and keep employee relations intact as the world moves through this challenge.