COVID-19 has put extraordinary financial as well as operational pressures on businesses around the world. Within India, 12% of the startups had to close down, while a mammoth 6.8 lakh companies registered under Registrar of Companies have had to permanently ‘down their shutters’ as reported in the first week of July. Organizations that have managed to sustain operations, navigating through these despondent times is one onerous task. With organizations contemplating to close departments, relieving workforce and resorting to pay cuts to be able to sustain themselves, the HR departments have their task cut out.
How should HR executives respond to this unfolding situation? The answer lies in a judicious mix of innovative HR policies with a dash of flexibility while showing sensitivity to the needs of the employees in this regard. Some of those possible policy measures are as follows.
Given the disruption of natural workflows, organizations need to creatively redistribute functions and reassign tasks based on its priority objectives in the immediate term yet keeping the long-term goals in mind. Instead of considering downsizing of workforce, unless absolutely unavoidable, reorganising of operations and timelines through staggered shifts, juggling of tasks and remote work must be contemplated. If there is much financial pressure, devising a 4-day week policy can be considered. Consider shifting employees from a low workflow department to a busier one to rebalance resources. If the management has been considering to add a new department to the organization such as social media or digital media management, do it now by shifting a section of employees to the new job. Reorganisation of operations will naturally involve upskilling and re-skilling of employees arising from their newly-assigned roles and responsibilities.
Review and revise KPIs aligned to realistic targets
With reorganized operations in tune with the critical nature of the times, HR executives must revise their performance targets for employees aligned with new set of KPIs. Setting of unrealistic targets at a time of workplace/workforce disruption might only backfire and may only harm the interests of the organisation in the long run.
Create a blueprint for managing remote work
In view of the fact that remote work has been a relatively new phenomenon, you will have to work out new rules and processes delineating functions that could be performed remotely in perpetuity and those that have to be necessarily discharged at the office premises. In between the two categories, there will be some tasks that could be carried out partly at home and partly at the office premises, thereby requiring a hybrid model. With this in mind, you must develop a detailed blueprint or roster for all categories and all personnel. Naturally, this must also account for the specifics of the sector or the industry your company operates in. Notably, India’s largest infotech and outsourcing company has already announced that it would allow 75% of its employees to permanently migrate to work from home in the coming 5 years. In another sign of the times, between February and July 2020, searches for remote work have increased by over 442 per cent as a share of all searches on a popular job search platform.
Setting up digital infrastructure
Remote work would require the setting up of digital infrastructure supporting employees who would work from their homes. High speed internet, quality audio and video conferencing applications, data security and privacy, VPN etc would form the initial components of a digital platform necessary for remote work. The HR must ensure the employees have updated tools and skills to manage remote working smoothly.
Revisit your leave policies
With new arrangements being drawn up, the need for revisiting your company’s leave policies will inevitably arise. While companies would have dealt with leave policies in times and zones of natural disasters before, coming up with a leave policy for workplace exigencies in such a protracted global pandemic-dictated environment must be without a precedent. You could face a situation where some employees would have already exhausted their sick or vacation leaves before the onset of COVID-19 and who would have also contracted the virus. Then there could be some employees who may not be physically able to perform their designated tasks even from home and may require longer medical leaves or emergency leaves which may not be covered under the existing regular sick leave provisions. Such cases may require longer medical leaves or emergency leaves or even paid leaves owing to the special COVID exigencies. A rigid and inflexible leave policy is definitely not the way forward.
Expand the ambit of employee benefits, especially health benefits
In crisis times such as today, HR executives must also take a fresh look at employee benefits extended to the company’s workforce, especially health coverage. For instance, they should examine whether the current health package covers the medications generally used to treat for COVID-19. Further, with increasing uptake of tele-consultation and virtual healthcare, health coverage should also include these new forms of services employees are taking recourse to more and more frequently. The scheduling of coverage must also be made more flexible keeping in mind the widespread disruption of activities and the restricted rules for movement. With mental health emerging as a ‘collateral damage’ of Covid, companies should also arrange for counselling and therapy sessions for their employees. In addition, employees should be periodically rewarded and acknowledged for their performances during these tough times.
Hunt for new talent now
Counter-intuitively as it may sound, this is the best time to get the right talent. If finances permit the organization, of course! The economic recession has forced millions of skilled and talented people out of job overnight and good talent is available easily in the market. So, if you need to hire new people, now is the time.
To conclude, if you adopt a sensitive HR policy approach balancing the current needs of your employees and the long-term goals of the company, the company will reap the rewards post-COVID-19.