The future of the workplace has evolved. When the World Health Organization announced COVID-19 as a global pandemic in March 2020, nearly 81% of all organizations shifted their operations online to ensure the safety and well-being of their people (KGP Survey in 2020). Enter the CHROs and the HR/People leaders who have since stepped up as the real influencers of their businesses as they strategize and lead the transformation of their firms while simultaneously learning to navigate the disruption.
As per an article by Mike Bergen, global leader of the HR practice at Kingsley Gate Partners, CHROs are being identified as the ‘transformation Gurus’ of the organization as they face the challenging curveballs pitched by the pandemic in the current new normal. Remote workforce management, digitally equipping the employees, keeping them engaged, gauging their performance while watching over their mental health and well-being, and maintaining implicit trust is no easy task!
While the earlier role of the CHRO oversaw all aspects of human resource management and operations for an organization, the pandemic has evolved the role to a more empathetic, adaptive, and futuristic position. With India in the midst of the second wave, companies are intensely increasing their focus on employees and their immediate families. It is a ‘people over profits’ agenda that has taken immediate effect. For example, German multinational conglomerate, Siemens AG, announced a lump sum financial assistance of Rs 25 lakh in addition to one year's salary of the employee to support the families of employees who have lost their lives to the crisis. They are also granting supplemental leave for colleagues recovering from COVID-19 and additional ten days Wellness Leave for every employee.
The CHRO is at the center of this objective, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the CEO and front-ending all COVID care efforts for the benefit of their employees.
As a result, there is a growing need for the new HR and People Leaders to reimagine their goals, shift their perspective, plan for a better workplace for tomorrow and become catalysts for change. This post-pandemic realignment between the worker and the workplace highlights the need for testing new multi-purpose offices and private workspaces equipped with up-to-date technology and infrastructure. For example, TATA Motors has taken additional measures to ensure such ergonomic workspaces exist for their employees. In addition, they are acknowledging and educating their people on the mindset ‘reset’ that needs to take place to empower them with flexible work environments.
Another example is the COVID relief centers that allow employees to contribute to the unique efforts being led by organizations. Dell Technologies’ partnership with the Hope Foundation enables employees to contribute. For each contribution made, Dell is matching the donation amount up to $10,000 per team member per year.
So, who is the new CHRO?
The new CHROs and People Leaders of the current normal are strategic, empathetic, risk-taking, agile, collaborative, and lead with a data-driven and tech-enabled mindset. They lead from the front.
With the advent of technology in HR, artificial intelligence is no longer a futuristic goal. AI not only enhances the employee experience through increased velocity and transparency across the various facets of HR like payroll and recruitment, but it also drives the CHRO to adopt and invest in technology to stay ahead of the game and focus on leadership development and learning, upskilling and cross-skilling programs as important ways to guarantee a seamless employee experience.
Another impact of HR technology is the digitalization of the onboarding process for new team members. Leaders must be agile and up to date with the technical know-how to ensure the forming and norming of the new virtual processes encouraged by remote work management. These new policies for onboarding, as well as ensuring a continually productive and balanced work-life, also play a significant role in the increasing lack of social interactions.
Motivating talent via team-based games and virtual get-togethers while giving employees time off from their systems are a few more initiatives being taken forward by the new CHROs. In addition, firms are mandating regular check-ins from the company leaders to sustain healthy communication and interaction with the senior leadership to increase transparency and accountability within the workforce. Empathy, transparency, and two-way communication are relevant today more so than ever, especially in the industries currently affected by unfortunate decisions resulting in job insecurity, financial instability, and an uncertain future.
Lastly, an equitable environment is vital. The people leaders are pushing the diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda of the talent management process a notch higher. The new leaders must attract, develop, engage, and leverage the organization's diverse talent with the evolving need for an inclusive environment for the business, the customer, and society. Encouraging and retaining a diverse work population further strengthens the leaders to build and sustain an inclusive business model.
As India deals with the pandemic, the near-term priority lies in preparing for those who want to return to the workplace by creating a safe, inclusive, and reassuring environment. The CHRO needs to lead the way through accessible, empathic, and collaborative leadership that will set the context and redefine the future of the workplace.