The year 2020 will be remembered as the year a global pandemic fundamentally altered the world. Healthcare systems around the world were challenged. Economies nose-dived. Supply chains came to a standstill, as a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) claimed over ten million lives. Countries resorted to drastic measures including the implementation of nation-wide lockdowns, boosting stimulus packages to help businesses, and driving a singular focus on building healthcare capacity.
The world of work united behind the phrase ‘the new normal’ – which signified a new era of work – where only essential services were deemed most necessary to operate, where knowledge workers who could work remotely worked from home and business operations moved to a digital-first eco system. It also signified a time when ruptures in businesses were opened up – and drastic measures were taken to stay afloat – downsizing operations, job cuts and salary cuts became common place.
The ‘new normal’ was the biggest remote working experiment. Research studies indicated that with a reduction of commute time, employees were actually more productive. But as the months went on, companies started noticing that employees were feeling burnt out. Workplace stressors combined with lack of work-life boundaries contributed to anxiety and stress which further impacted the business. As a business leader pointed out, “Mental health is one of the measures of the fiscal health.”
HR’s role took on centre stage as ‘people’ decisions were at heart of ‘business continuity’. From taking business critical decisions to sustain operations, scaling up learning programs, digitizing experience and findings ways of engage with employees and retain workplace culture, the ‘new normal’ was a new ball game altogether. ‘Employee experience’ was no longer just about the employee; it had to accommodate the ‘family’ and the ‘environment’. ‘Health and safety’ moved on top of the priority list for most companies. And supporting employees in adjusting to new realities was also necessary.
There are a number of lessons for business and HR leaders that 2020 has taught, in a way only a crisis can– that digital and automation efforts are no longer ‘good to have’, they need to be mandated to ensure business operations. Mental health and physical health of employees were critical to business success. And leadership is driven through continuous communication and with a focus on empathy. And companies that don’t keep up and build resilience, will be left behind.