Corporations around the world are grappling with how to best keep employees safe, while trying to ensure optimal utilization of their staff and business continuity— by asking employees to work-from-home, creating tag teams, etc.
HR is one function that has been at the forefront of managing and responding to the (ongoing crisis and the) lockdown, and the ongoing crisis. Every day, the HR leaders and their team have a war-room scenario where they find out what the day was like yesterday, what were the operating hassles, and address those then and there.
According to a study, After The Lockdown– Configuring The New Normal, done by Intelligent Insights (Intin), a Business Intelligence Platform based enterprise, and co-sponsored by eXlygenze it was found that HR Leaders shared that internal shortfalls, i.e. lack of robust business continuity procedures, and situational training for their employees, led to an elevated effect of the disruption brought by the pandemic and the lockdown that followed.
The study which surveyed HR leaders from 115 Indian as well as MNC organizations, suggests that the announcement of the first lockdown without any notice was one of the biggest sources of disruption according to the 77 percent of the HR leaders as no planning was possible to manage the situation in the short term. The unforeseen situation, and “Changing consumer priorities” were some other external factors that led to business disruption.
Almost 9 out of 10 HR Leaders cited a negative impact on their organizations’ overall day to day operations over the last 70 odd days, with 49 percent describing the disruption impact as a “substantial” or “very large negative” impact.
However, one of the striking findings from the study highlights that HR leaders noted that compared to their assessment of overall operations, the HR Teams’ day to day operations have not been disrupted as much. Relatively fewer (36 percent) of the HR leaders felt that the disruption was “significant” or “very large”.
Getting back to business: Managing change
It was found that a majority of participating organizations (78%) foresee their businesses encountering moderate to a substantial change in work processes under the influence of the crisis brought by the novel COVID-19 virus. In fact, some HR leaders (8 percent) shared that they will completely overhaul their work processes.
Talking about managing change, an interesting insight derived from the study was that ‘younger HR’, i.e. HR leaders with relatively fewer years of experience seem to be more open to change. Also, HR leaders who were relatively newer in their jobs, also seem to be keen to drive change. This is one of the big insights because it breaks the stereotypes of the amount of experience a leader needs to understand and drive a change in an organization.
While the change is being acknowledged, and leadership is looking to respond to the new normal of work, the readiness to deal with the change is what the HR leaders are not really sure about. Almost 50 percent are either unsure about it or actually do not agree that “the workforce is mentally prepared to deal with this kind of disruption”.
Focus area: Dealing with the evolving environment
The study by Intin, on basis of the sentiments of HR leaders, suggests the following focus areas to respond to the new normal of work:
Learning & Development
The HR leaders are open to considering multiple ways to enhance Learning & Development in the evolving post lockdown environment. The preference is for identification and prioritization of specific skills and making sure employees are multiskilled to take on future challenges.
Getting Employees to embrace the new ways of working is a critical intervention. ‘Behavioral Reinforcement’ and ‘Use of Digital Tools’ scored the highest across the board.
The importance given to ‘going digital’ is significant, given that only about 40 percent of the HR leaders admitted to leveraging digital tools currently to stay in touch and motivate their teams.
Enabling Digital/Online Technologies will be a focus area, wherein HR leaders were asked to rank their top three options to enable flexible business operations during disruptions.
Not surprisingly, the top areas they want to invest in the future would be:
- Employee engagement enabler
- Remote working enabler
- Teamworking enabler
- Seen in the light of the general worry on ‘mental preparedness of the workforce’ to deal with pandemic related disruptions in the future, these areas are top candidates for keeping the workforce in touch and productive.
- HR leaders are also interested in online Training and Learning technologies something that will help continuous learning and development of the workforce, come what may.
- Recruitment and Compliance Monitoring tools had a low interest.
Work from home set up
Work from home, or from anywhere else for that matter, is a hot topic. Worldwide, many organizations have already announced firm, long term policies supporting WFH, in order to foster a feeling of security and continuity.
On the practical aspects of WFH, the choices similar across segments and organization sizes:
- Supporting WFH set up: To start with, 2 out of 3 HR leaders would choose “company provided technology solutions at home” over reimbursing employees for the purchase of relevant devices/ tools/ software. Clearly, they have company standards and unity of platforms/software in mind, in order to facilitate uniform and seamless connectivity.
- Regular WFH vs As & When Required: The vote is split on regular rotation based rostering vs doing WFH only when necessary, with a slight majority preferring regularity.
- Identical Rotating Teams vs Random WFH Arrangement: The majority would opt for an organized approach to “who is on WFH on which day?”. Splitting the workforce into identical, rotating teams is preferred by 78%, over random arrangements.
- Reporting Milestone based vs Time-bound: This is an area where actual experience will firm up the choices quite quickly. At present, a slight majority (54 percent) prefer milestone-based reporting, in line with the agreement on “self-motivated work completion” (57 percent).
The Evolving Workforce Management:
- There are hard choices facing the HR Leadership on right-sizing their organizations and creating the best fit shape for the future. Of the different options offered to the HR leaders, “Redeployment of employees” had the highest agreement. At this time, as the market begins to shake out and consumers settle into a changed set of behaviors, redeployment is likely seen as the most pragmatic option to manage the fluid situation.
- While it is rated higher than all other options, ‘redeployment’ doesn’t have any specific segment driving it. It is a sort of panacea.
- On the other hand, some of the options had very few takers, e.g. “Unpaid leave ” and “ Converting regular employees to contract workers ”.
- Reducing salaries is seen as a possible solution to manage the P&L impact of the current disruption. Overall, 45 percent agree with this option. This option has significantly higher support across segments that expect to be hit hard negatively vs. others on business results, and on the day to day operations.
- Targeted headcount reduction and laying off excess employees received a polarized response.
The Rewards System
In line with the thinking of Reducing Salaries, a Moratorium on Salary Increments is considered to be a likely option by 2 out of 3 HR Leaders. It has a significantly higher likelihood score compared to all other options put up for consideration.
Structural changes like reduction in Fixed Remuneration, or increasing the proportion and coverage of Variable Pay received a relatively muted response, overall.
Moratorium on Bonuses & Reduction in Benefits, both receive relatively high likelihood scores across HR leaders. The likelihood of implementation is significantly higher in companies that are expecting a very negative impact on business results, and large disruptions in day to day activities. These are immediate, short term recourse to remedy the impact on revenues and Profitability
Bigger structural options to widen the ESOP and profit-sharing plans did not have many takers across the board at this time. These will need a deeper consideration.