During the tragic COVID-19 crisis, HR teams across the world were presented with a new set of challenges to keep employees motivated and safe. Organizations began building new work arrangements and are now restructuring HR processes and operations with a digital focus. HR departments are recalibrating priorities, changing focus towards the management of the workforce remotely, and reimagining workplace models. This blog explores how HR teams in India managed COVID-19 and how your organization can start to do just that.

Sprint Planning

From a recent survey by EY, the biggest concern for around 70% of organizations is decreased productivity as a result of remote working. The survey also highlights that 72% of organizations believe that COVID-19 will impact work beyond 6 months. This has led to several organizations digitizing operations, shifting to virtual recruitment methods, and leveraging emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation, and Machine Learning. 

This change was led by the need for delineating key responsibilities, building work alignment, and work control. Organizations are now adopting structured work allocation and communication protocols to provide meaningful work to employees. Department heads and HR teams are rethinking workforce models and resource plans to keep employee engagement high. Performance management processes are being modified and benefits are being restructured. 

HR Teams

Many firms are now using collaborative dashboards for daily check-ins and relying on smaller teams, with clear ownership of tasks and accountability for execution. Teams are also asked to keep an eye on communication among members (to the extent appropriate). Teams are also maintaining daily and monthly calendars to organize daily huddles. Standard and structured templates are being used to update members within the team at specified intervals. Some firms are also keeping a moratorium on work hours, to maintain work-life balance and let employees have some downtime. 

Improving Work Control

Many firms are leveraging the gig economy for more agility and talent deployment. The EY survey also shows that nearly 55% of firms consider employee cost as an issue in the near future. The main steps taken to build work control are:

  • Articulation of key policies and procedures, providing greater autonomy to local leaders and managers with tools and information.
  • Quick, on-demand access to accurate information about task progress to frontline managers and supervisors. Local leaders have been given more autonomy, the authority to effectively address localized issues and needs.
  • Employee training to support each other through flexible work arrangements.

There is an increased focus on empathic and personalized communication. From on-call doctors and psychiatrists to virtual gyms, HR departments are working hard to keep employee morale high. Communication strategies based on daily check-ins, one-on-one calls, and team sync-ups for collaborative and integrated working are the backbone for ensuring productiveness among remote workforces. This also includes providing platforms to consult experts within and outside the organization, and raise questions, bugs, feature requests, etc. Video conferencing is aiding the mutual exchange of knowledge and reducing the sense of self-isolation. For example, the Mahindra group is using Cisco WebEx across all their locations. 

Leveraging Technology

Many companies are also setting up Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), virtual assistants, and chatbots for real-time information flow to promote instant and secure messaging for the smooth transfer of information among employees. Mobile-enabled individual messengers such as Slack, Salesforce, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. are also being used for work allocation with simpler and less formal conversations in time-sensitive environments.

As per CP Gurnani, CEO of Tech Mahindra, the company may start “with 25% employees” working from home. “Most organizations will break away from large campuses to distribution centers. Work from home doesn’t mean work from home forever. There will be a Friday meeting, etc. But instead of my campus being 10,000 people in one place, it can be 500 people in a smaller town.”

To counter issues around data security and employee engagement, HR teams are setting up robust “rules of engagement”. This makes work from home more efficient as managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams. Bosch’s Chinese division had to instill a new understanding of trust and train its managers to work and manage remotely and emphasize a results-driven approach over the older presence-driven model.

Downside

There are some tough decisions being made as well. Some firms are revising compensation structure, halting recruitments, or delaying increments. As per a recent Layoff 2020 survey by MyHiringClub.com and Sarkari-Naukri.info, 68% of the employers surveyed have either started the layoff process or are planning to. 

Conclusion

Famous author, William Davies mentions that ‘to experience a crisis is to inhabit a world that is temporarily up for grabs’. While it may be difficult to stay positive for tomorrow amongst all the drastic changes, HR teams have prioritized communication, prompt reporting, and put remote working to test. The emphasis of HR teams throughout the crisis has been to reinvent business processes going with the grain of human behavior. This has helped to turn struggles and pain into new ways of thinking, better approaches, and innovations. After all, it’s important to prioritize mental health in times like these.

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