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Leveraging Digital HR: Preparing for the ongoing Pandemic led changes
Raveena Roy Varekkatt Lead Associate, Digital Process Operations | February 24, 2021
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The evolving pandemic virus vs vaccines

We hear about evolving trends of COVID-19 in some parts of the world today, and with great relief, vaccines have started to be rolled out in some countries.

Restrictions across some countries of the world today have been relaxed and things seem to have picked up toward normal after businesses have been working remotely all this time. However, even though the virus is mutating and new strains are becoming evident, the roll out of vaccines mean that some people are starting, or continuing, to drop their guard and taking more risks. It is essential to be ready to adapt quickly and apply the lessons already learned amid work from home.

While the healthcare community across the globe is ensuring that all the right measures are in place to prevent the advance of any further outbreaks, all business and HR leaders must be prepared to tackle the challenges with an expected increase in employee numbers returning to their workplaces in the coming future.

Some companies have already reinstated partial operations in the office as they attempt to move away from work from home. However, there is a strong need to continue to follow closely all control measures in order to avoid any further spread. Lockdowns and empty streets, along with the continuation of working remotely, are still in evidence across some countries of the world where there is a surge in positive cases.

How prepared are the HR leaders with these ongoing changes in the work environment? Here are a few things to consider as a part of HR practices-

  • Regularly update business continuity plans to ease the worries of the business and reassure the workforce during unsettling times
    • Global companies across the world have seen their offices in some regions being shut down with others remaining operational due to local measures in containing the spread. It is essential for HR to be agile and to keep up with changes happening locally and globally, thus ensuring that business continuity plans are updated and followed.
    • Employees need to be adequately and regularly informed and updated about the changes in business continuity plans as a standard practice to ease their anxieties with the changing work routines and guidelines.
  • Employee Vaccinations
    • HR teams can encourage employees to be vaccinated in countries where this is available at present, as it can help in their safe return to workplace.
    • HR teams can track employees being vaccinated and start planning for a business-as-usual scenario.
    • HR teams can educate employees on the need to continue taking all those precautionary measures even after being vaccinated would be essential.
  • Limiting the workforce in office to essential people only
    • Companies should continue to encourage employees to work from home if possible until the virus is fully under control. The feasibility of such work from home differs from company to company depending on work requirements. However, establishing adequate controls and measures for resources returning to the office is to be closely monitored.
    • Ensuring employee safety & business commitments do not suffer have become paramount in today’s scenario.
  • Employee wellbeing and workplace/office cabs (wherever applicable) hygiene to be of utmost priority
    • HR can manage shifts for employees returning to the workplace thereby ensuring that the total number of people at any given time in a particular facility is kept to the minimum.
    • HR needs to conduct mandatory screening of employees entering the office premises to detect high body temperature and to take adequate precautionary measures.
    • HR can increase ventilation and ensure regular sanitization of the facilities.
    • Adopting contact tracing solutions, which is a wearable device working on IoT (Internet of things), can be done by HR to detect proximity and trace contact in the event of a COVID-19 case(s) being reported at the workplace.
  • Connecting with employees on a regular basis
    • HR needs to carry out regular digital education sessions with employees on soft skills, managerial training, and such, that can help better themselves at work.
    • HR can continue to leverage digital education tools to encourage meaningful conversations with employees through webinars (virtual social activities) to help build mental resilience.
    • HR can provide employee counselling assistance focusing on mental health and extend support to family members as well.
  • When employees return to the workplace, it is advised to encourage employees to keep their online collaboration going
    • In the event of a next wave or any such crisis in the future, employees would be equipped with requisite knowledge/skills to soon adapt to any changes in the work environment, their routine, and their practices.
  • Provide employees with the support about strategies to remain flexible and embrace change, taking up new skills or roles as the business requires
    • Changing scenarios demand ever-changing roles and/or additional responsibilities which has made it imperative for employees to be open to upskilling. Investing in learning and development would be beneficial in terms of supporting employee retention and motivation levels.

Embracing Digital HR

The increase in remote working has led organizations to realize the importance of expanding and enhancing technology adoption and digitization.

  • HR Analytics – COVID-19 has reinforced the importance and validity of HR analytics. With more remote workforces, HR now depends on data to help make the right decisions. Such HR analytics gives insights into employee collaboration, productivity, and potential burnout, thus helping to monitor employee wellbeing and enable further ways to support.
  • AI ChatBots – Employee queries around pandemic leave requests, stress, and mental health etc., soared with the sudden shift in working routines. AI chatbots can help employees by responding to common, routine queries relating to onboarding, returning to the workplace, and other remote working-related concerns or challenges. AI chatbots are able to assist in real time and are highly efficient, especially amid working remotely, as they have no need for absence and can be operational 24x7.
  • Contact tracing solution – It is a wearable Internet of things (IoT) technology device which provides proximity distancing alerts when two employees are too close to each other. In the event of a COVID-19 case being reported in office, it helps in tracing contact through historical data captured in the device worn by the employee exposed to the virus. This can help organizations to bring those critical workers back to the office safely while also ensuring that the advised social distancing practices are followed.
  • Recruiting, Onboarding and Training – Going Digital

    Considering the increase in the number of jobs lost, there is a potential increase in the number of applicants per job opening. This means that companies need to be equipped with a volume-ready recruitment solution. There is also the added advantage of an increase in the adoption of artificial intelligence in HR and talent acquisition. For example, while recruiting talent, AI can tap into a wider talent pool and AI screening will ensure the right candidates (based on the job-skills fit) are shortlisted and, using predictive analytics, a data-driven hiring decision can be made on the likelihood of a candidate to succeed in a role based on certain parameters. With remote working, which is the current norm, resources are more location-agnostic. This makes the talent pool for sourcing much broader.

The onboarding of resources has shifted from a face-to-face environment to virtual onboarding and so companies should ensure they are equipped with an appropriate hassle-free virtual onboarding plan and platforms.

Digital education has become the way forward. Scheduled webinars and E-learning courses are becoming widely used in this scenario for all types of training which previously may have been instructor-led and face-to-face. Attending these in the comfort of your own home as and when it suits the employee can lead to increased participation and timely completion of courses.

In this scenario, how can an organization ensure that employee wellbeing and performance coexist?

Previously, work from home was a more limited option for employees. However, now the time has come for business and HR leaders to focus on building this new way of working into the culture of the organization. But companies must also be ready to place a high level of trust in the integrity of employees working remotely as they have during the pandemic. HR teams will need to extend their involvement in the lives of the employees at work by strengthening employee connect and focusing on their safety & emotional wellbeing.

Undoubtedly, COVID-19-led disruptions has impacted company and HR practices— as the role has become important in supporting employees and the changing work environment, and also helping the business to define and develop smarter long-term strategies for working practices and employee wellbeing. The decisions and actions that business and HR leaders take today will have an impact on the company’s brand in the years to come.

Enhancing the overall employee experience is the focal point of every leader. The emphasis must be placed on staying relevant by adopting advancements in technology, policies, and all which have a direct impact on the employee experience in their journey with an organization.