The world is one year from lockdown. How do you prepare for a post-pandemic workplace?
A typical crisis plays out over three time frames: The Respond phase, in which an entity deals with present and unforeseen, situation; the Recover phase, during which its leaders learn and adapt so that the entity can roll with the punches and continue operating; and the Thrive phase, where the entity prepares for and shapes an adjusted “new normal”. Both the private and public sector in South Africa have had to respond to the Covid-19 crisis quickly and rework their workforce strategies in real time to stay operational.
Now, as organisations begin to emerge from these think-on-your-feet phases, leaders need to focus on the next set of workplace challenges as they plan to thrive in the new normal.
It is important to realise that the transition between the Recovery and Thrive phases of an organisation are not static or date-prescribed. In the case of the corona pandemic, given the lack of Covid-19 therapeutics and the uncertain timing of wholesale vaccine rollout, many organisations are having to plan for multiple scenarios – and possibly for multiple waves of the pandemic. So, the transition between these phases will likely be gradual and leveraged across a spectrum that leads to a new reality.
From an organisational perspective
Workforce-related strategies are best orchestrated through five critical stages: Reflect, recommit, re-engage, rethink and reboot.
- Reflect on what has been learned and has worked, and what was missed in the response. Reflection is the key difference between crisis response and recovery. It involves creating the time and space to bring in different perspectives from leaders in different departments and at different levels of the organisation to obtain a cohesive picture when charting the future.
- Recommit to workforce wellbeing and purpose through a focus on employee’s physical, psychological and financial concerns at work and home. Physical wellbeing will include an emphasis on health and safety, such as the availability of PPE and the cleanliness of the workplace. Psychological wellbeing will include workplace practices, such as flexible schedules and access to employee assistance programmes that support workers’ mental and emotional health. – all while recognising the diversity of employees’ needs and expectations.
- Re-engage and redeploy the workforce to maximise their potential in contributing to rapidly evolving organisational priorities. The pandemic recovery process has created the opportunity for organisations to redeploy their workforce to maximise their contribution and potential within the organisation. Organisations should prepare their workers with the skills and capabilities as well as the infrastructure and technology to meet their work requirements. They should provide their managers, teams and workers with a clear direction on any changes in work priorities.
- Rethink work, workforces and workplaces to leverage the learnings from the Covid-19 response phase and to accelerate implementing the new normal. It is important that organisations communicate how and why they are redeploying workers. They must identify their new business priorities, highlighting where returning to existing work priorities is appropriate and where new work is required, to provide direction and context for the rationale behind these shifts.
- Reboot HR and employee operations priorities to realign these with the most pressing business and workforce priorities. The choices and policies adopted during the crisis recovery phase are an opportunity to help make the shift toward renewed purpose, potential and perspective. In the new normal, HR can become the organisation’s voice in making bold decisions known and understood in the face of uncertainty. HR can help to integrate the workforce’s need for individuality and belonging with the organisation’s need for reinvention to ensure security.
From an HR perspective
Due to the pandemic’s effect on the economy, organisations have been forced to transform rapidly and adapt to the new normal in order to survive. As such, it is vital that HR evolves and transforms across every element of the HR lifecycle to meet a new set of organisational needs. HR is going to need to embrace new ways to support business leaders in restructuring during and after the pandemic, including implementing workforce rationalisation measures while managing the risks associated with such interventions – plus increasing productivity and employee engagement.
- Shift toward a human-centric workplace: Re-establishing organisational culture should be a top priority for HR departments as organisations look to adopt more flexible working arrangements. Organising regular check-ins and communication platforms exclusively for work, social interaction, or emotional support is a great way to establish a balanced structure suited to managing a remote workforce and to strengthen relationships. Promoting open dialogue and installing direct communication channels between all levels within an organisation will help keep leadership informed of employee concerns. Introducing diversity, equality, and inclusion policies and programmes will help nurture organisational culture and create an environment that promotes trust, unity, empathy, and engagement.
- Personalise reward schemes: The impact of COVID-19 has left many businesses with surging costs, reduced revenue, and weakened balance sheets. Thus, they have been forced to take cost cutting measures such as temporarily deferring or reducing employee compensation and benefits. While this may dictate many organisations’ short-term strategies, the pandemic has also precipitated the need for discussion around employee rewards and benefits in the long term. One example, since many employers may not be able to offer higher salaries, they could look at offering a lower fixed salary while increasing variable remuneration that is directly linked to employee performance and productivity.
- Leverage workforce analytics to promote data-driven decision making. Over the last decade, the world has witnessed a rise in data-driven decision making across all business sectors and organisations, including HR. Workforce analytics is sufficiently versatile that more than delivering statistics it also enables HR professionals to measure employee experience, engagement, and satisfaction. By regularly analysing and monitoring employee performance and engagement metrics, HR can implement the best strategic talent acquisition, employee development and management decisions required to prepare the workforce for the challenges they will face post Covid-19.
Recovery and future planning should be adaptable to different situations in different countries and different industries across the world. It may not be essential that leaders have a definitive blueprint of the new working landscape right now, but it is important that they actively start to envision their new normal and start working towards it.