Business practices are bound to change in the post-COVID-19 world.
By Michael Switow
Do a Google search for ânew normalâ and more thanÂ 90 million results will turn up in a third of a second. ByÂ the time this article is published, that number is certainÂ to be significantly more. It has been more than fiveÂ months since China first reported the outbreak of theÂ coronavirus in Wuhan, and business leaders continueÂ to assess how life has changed, which changes areÂ transitory, and how companies will adapt.
âThe world is not going back to normal anytime soon,âÂ says Graeme Codrington, a founder of the strategicÂ consulting firm TomorrowToday Global. âItâs going toÂ change how your office is set up, what public transportÂ looks like. Itâs going to continue to ensure that we donâtÂ travel internationally, as countries restrict your access.Â Please start getting your head around the fact that thisÂ world is a very different world… and that means thatÂ you and your organisation are going to have to changeÂ too.â
The growing use of technology for meetings, interviews,Â and remote work are among the most obvious shifts.Â In some sense, concepts that have been businessÂ catchphrases for years, if not decades, are being pushedÂ into the vanguard. More than a year ago, a ForbesÂ columnist declared that âremote work is no longer aÂ perk.â Similarly, business agility has been a catchphraseÂ since the 1990s, and HR professionals have long soughtÂ to be treated as strategic partners rather than relegatedÂ to classic support functions.
âHR is being pulled right to the fore of this, becauseÂ unlike the great financial crisis, this is a real peopleÂ issue,â says Zain Wadee, Harrier Groupâs acting CEO.Â âWhere do your people work? Not in an office. HowÂ do your people work? Through technology. How do weÂ deal with furloughs? All of these things have requiredÂ HR to be right front and centre of the business, at theÂ forefront of the contingency planning with the rest ofÂ the executives.â
Successful HR organisations will continue to play aÂ strategic role, he adds, not only because they desire it,Â but also because companies, faced with uncertainty,Â âwill demand it.â
Dial Up, Dial Down
When Manuli Hydraulicsâ factory in China was shutteredÂ following Chinese New Year, management and HRÂ teams worked quickly to procure safety equipmentÂ and update the companyâs ways of working. By mid-February, the factory was back online and by March, itÂ was operating at 90 per cent capacity.
âIf I look back at how some areas in our company wereÂ functioning last year or 18 months ago, it would haveÂ been near impossible to get through this crisis if theyÂ had remained as they were,â reflects Luca Pozzi, theÂ companyâs general manager for China and southeastÂ Asia.
This same agility will be a key characteristic for HRÂ professionals going forward, whether it meansÂ adopting new intake and recruitment strategies,Â exploring how to redeploy workers, or adapting toÂ constantly-changing government guidelines.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella describes the recovery andÂ reopening process as more like a âdialâ than a âswitch,âÂ and in conversation with The New York Times, warnedÂ that there will be âlots of movement of the dial, backÂ and forth.â
Signs of this transitional period are already apparent inÂ China, where a resurgence of the virus in Beijing in mid-June forced authorities to limit flights, close schools,Â and block off neighbourhoods. Whilst itâs still unclearÂ what impact this will have on businesses in the region,Â recruiters are being forced to react quickly.
âI am already seeing some indications from a hiringÂ perspective, where there is a fair amount of movementÂ in approach from month to month or even week toÂ week,â observes Wadee.
Companies are also changing the way they makeÂ investments in HR technology. Enterprise-wide solutionsÂ are more likely to be put on hold until an economicÂ recovery is assured, whilst standalone systems thatÂ meet a new business requirement may be more readilyÂ adopted. Harrierâs clients in the mining and resourcesÂ sector, for example, are exploring the use of virtualÂ assessment tools due to the changing dynamics of whatÂ can be done in person.
Nadella describes this approach as part of aÂ âreimagining phaseâ when innovations are âborn ofÂ necessity.â Perhaps companies will introduce moreÂ effective distance-learning technologies or ways toÂ remotely control manufacturing processes. TemperatureÂ scanners, coupled with facial recognition and contactÂ tracing apps, may become commonplace in officeÂ buildings and malls.
Reimagining the Future
HR leaders will need to focus on reimagining corporateÂ culture in order to maintain employee engagementÂ during this transitional period.
Until a feeling of normality returns, Codrington advisesÂ companies not to push employees too hard. âPeopleÂ are super stressed out. They are anxious and fearful,Â whether itâs fear of COVID-19 and what might happenÂ if it hits them and their family, or fear for the economy,Â fear for their jobs, fear for everybodyâs jobs and health.â
Manuli Hyrdaulics realised this early on. âThe first thingÂ I did was to gather my management team and set upÂ separate charts to monitor staff morale,â Pozzi recalls.Â âWe had to make sure they not only felt comfortableÂ with returning to work, but also motivated to perform.â
Establishing excellent health and safety proceduresÂ is a key first step, and an area that is likely to requireÂ increased hires as government rules âgrow stricter byÂ the day.â But so too will be internal training initiativesÂ and providing opportunities for upward mobility.
âOrganisations will be able to play on the âweâre allÂ in this together, responding to a crisisâ for a certainÂ amount of time,â Wadee reflects, âbut as we start toÂ move further away from the epicentre of the pandemic,Â companies and HR will have a massive role to play inÂ rebuilding that sense of organisational purpose. SomeÂ of the measures that were in place may not be asÂ meaningful or practical as we come into this new norm.â
âBecoming a âlearning organisationâ is more importantÂ than ever,â adds Tara Kimbrell Cole, the CEO ofÂ Singapore-based Synovations. âWhat got us here, willÂ not get us there.â