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5 Ways Covid-19 is Redefining the Role of HR Leaders

HR role

Eighteen months into the pandemic, we have adapted to the evolving realities.Technology is playing a critical role in enabling this process of acceptance and ability of people to change during these unprecedented times. Within the business landscape as well, organizations are constantly assessing avenues to help restore economic equilibrium and revive the crisis-induced slump in the livelihoods of millions.

Amidst this altering reality, the role of Human Resources (HR) has become even more critical. The global health crisis has created a unique opportunity for HR, often considered as a support function, to be given a seat at the strategy table.

Emergence of HR 2.0

Since the start of the pandemic, organizations across industries and sectors, irrespective of nature or size of business, have been revamping their business continuity and growth strategies.To stay resilient and relevant in such unprecedented times, they have transitioned from a physical workplace to remote and hybrid work culture.  This also includes ramping up their talent forces, undergoing digital transformation, digitalizing value chains, setting up new methods and means to collaborate with their internal and external customers.

As a result, the focus of HR has also seen a shift. The function has moved forward to ensure mental and physical wellbeing of employees at work as well as away from work. With an overhauled agile approach, HR played a crucial role in developing rapid policy changes, including framing of new policies relating to remote working, productivity, performance appraisals, leaves and allowances, hiring, recruitment, and onboarding. Staying abreast of the regulatory environment as work shifts to the virtual space is also imperative. The second wave suddenly caught everyone unaware and ill-planned to deal with its ferocity.This served as a learning lesson as HR professionals in most organizations aided the management to bridge the existing gaps to become well-prepared to face the possible third wave.

With rising challenges, the HR function has shown great agility and promptness in taking decisions relating to changing employee expectations, quickly shifting focus from ‘what employees are doing’ to ‘how they are feeling’. HR leaders laid out innovative strategies to strengthen employee motivation and morale building, to ensure a positive, cohesive, and inclusive work culture.

Evolving Expectations from Human Resource Function include:

1. Establishing seamless virtual recruitment and orientation infrastructure: There has been a change in the way recruitment and orientation is being conducted by most organizations today. Earlier, a large part of the process relied on physical interaction with the candidate. Today, the hiring, recruitment, and orientation life cycle has shifted online. Candidates’ applications, interviews, assessments, and job offers are being conducted virtually using technological tools like video conferencing and calls. There is substantial rise in online job fairs and recruitment drives that has made the hiring process convenient for the organization as well as the prospect. Digital onboarding and orientation is being undertaken with the help of HR software and applications, creating a seamless and effective onboarding experience for new candidates.

2. Shift towards ‘value-based’ hiring; creating a diverse and inclusive work culture: HR function,now, is required to identify job roles that can be fully remote, offering organizations to tap into the niche talent across geographies. They need to look for potential candidates, especially for managerial roles who are innovators, are quick to adapt to changes, have a goal-based approach, and are empathic.Now more than ever, Emotional & Intelligence quotient (EQ & IQ), Adaptability Quotient (AQ) plays an important role while hiring candidates.HR is key to ensuring that the right balance of a diverse and inclusive workforce is createdand nurtured with talent hunt becoming truly borderless and opening their doors for the differently abled and women looking for second careers.

3. Technology at the core of HR policies: Technology has been the key enabler for all business processes in the new normal. It has become imperative for HR to becomedata-driven to derive the benefits of technology. Data analytics, predictive analytics, big data, and other technologies can offer deep insights with actionable outcomes to build and manage HR-related policies and trends. Thus, HR professionals need to be trained and re-/up-skilled so that they are comfortable using the latest tools and technology.

4. Promoting employee experience: In the new normal, it is a challenge to keep employees engaged and satisfied in the virtual space, by creating activities and events that can replace erstwhile conversations over coffee or socializing at company events.In this ‘phygital’ or hybrid work model, the expectation from HR is to create a workplace environment that caters to maintaining the company culture that enables causal catchups with safety norms in place. Designing employee assistance programs with employees and empathy at the centre of it has helped to ensure holistic wellness of the workforce. These can be counselling helplines, virtual informal groups on company’s social platforms where employees can connect and interact with like-minded individuals over diverse, non-work-related topics.

5. Lynchpin between the management and employees. HR leaders and managers need to establish a network of support and a strong collaboration across different levels within as well as outside the organization. They are a vital bridge between various management functions and employees. Therefore, they must ensure effective and constant communication relating to changing business policies due to evolving market realities, important corporate events, business updates, and employee concerns. In the digital space, HR must be on top of the game in conducting timely town-halls, webinars, etc., to help employees stay motivated and remain productive. Lastly, HR should also create meaningful avenues for upskilling, infuse an agile and flexible culture, re-invent fluid framework, and thus bring in value to all the stakeholders. The need of the hour is to re-think, re-imagine and re-invent every aspect of employee life cycle to re-create sense of belonging in the virtual environment of work.

Way forward

With more than a year of HR functioning in the digital space, some major HR trends and practices have emerged, while some older ones have turned redundant. In course of the pandemic, the role of HR has become that of a custodian of employee and organization safety and wellbeing in the virtual world.

(The author Lynette D’Silva, Head of Regional HR – India & APAC, Amdocs and the views expressed in this article are his own)

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