How do you visualize the new normal of work and workplace beyond covid?
DR COVID 19 has brought about un-expected and unprecedented changes in the ways we have always looked at work and the workplace from start. Post Covid19 - workforce planning, distribution and management would probably be one of the key factors that would have a completely new look from the pre-COVID era. Nimble and easy structures would dominate the new look organizations - which would be a combination or hybrid of remote working and minimalistic office environment. This would also ensure maximum hygiene and sanitation standards to be maintained by operating sparse contactless offices. This is critical to visualize in the post-COVID era - wherein employee wellness and protection would be the key parameters to measure up to. The pandemic has made it mandatory that wellness concerns are addressed on priority hereafter. Employee experience of the same would be the barometer of an employee care environment from here onwards, not so much the erstwhile initiatives taken for employees in physical space. There would also be efforts made to lend a fresh new purpose not only to work but also to the workplace. Contrary to pre-covid times - when the office used to be the place for productive and process work - the new look workplace would be more tuned to offer recreational as well as social opportunities than anything more6. The hybrid combination of home cum office working would be the new normal here onwards. Gone would be the days of large fancy offices and sprawling concrete campuses.
In short, as we fight to contain the pandemic, new trends are expected to settle in at work and the workplace. From remote working to digital events and virtual reality training facilities, these technologies are fast becoming part of our day to day work life and are here to stay. From remote working to digital events and virtual reality training facilities, these technologies have now become an essential part of our day to day work life and are here to stay.
What may be the stark differences between pre and post covid work and workplace?
DR There are indeed stark differences expected to become mainstay w.r.t work and the workplace in the post-covid era.
The first such major impact would be experienced in the area of workforce composition and deployment. Organisations are most likely to move away from the standard practice of carrying a workforce that consist of primarily full-time permanent members on the rolls. We are likely to see instead - organisations going in for more of a contingent workforce, a combination of temp. Workers, part-timers, project specialists and other members of the fast growing gig economy. What it would mean is putting in place an 'agile' workforce, quick to hire and deploy, and quick to disband, when required.
The other aspect of the workforce which would be a great differentiator between the 2 periods would be the pattern of deployment of the workforce. No longer would the mass be present out of a physical location, with remote working now becoming the order of the day. What was earlier a privilege eligible to few had now become the rule for the majority - work from home. Even if some amount of the workforce were to return back to office locations post covid, it would never be the same as in the pre covid era. At best, a hybrid would come into being.
Another big stark difference that would be easily discernible in the post covid era was going to be w.r.t. organisation structures. While earlier ones were designed for efficiencies and productivities, the new ones were going to look out for agile responses and quick decision making.
Post covid 19 era will also see the emergence of highly learning oriented organisations that would be ready to address the post covid critical concerns around skilling and multi-skilling of the workforce. The same organisations would also be entrusted with taking care of employee welfare in comprehensive ways.
Beyond covid, HR professionals will be responsible to create and nurture a work culture that drives mutual trust, empowerment, productivity and inclusion. Can technology help achieving this or HR will have to explore other innovative ways?
DR It is expected that in the post covid period, organisations would emerge wounded and bruised from the Pandemic battlefield. New work norms would have replaced the old norms, thereby creating areas of dissonance and discomfort everywhere amongst the employee groups. Under the circumstances, it is therefore definitely expected that the incumbent HR departments will take it upon themselves to create and nurture a work culture that drives mutual trust, empowerment, productivity and inclusion all over again.
Technology is expected to play a role in here. HR Managers will have to scout around and carefully pick and choose from technology solutions available in the market. There could be 3 possible areas which could adopt such technologies for HR to push through employee care solutions. They would be:
a. Communications: The workforce today has been forced into spending a disproportionate amount of time at home. But work continues unabated. This a very important concern today - what with employees coping with the new reality when suddenly household chores are also being thrust upon them, creating confusion along the boundaries of what constitutes work time and where personal time begins. To resolve such problems, the HR departments are sticking their neck out on providing quick, easy and seamless technology solutions for better conferencing and communication.
b. Financial well being: The pandemic has not only brought about changes in our ways of life and work, but also in our financial situation. Many have lost their jobs, or are suffering from retrenchment of a salaried family member, experiencing pay cuts etc. HR is reaching out to them through online means - offering crunch funds (emergency funds created by the organisation), offering discounts through vendor tie-ups, offering loans etc.
c. Mental well-being: WFH again has created heightened levels of stress and anxieties amongst people. HR is stepping in here again - offering wellness, mindfulness, managing anxiety disorder classes through the digital medium. Even families are covered sometimes.
What should be the short term and long term strategies and initiatives for employees in this respect?
DR When a crisis hits for the first time - an organisation's first priority in finding immediate short term solutions for its workforce revolves around ensuring health and safety concerns. The ability of many employers to respond effectively to the post covid environment will be critically linked to good planning. And that planning should address a return to work in the short term (what should we do now?) as well as the longer term (what should our business look like?). Work health and safety risks need to be identified and appropriately managed.
As the first heat of the crisis is taken care of and short term strategies are applied at the workplace - it then becomes that definitive moment when 'Business Recovery' has to be given undivided attention for long term planning and risk alleviation, i.e. bringing long term strategies at play.
As businesses take stock of the breadth of the impact of covid on the economy and the impacts on them, there will be some significant questions and planning required that will have consequences for the size and make-up of the workforce, the way that work is performed and what work is actually done. Some of these big picture questions are likely to include:
1) Does the business look any different post covid?
2) For the sake of continuity planning, changes need to be made in business. What would those be?
3) What would be the effects of the economic downturn on business?
4) How fast can the business demonstrate alignment to changed realities to be agile and digi-ready?
5) How will the business embrace change in terms of the performance of work?
As businesses start to respond to covid, and next level changes start getting institutionalised, an important issue to consider would be creating workplace flexibility and being able to drive efficiencies should be a key focus for business moving forward. The same organisations would also be entrusted with taking care of employee welfare in comprehensive ways.