The changing role of HR in a world post COVID-19
2020 has changed the definition of normal for everyone in the world. When 2020 began, like any other year, we celebrated and went to work the next day. A couple of weeks into the year, people started keeping a wary eye out on the news of the Coronavirus, which had been making its way through China at the end of 2019. It wasn’t a big deal at first, and then alarm bells started ringing across the world as the first of cases started sprouting in other countries as well. With no cure on hand and a virus that was rapidly making its way through the respiratory systems of their citizens, countries started calling for indefinite lockdowns. Overnight, offices were shut down, transportation systems came to a standstill, and people were confined to their homes. Obviously, businesses could not just stop operating and so remote working or work from home, which was earlier considered a privilege or rather a measure for extreme scenarios, suddenly became a reality.
Suddenly, the Human Resource function of businesses was becoming a frontliner for managing the remote working and still keeping employees engaged. It might have been easier to manage a talent pool when everyone is working in a single workspace. But how does HR engage people over multiple locations all over the country? Clearly, there was no preparing for such an unforeseen situation. While larger businesses might have had contingency plans in place, small and medium-sized enterprises found themselves crossing bridges as they came. What were the challenges faced by HR personnel across the world?
It is not easy to have hoards of people transition to remote working all at once and the Human Resource function of businesses worldwide has had to partner with IT to accomplish this humongous transition. Barring the technology vertical, most companies do not encourage remote working. So for most companies, there wasn’t a pre-planned strategy to transition to remote working. HR personnel have had to prepare strategies in real-time and ensure that employees have the right infrastructure to continue to be just as productive as they were before the lockdown. Another challenge for the HR function was adjusting the way they work. It is common for HR tocollect data, strategize, plan and execute and such a process has a set timeframe for each stage. However, in a crisis situation, the teams need to be agile and cannot afford to have a slow response system.
Human resources is not limited to just talent acquisition and onboarding of employees. While the lockdown initially seemed like a well-deserved vacation, it took a toll on employee morale after months of being in quarantine. HR personnel around the world have had to deal with increasing mental health issues of employees. Uncertain times may have upped the anxiety levels of employees - from job insecurity and pay cuts to the toll of quarantine - employees have had difficulties coping with the pandemic. It is easier to observe how an employee is doing while interacting with them on face to face basis, but remote working becomes a serious barrier in such a case. HR personnel have had to make sure they do everything in their power to boost employee morale. These include measures like changing the style of internal communication, making employee communication more interactive, going beyond their realm of responsibilities and checking in on employees etc.
Technology has played a significant role in helping HR manage their employees during the pandemic. Remote working is so much more than just working via video conference; it needs a comprehensive infrastructure plan in place along with the supporting technology. Technology solutions designed for HR functions have helped talent managers interact with employees, get feedback in real-time, assess their performance, determine incentives, engage with employees and even connect with them at a personal level. This pandemic has been an exercise in not just transitioning to a new way of functioning but into what will be the new normal.
With HR becoming heavily dependent on technology to function and manage talent, there is going to be a dynamic shift from traditional HR operations to technology-based operations. Experts are saying we will witness this shift in the coming decade so much so that there are likely to be new and never heard of HR roles that will gain prominence by 2030. The Harvard Business Review in an article has listed over 20 new HR related roles and responsibilities that are likely to become actual jobs in the near future. Almost all of these jobs have their grassroots in technology including Human Bias Officer, Chatbot and Human Facilitator, Human Network Analyst, Business Continuity Director etc.
This is the beginning of the evolution of HR that is built on a foundation of technology. In the future, technology is going to be playing a far more significant role in HR functions than it is today and it is safe to say that this pandemic has been a practice run for the future of Human Resource Management.