Well, the pandemic didn't just put the healthcare fraternity, police and sanitation workers on the frontline securing the lives, it interestingly put the professionals too on the war footing. When the entire world rattled under impending lockdowns and social distancing norms, it was the HR fraternity across the globe, working 24/7 to ensure all possible foundation was in place to support the employees working remotely. This paradigm shift in work culture across the business verticals within the organization has spurred the human resource professionals to respond to situations with an out-of-the-box approach. Let’s deep dive and understand how HR professionals addressed the key problem areas to ensure business continuity and at the same time motivate the employees to value their work and put their best foot forward. 

Exploring the Key Challenge Areas

  1. Security - Communication is one of the foundation stone of any collective human endeavour. In case of remote working employees, the problem area was two-fold. First, the major challenge was to communicate a concrete direction to the employees regarding the changing mechanism of communication going forth for an uncertain period. Second, it was important to ensure data security and necessary protocols in place. This is because all possible data sharing, and communication was now happening over digital tools which had to be carefully selected, tested, and scrutinised. 
  2. Business Continuity - The preparedness for remote working was not in place. Before the pandemic, many companies did not have a remote working framework in place. With the sudden rush to build a remote working framework, the business operations did get impacted. Facilitating the right tools to each employee has been a herculean task and called for great co-ordination of great magnitude.
  3. Mental Health - Mental health is another factor that kept the HR professionals into burning midnight oil. The pandemic brought elements of stress and anxiety in the employees at the forefront. The lack of physical interactions created an enormous gap between what the employees have been going through and the management's understanding of the situation. 
  4. Workforce Engagement - Remote working completely dislodged the established process of interactions between management and employees through townhalls, brainstorming and mentoring sessions. With everything going digital, every online session almost delivered same experience devoid of any freshness.  

Transforming Problems into Transformational Opportunities 

1. The HR professionals took on the communication challenges with a four-step approach when it came to communicating a sense of direction for future work. This approach aimed at crafting messages that did four important things such as:

  • Honoured the past efforts of the employees.
  • Shared the ongoing work on the communication policy framework.
  • Shared message on tool transitions.
  • Communicated great hope for the future. 

Surveys were conducted to understand the challenges faced by the employees working remotely. Basis the feedback, the HR professionals engaged senior management to take adequate steps to support the employees. 

2. The HR professionals took on the business continuity challenge by supporting managers create a solid delivery calendar to ensure that the employees do not slip into an unproductive mode. Training programmes were launched to enable employees to upskill and gain great confidence in the work they did. One such course HR team mapped their executives to a set of employees and ensured outreach calls were made consistently. 

3. The HR professionals took on the challenge of ensuring the mental well-being of the employees by creating an ecosystem of empathy and support. Open-door communication policy has been strictly adhered to during this entire remote working phase to give employees a sense of support and reassurance. Various podcasts, webinars and wellness programmes were organized by the HR team to ensure that employees felt supported, cherished and nurtured during the times of crisis. 

4. The HR professionals took on the challenge of employee engagement digitally through various live contests, talent hunts and town halls. When pandemic hit the physical team-building events, the HR professionals across the globe organized various events that not only re-kindled talents in the employees but also allowed them to showcase that at a greater scale. Incentives were paid to organize workstations at home and wellness hampers were couriered to employees to tell them how important they were as stakeholders in the business.

The HR function has increasingly grown to become a dynamic function strengthening the bridge between employees and the organization during the crucial times. It is this function that ensures business continuity through clear communication and adherence to policy guidelines. There is a growing demand for dynamic HR personnel in the current times and if one wants to explore opportunities, one must strengthen the basics academically through programmes such as Executive Programme in Human Resource Management (EPHRM) offered by IIM Calcutta in collaboration with Hughes Education. EPHRM aims at building a strategic HR function across business verticals that are aligned with the company goals and create leaders of tomorrow.