The COVID-19 virus has triggered significant and potentially irreversible changes in national and organizational life within Caribbean society. We in Antigua have observed changes in many ways, especially at the workplace level as organizations across all sections of the society grapple with the challenge of maintaining operations under abnormal and unprecedented circumstances.
Since the pandemic, HR has remained the driving force in keeping the workforce and the organization engaged, productive and resilient. This situation illustrates the true value of HR and has proven the importance of investing in flexible and robust HR processes and structures.
Though devastating, COVID-19 has provided a rare opportunity for human resource managers to rebuild and take the lead in driving organizational stability and strength. Organizations must now navigate the uncertainty and thereby discover new and creative solutions to challenges arising across many areas of their operation. Here are some areas we have had to rethink and remodel because of this shocking pandemic:
1. The Work-Life Balance
Many organizations have been forced to switch to a remote work model at a rate and scale unimaginable. This was in an effort to adhere to social distancing protocols which were encouraged to manage the spread of COVID-19. Face-to-face collaboration has been replaced with video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype. Having employees operate remotely presented new challenges in work arrangements with profound consequences in the way employees are managed at work.
HR managers have now been tasked with helping their workforce cope with and adjust to their newly altered work environment. This includes addressing employees’ inability to separate their professional and private lives as the closure of schools and suspension of childcare services has increased the parental demands on employees even during office hours, further thinning the line between work and family spheres. Empathy becomes important as HR should aim to reassure staff members of their awareness of the challenges that working from home presents. Additionally, in whatever way possible, HR must make provisions to assist employees in finding a ‘happy medium’. This could mean making temporary changes in the nature and quantity of a staff member’s duties or even in the hours in which they are required to perform them. HR’s primary duty at this moment is to empathize with, reassure, and assist their team members and consequently build their trust.
2. Employee Well-Being
Employees’ health and well-being have also come to the forefront. Foremost in the range of employer responsibilities is the necessity to protect the health of employees against infection by the virus. Indeed, the provision of such protection is a common-law responsibility of employers. Honoring such responsibility has proved challenging as organizations try to ensure continuity of operations through the adoption of innovative measures including remote working.
Though now tasked with processing paperwork and providing solace to hundreds of employees who have either been laid off or kept on the job, we still have the responsibility to manage productivity, motivation and keeping employees engaged and connected. Additionally, we anticipate many employers will revert to contracts for service to minimize labor costs including vacation pay, sick leave, maternity leave, and pensions. Therefore, governments will have to revise labor laws to provide adequate protection to workers.
3. Performance Management
Performance management is a growing concern, especially in remote working systems as employees may seek to get around measures to get back at authoritarian bosses. Modern, progressive, transformative leadership becomes a necessity in the remote working climate. This new norm will force companies out of the culture of micro-managing employees in the virtual workplace and will play a critical part in attracting and retaining talent later.
The Caribbean workplace which traditionally has witnessed workplace conflict and suspicion will tend to see an escalation of tensions. Therefore, research should be conducted to find out what took place last year to help fashion policy to avert a further breakdown in workplace relations.
In conclusion, it is key for HR to provide a climate of calm while encouraging timely, accurate, clear, and consistent communication from all levels of the organization. Now more than ever, communication needs to be honest, open, and transparent as much as possible to prevent further uncertainty. This approach should be intertwined with some empathy and understanding as the physical, mental and economic impacts of the virus vary between employees.
Employees are our most valuable asset and in the words of Richard Branson, “Great leaders are great listeners, who know their best asset is the people they work with.”