Redefining The Role Of Human Resources

How the pandemic altered the Human Resources function as we knew it.

One of my earliest discussions with industry leaders, when the pandemic struck last year, revealed that their number one priority was keeping their staff and families safe- even while deep financial challenges loomed over them. Towards this, they had started working hand in hand with their HR department – providing flexibility, financial and emotional support to their staff and families and just communicating that the employees will be looked after. Some others had to take tough decisions to cut salaries and lay off a portion of their workforce. 

Suddenly, HR departments were back in boardroom discussions. I say ‘back’, because for some time now, automation, gig employment, reducing tenures and weakening the importance of organisation cultures powered by ‘project-isation’ of work has taken centre-stage and defining the role of HR in future organisations has been an ongoing debate. But the pandemic made firms spring into action and as we now realised, HR departments are indeed every organisation’s frontline workers. 

I believe the pandemic really brought HR into the core of business delivery during the pandemic. And that happened for a variety of reasons – new policies that reflect needs of remote working had to be crafted, flexibility considerations had to be factored, the entire gamut of activities from on-boarding and induction to relieving and settlement had to be done virtually, insurance deals had to be renegotiated, training and learning and development had to be reimagined, mental health and wellbeing dialogue had to be brought to the fore, employee engagement and touchpoint activities had to be stepped up, listening had to be improved and most of all – workforce costs had to be optimised because the going had gotten tough. It is also seen that those that we're able to embrace technology and implement it in an agile manner had an edge over others. 

It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that the HR function was probably not so intricately involved in core business decisions as much as it was presented to, during the pandemic. And the results of those who were able to integrate their HR philosophy and have it reflect in the way they reacted to the pandemic are now newsmakers. This includes players who declared remote working as a permanent option or those that set aside a fund for supporting the family of their bereaved employees. It also includes those that cut down working hours and days to give time for healing to their staff and families.  What is common to all these organisations is that they have been able to leverage the pandemic to look at their futures - from a manpower standpoint. 

Leading organisations have been able to rework their space allocation and supporting infrastructure without compromising on customer experience – thereby reducing the cost of manpower without losing headcount, some others have been able to give better work environments to their gig and contract labour – thereby improving the productivity and reducing down-time by averting instances of infections.

In the coming months, winning HR departments will:

  • Evolve long-term remote working policies, supporting technology provisions with their governance teams and enable employees to deliver – wherever they are
  • Create seamless digital experiences for their new joiners via completely virtual onboarding and induction programmes
  • Start early on in the learning and skilling of their workforce – once again, with virtual learning environments, heightened interaction and applicability using technology
  • Design a variety of compensation programme with a clear intent to optimise their manpower costs (a mix of monetary and non-monetary benefits)
  • Clearly articulate their strategy for contract workers and gig providers and build an inclusive mechanism to support them
  • Closely weave mental health dialogue in all their employee wellness initiatives
  • Measure their interventions and report their impact on their overall manpower strategy and bottom-line

Piecing all this together, the picture that is evolving of the post-pandemic HR is that of an Agile enabler, front-ending the workforce communication, embracing technology and working with the leadership to find innovative ways to keep the manpower costs down, while prioritising their biggest asset – their workforce.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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