I have seen the human resources (HR) profession and its related functions progress in the past two decades from managing administrative personnel to being a stakeholder that mirrors changes in the business. Over the past two months, however, HR’s leadership and influence have been put to the test in response to the disruption caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

The lives of many have drastically changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a report from the International Labor Organization, an estimated 2.7 billion people have been affected by quarantine and stay-at-home measures. Consequently, this has created the world’s most significant modification in our social patterns, work practices and business conduct.

HR’s core purpose has now shifted towards the sustainability of the “human elements.” This new paradigm demands novel ways of acquiring, engaging and managing talent. We begin to ask ourselves if these new business continuity measures of creating digital work models, talent reskilling programs or recalibrating work flows, no matter how regenerative by design, are enough to sustain our workforce.

It is a challenging time for any business function, but it has been most especially so for HR. As we strive to seek a balance between business and conducive working conditions, we stretch ourselves to maintain professional standards and better systems for people to flourish despite these unusual times.

It has become imperative to look at the bigger picture that is starting to emerge. Is working from home the future of work? Are the effects of the pandemic permanent? No matter how uncertain these past few weeks have been, one thing is for sure: the workplace will never be the same, even after Covid-19 fades from the headlines.

Our norm will continue to center around trust and respect, where employees are allowed to co-create flexibilities balancing work from personal time, which enables and encourages productivity through personal accountability.

The gap between expectations versus reality may shrink in the months and years ahead. Today’s workforce will be much more vocal about their new expectations and the Covid-19 pandemic will most probably accelerate further changes. Organizations have been upended by the pandemic and the workspace culture is has become ever changing.

Digital collaboration is key

In this Covid-19 era, we have seen the sudden shift to virtual, remote work with unprecedented levels of adaptability. The workforce in the new post-Covid-19 reality will pivot towards resiliency, shifting away from rigid routines and structures.

Going digital is vital, as a telecommuting culture will be adopted at scale. Think Microsoft Teams and not meeting rooms; virtual engagements and not costly business travel; and cloud computing and not cubicles. By moving systems to the cloud and by using platforms such as Microsoft Office 365, we are talking about the potential for people to have more tools for collaboration than ever before.

Artificial intelligence accelerates businesses.

Humans and bots are the new blended workforce, bringing a new-age competitive advantage. Performing “higher value work” such as sourcing, recruitment, talent engagement, career development and mobility opportunities empowers the organization to focus on more strategic roles, improving the every aspect of an employee life cycle.

The pandemic has led to an accelerated automation of various processes to adopt in an economic downturn. Transforming the workforce does not simply involve using digital collaboration tools. In a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review Insights report on Covid-19 and the workforce, there is more scrutiny on how artificial intelligence can help mitigate the risk of pandemic exposure by making certain jobs more productive and effective.

The power of the multigenerational workforce

The pandemic may have acted as a catalyst for changes in organizations but it, too, has served as an equalizer of the so-called “digital divide.” Digital natives may be better equipped for the future but, through age diversity and generation-collaboration, organizations are now becoming more adept in overcoming adversity as a state of normalcy.

While the key to creating an advanced and relevant workplace is communication across demographics, our openness to differing perspectives or insights gives power to a multigenerational workforce.

Workforce generational diversity or “distributed authority,” when coupled with our capacity to accept variations, brings forth a more resilient, agile organization able to navigate economic changes.

As the effect of the pandemic tails off and resets the normalcy we once had, this is an opportunity to rethink our assumptions to be better prepared for the future. Organizations need to be more attuned when unique skills emerge and talent models change. The pandemic has acted as an accelerator of workplace transformation, fundamentally shifting how we do business and how we care for people.

None of us can operate as we have in the past. However, we can improve how we lead in crisis by challenging old perceptions about work. Having an HR growth-agnostic mindset will support the creation of new systems for people to flourish, regardless of the juncture.

 

Rhia G. Dee is the People & Culture Director of P&A Grant Thornton.

 

As published in The Manila Times, dated 27 May 2020