As we begin the new year and wish to forget the scars of the year 2020, the impact of the pandemic has brought home new realities we need to address in the year 2021. With vaccines round the corner, there is high anticipation for normalcy to return in many walks of our lives although there is a general acceptance that there would be a new normal in our functioning.
The priorities for HR heads in the new year are centred around the definition of the ‘new normal’ and the strategic role HR function would play in doing so. During these last 10 months, digital technology has dramatically changed the ways in which businesses function irrespective of the extent of self induced transformation. As a result of this, as businesses have learnt to adapt for being able to survive and grow despite the pandemic, HR heads have a critical role to play in rethinking the ways in which people factor impacts the new ways of doing business.
In order to ensure business continuity, at the start of the pandemic phase, ‘work from home’ was considered as a necessity by most organisations. While many companies in the IT sector continue to support this, companies in other sectors have started realising that there are severe limitations to productivity, customer service and even motivation of employees, should they consider ‘work from home’ to be a long-term approach.
Despite the advantages of flexibility and access to resources of choice that remote working could offer for facilitating a work environment without physical boundaries, the learnings from the year 2020 should be the guiding factors for shaping the policy for defining the work norms. New work norms need to be outlined based on the work flows and the skills required to perform the work. Based on the skills required for the roles to be performed, remote working could be considered where it is possible to define the outcomes and deliverables.
Examples of such roles are in the areas of coding, design, content and analytics. Functions or roles that require significant amount of coordination, vetting and supervision are ideally performed in a physical environment. Thus HR managers have to draw clear lines for work from office and for remote work— balancing optimal productivity, ownership for results and business continuity. Arising out of the redefinition of work norms, formats of employment would be required to be reconsidered from being mostly on permanent modes to a healthy mix of contractual and permanent modes. At the same time, compensation formats could be reviewed. For instance compensation could be output linked for certain roles with a mix of fixed and variable component.
AI, sensors and cloud technologies have begun to disrupt the processes and workflows. The possibility of having digital co-workers is real. Therefore, it would be important to plan in advance for certain roles to be retired permanently on account of digital interventions and identify the new roles that would get created to support the new requirements. Depending upon the type of automation that is being planned and the tools that are emerging, displacement effect or productivity effect should be anticipated and baked into the resourcing plan.
In summary, the new year brings in its wake an opportunity for HR managers to reimagine the HR function in more ways than one and make a positive difference to their businesses.
Originally appeared in Financial Express