Navigating the future of human capital

Written by Rohitha Amarapala FCMI Wednesday 28 April 2021
People are at the centre of post-covid recovery, argues this HR professional – here’s why they’re so important
Person using colourful blocks with human silhouettes on them to fit into a jigsaw

Today, it’s imperative that every organisation knows how to work in a volatile environment. During the last decade, HR is an industry that has had to adapt more than most, due to the introduction of artificial intelligence, growth of the gig economy, the need to enhance  diversity and inclusion at the workplace. On top of this, there is also the Covid-19 pandemic, which has changed the reality of everyday work.  Organisations have had to rethink the way they recruit, develop, retain, and lead their employees. Although nobody yet knows the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, its initial effects on the economy, employment rates and the ways of working are so overwhelming that the world of work will not return to how it was before the pandemic. So  the role HR has to play is going to be so critical in the "new normal".

Valuable measures to ensure business continuity and sustainability

Against a backdrop of massive disruptions, HR leaders and their teams have been under significant pressure to  communicate information about COVID-19 and its effects on the workforce in a way that mitigates its potential damage to morale. HR professionals have also had to manage and execute a multitude of business decisions that affect the workforce. They include:

  • Mandatory vacations
  • Reduction of salaries
  • Layoffs and workforce reductions
  • Leave policies and procedures
  • Travel restriction
  • Work from home process
  • Implementing government and provincial or state decisions, such as programs and policies set forth in the Covid-19 related regulations, lockdown and curfew related information, reliefs and economic concessions, business closure regulations and public safety stay-at-home orders.

In addition to these "enforced" changes to business operations, HR leaders must also uphold corporate policies and procedures that support employees to be safe and healthy – including social distancing measures, disinfecting and sanitising workplaces – while also trying to keep the business running as normally as possible.

The IT thought leader's guide to the future of work

HR teams must also ensure that the human resource information and other HR systems can accommodate  the necessary changes resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak such as legal changes to working situations,  vacation and pay. These changes may also require testing before being  implemented. HR leaders, working with their superiors, have put many implementation and transformation projects on hold until they try to figure out when business and revenue can return closer to pre-pandemic levels. The lack of clarity makes business planning difficult, and many are erring on the side of caution when it comes to capital expenditure on IT projects, even when a return on their investment is almost certain.

HR's role in navigating a Covid-19 world

As top leaders in organisations and  governments take tentative steps to return to some version of "business as usual," HR leaders have an important role– they need to continue to monitor, study and implement national and local regulations.This is  particularly important if the current economic situation worsens  or governments enact additional regulations or programs. Hopefully, HR can work with business leaders to find alternatives to layoffs should the economic situation require additional methods of reducing workforce costs.

As we start to think about returning to work, mass hiring may become a pressing need in certain sectors, so HR leaders will need to make sure that recruiting teams and systems are ready. That requires being proactive about identifying skills and other requirements needed for the hiring process. For example, HR can research virtual interviewing methods, which may also become more important in a post-Covid-19 hiring market.

For companies that have rolled out work from home policies, there are challenges such as keeping employees engaged and listening to feedback.  Employees who face challenges with working from home might also need on-going support to manage feelings of isolation and work-related stress. HR leaders must also work with business leaders to determine how the current practices might evolve to more permanent practices and policies once the pandemic comes to an end. These alternatives can include reducing the work hours, and offering voluntary unpaid leave of absence, flexible working arrangements, partial salary postponement and salary reductions. Hiring freezes are also effective at reducing workforce costs but may not represent a significant reduction to rule out other practices.

As well as the above, HR leaders have to think about employees’ psychological well being. There may be employees who require psychological support from the organisation to do their job properly – such as access to qualified counsellors, trained mentors within, recognition programs or internal communication initiatives to promote mental health. All in all, there’s a huge transformation needed to human capital management across the world to overcome the current challenges arising from the Covid 19 pandemic.

If you’re starting to think about returning to work, CMI also spoke to Stephen Pierce from Hitachi about how to involve your people in the process.

Rohitha Amarapala, FCMI, the 2nd Vice President of CMI Sri Lanka, is a renowned multi-disciplinary HR professional who heads the HR management at Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation Ltd. He's a fellow member and Past President of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management - Sri Lanka and also the recipient of CIPM Lifetime Gold Medal awarded to the best HR Professionals in the country in 2018.

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