Workforce strategies for a post-COVID-19 recovery

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, crisis response priority was given to highlighting health and safety needs, with emphasis on essential services and virtualization of work and education.

When an organization faces crisis, it must pass through three stages:

The first two being responding to the current situation and recovering from the crisis

The third stage is preparing for a new normal.

Recent developments have clearly demonstrated that HR leaders’ skills, abilities and personal resilience are more vital than ever before. As the organization moves into the recovery phase, HR leaders must turn their attention to how best to sustain the workforce over what may be a protracted timeframe.

It is crucial for organizations to take five actions as they recover from a crisis: reflect, recommit, re-engage, rethink and reboot. These 5 steps will help build the foundation in order for an organization to thrive after a crisis.

Reflect on what has worked, what you’ve learned and missed when responding.

Renew commitment to your well-being and purpose by addressing all aspects of your health – physical, emotional, and financial.

Re-engage. Redeploy members of the workforce and maximize their contributions while preparing them with skills for future deployment opportunities

Rethink. Utilize new business priorities to rethink and reconfigure the work, workforce, and workplace in order to balance ongoing and evolving business needs.

Reboot. To align HR and people operations priorities with the most pressing business priorities, an organization must first identify what those priorities are.

The Workforce Strategies for a Post-COVID-19 Recovery Guide is designed to help HR leaders identify areas that require attention in order to rebuild the workforce following COVID-19.

Scenario planning

The global impact of COVID-19 will continue regardless of how long the pandemic lasts. Organizations must plan for multiple scenarios and time frames, as they shift from crisis response to recovery. They should plan for the possibility of multiple waves for next 24 months while establishing their critical priorities and positioning themselves for new realities in 12 to 24 months.

The outcome of a catastrophic event like this will be what defines your brand for the next few years.

This guide is for HR professionals thinking through how to manage business continuity.

Note: The HR leadership guide is not meant to be a comprehensive resource and, depending on your environment, some of the questions may not apply.

 

Work: Is the workplace reverting to its old ways or are new approaches being adopted?

Is the business model changing?

Workforce: Are new staff being hired to take over operational roles. If so, what types of skills are in demand? Is there employee engagement and productivity to support a recovery plan? How will management handle high-priority projects? What kind of skill sets should be added or removed from the workforce based on recovery needs?

Workplace: Are current physical work spaces and sites able to return to normal? Is remote working a valuable alternative, or does workforce need physical proximity to each other and the organization’s recovery plan?

Leadership: Has leadership been aware of COVID-19 during its evolution and subsequent impact on the organization? Have they remained knowledgeable about the current situation, and what are their thoughts on how to proceed?

Reinvention: Has the organization begun to reinvent itself in anticipation of COVID-19’s impact? If not, is there a defined “new normal” in place for when business as usual resumes after pandemic recovery?

 

What type of future workplace do you envision in the next 12-24 months. Please explain why that type of work environment is required.

We see the future workplace to be more technology based. The majority of things are now done via computers and software. This means that if there is a problem with the computer or network, it requires IT support to fix those problems. Things like setting up mobile devices for business, supporting employees and teaching them how to use their devices as well as operating systems and software are all things that IT professionals need to handle now.

The workforce will include a huge amount of people who work from home or different locations outside of the office because this is where they feel the most comfortable and productive. Offices will be less about having private offices for one person and more about open spaces with desks for employees, which is where the community interaction and collaboration will take place.

 

What types of technologies, processes and organizational structures can be put into place to support a virtual workforce?

Offices that are set up today include more community style spaces for people to work in. These areas still have desks and tables but allow more collaboration between employees when they come into the office. This will be even more prevalent as we move toward a virtual workspace where employees are able to work from home or different locations outside of the office and need to work with their co-workers.

How we organize ourselves as a company will also have to change, and this is where the technology comes in. There has been lots of advancement in technology like VoIP (Voice Over IP), which allows employees to use their mobile devices for calls and video conferencing rather than calling each other on phones that are plugged into their offices or homes. The technology to setup and maintain these systems is in place, but it will take some time for companies to get used to this way of working with each other – especially if they are already set in their ways.

This will all be supported by the organizational structures that are put into place by management. These structures will include things like letting employees work on their own time and communicating via technology rather than a face to face meeting.

What are the main challenges your organization faces in introducing these technologies, processes and organizational structures?

Some of the challenges for our company would be getting employees to start using new applications while also continuing to do what they have always done. When a new application is introduced, it can be hard for employees to let go of the way they have been working while also trying to figure out this new software and how it works. This can cause lost productivity as well as frustration for some employees because they just want to do their job without having to learn anything new.

Our company in particular also has a business model that requires employees to be in the office quite often. It will take some time for us to adopt new policies and structures that will work with this virtual environment, but I think it is something that we have already started doing because we are seeing more employees working remotely at least part of the week.

Other issues will be getting employees to be able to get their work done, even when they are not in the office. The idea that someone needs to see or talk to someone else in order for something to get done will start being phased out. There will still be times when face-to-face meetings are necessary though depending on what it is that you are working on, but it will be for more specific group meetings rather than an all-staff meeting which is done over video conferencing.

How we manage projects and spread the work across departments as well as dealing with different time zones will also have to change when working virtually.

What are some ways your organization’s leadership can address these issues?

I think the main way our leadership can address some of these issues with employees is to be more open minded in terms of letting them work remotely. When creating an environment where it is acceptable for employees to work outside of the office, management will become more and more comfortable with people working this way which will make it easier on everyone involved. Management will also need to be a good example of how employees should work within this environment. If they are using the same technology as their employees, it is easier for them to understand why it is needed and what it can do for you.

This change will have to start with management not just accepting remote working but leading by example. I think once they start working from home or another remote location, they will see how it benefits them and their employees, as well as the company as a whole. This can also help with adjusting to any changes that come up like time zone differences and other difficulties that may arise when working virtually.

If management has already made this change themselves but still have some of the more traditional employees who are not open to this way of working then I think they need to be patient and explain the benefits that it will bring. One of the biggest things that is going to have to change will be how we communicate with each other. A lot of people still prefer face-to-face meetings over video conferencing, which can be hard because face-to-face meetings can only be held in the office or any other location where everyone can meet up in person. I think this is going to become less of an issue as people are more comfortable with working remotely, but it will still have to change.

There also may be times when someone who works for your organization has to work remotely because of a time zone difference. If this is the case then it might be harder for them to get their work done because they may not be able to go through the whole process that they would if they were in the office. It is important that managers stay on top of these employees and make sure that they are staying productive by setting deadlines and checking in on the work that they are getting done. This can help with ensuring that the projects stay on schedule and don’t get behind because of a time zone difference.

If your organization is currently working virtually, then you might be able to deal with this easier than if someone who works for you has to start working remotely. The manager may have to get used to dealing more with project communications and less with in person meetings. It also will be important that they are checking on their employees regularly through video conferencing or email to make sure that they are getting work done without being physically present.

What about the culture of your organization? Do you think a remote working environment is compatible with your culture?

I think a remote working environment is very compatible with our organization’s culture. We are a relatively small organization and it is important that the employees have as much freedom as possible to communicate with each other in order to complete projects effectively. This can only be done if everyone works remotely because we are spread out across different time zones and physical locations.

I think that because we are a small organization and all of the employees have such an important role in its function, it will be easier to work remotely than if we were larger and had more complex systems in place with a lot of established policies and procedures. This is going to make working from home just as effective for our employees as working in the office.

 

Remote working requires a lot of self-discipline and self-motivation. How do you motivate your employees?

I think it is important that there are check-in meetings as well as status reports to help keep everyone organized and informed about what they have done so far and how much work they have left to do. This will help with motivation and self discipline because it allows people to get a sense of what they need to accomplish so that they stay on track and don’t begin working on something else halfway through another project.

Most of the employees in our organization work remotely from home; so, we also use video conferencing at least once a week if not more to meet with each other in person. This helps us to see what is on everyone else’s mind, get instant feedback, and stay aware of what is happening at the office.

I think a lot of self discipline has to be learned by the employee and can’t be done by their manager alone. In order for things to work out, the employee has to be aware of their projects and how much work they have to complete. They need to set goals for themselves and decide how much time they will spend on each task so that they can stay productive despite not being in the office or face-to-face with other employees.

What do you think could go wrong in a remote working environment?

I think that the biggest thing that could go wrong in a remote working environment is if it causes internal communication to break down. A lot of organizations have different employees spread out across time zones and physical locations, so they need to make sure that everyone stays connected and knows what the other people are doing through regular check-ins and status reports.

How do you overcome this issue?

One of my strategies for overcoming this challenge is to conduct weekly team meetings with video conferencing where we can all see each other’s face as well as share notes and documents that will allow us to understand what everyone else has done and needs help with so that we don’t duplicate work and cause confusion.

What is your take on leaders who are not physically present for their teams? Do you think it has a negative impact on the team’s performance?

I think that as long as the leader communicates with his or her employees regularly through video conferencing, email, or phone calls then their absence will have very little effect on the team’s performance. Even if they are physically present, as long as the communication is still open I don’t think it would make a difference because all of their support and leadership can be provided remotely through these different methods in order to give them stability even when apart physically.

What kind of boundaries do you set for employees who work from home?

Since I am the CEO, I have very few boundaries in terms of what I can do. However, if one of my employees were working remotely since we are a fairly small organization, all they would need to worry about is keeping me informed and up-to-date with their work by sending me regular status reports and meeting with me at least once a week through our video conferencing system.

What advice would you give to leaders and managers who are looking to start a remote working environment?

The most important thing will be to establish the right kind of corporate culture first. If the employees can all see that their management is open with them even when they are not in the office and that they are willing to connect with them through different communication methods, then everything else will fall into place.