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COVID 19 - NEXT STEPS for Business Leaders

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

COVID-19 has been hitting us full force for several months, forcing business leaders to reconsider the way they operate, forcing employees to change the way they apprehend work and reality. SMEs which had not digitized B2B and B2C processes have suffered the most while the need for social distancing has been feeding Tech giants. Now that many Tech based and agile organizations are arising or recovering from the crisis, business leaders must remember to keep the human factor on top of their priority list. In order to be virus-proof, companies must focus on Employee Safety, Upskilling, Teamwork and Performance Management.

1. New business priorities

The last two months have given business leaders the opportunity to reflect on what has worked and what has failed during the crisis. They have identified the necessary changes in their business and in their strategy to accelerate innovation.

After recovering from the lockdown, they should be looking at:

· Safety: ensure that all employees have safe working spaces at the office and appropriate work-life balance at home

· Certainty: keep a long-term perspective despite the unpredictable evolution of the virus and include adaptation and learning factors in their new business plans

· Reorganization: reconsider the structure of their organization and the Talent performance management system

· Branding: increase marketing/advertising budgets and focus on adding value to the brand

· Consolidation[ED1] : build a stronger and sustainable digital strategy to increase the online audience.

· Innovation and creativity: rethink the customers journeys and test them by different audiences.

2. Telecommuting and collaboration

In order to preserve the collaborative and teamwork spirit, business leaders need to keep employees constantly informed of what is going on in the company. First it prevents people’s minds from going wild and making wrong assumptions. Then it enables employees to feel that they are belonging to the organization despite the distance.

For safety reasons, telecommuting is bound to be the future of collaboration for several years and Business leaders need to optimize the collaboration between virtual teams with effective tools. Globalization has drawn the path for effective collaboration between company’s entities in different countries. Collaborative tools like Teams, Zoom, Flock, Microsoft 360, Slack, InVision enable a fluid communication and information sharing. Other Apps like LiquidPlanner, LeanKit, ZoHo, Zapier and Trello can increase remote teams’ functionality.

For some SMEs however the challenge is big. Employees are not used to working in such an agile way. The best way to improve collaboration between employees is to make them more equipped and less dependent from each other to perform their work. This happens through training, upskilling, mentoring and empowerment.

3. The need for employee reskilling

HR Business partners’ role is becoming more critical than ever as they need to identify the core skillset to support the companies’ new business models. Hiring and Training are the two options to acquire new skills but HRBPs should first focus on upskilling the existing workforce.

How to proceed?

a. Conduct a review of existing employees’ skills

b. Identify new skills needed and quantity of people to be trained on

c. Gather internal reusable training materials

d. Implement Knowledge sharing and brown bag sessions

e. Identify learning partners and channels to product digital content quickly

f. Customize individual learning plans

What to keep in mind?

· Before training their teams on Digital and IT skills, Line Managers need to make sure employees are familiar with Collaborative tools.

· Adaptation skills are key to remain resilient while we live with a high level of uncertainty.

· Empathy helps companies support clients through change management. It also helps Line Managers lead virtual teams on a long-term perspective.

· Reinforcing the leadership skills and self-confidence of employees will bring a win-win set-up.

4. Rethinking performance

The definition of performance is evolving as adaptation skills and resilience have become as critical as cognitive and analytical skills. Business Leaders need to inform employees about the new priorities and strategic orientation of the company. Only part of the workforce will go back to the office. In this context, it is important for the management to precise what is expected from their team and how it will be measured.

Line Managers and HR team need to start working on:

- Defining performance in the new set-up

- Adapting the performance management and evaluation systems

- Refining team targets for the next 6 months

- Implementing individual training, development and career plans

The HR team will revamp the Compensation and Benefits plan and ensure proper communication to employees.

Telecommuting is said to be the future of work but it is not only about making employees work remotely. It raises many questions like:

· Will employees who work from the office have the same KPIs as those who work remotely? Theoretically yes, if the KPIs are based on the results achieved in a specific timeline

· How do we ensure that employees who transit to the office everyday, who suffer more interruptions on site and who have a higher risk of contamination are not disadvantaged comparing to remote employees?

The complexity of the individual working conditions needs to be taken into consideration during the performance reviews

· How do we ensure that all employees are properly rewarded and remain engaged despite those discrepancies?

The Comp. & Ben. plan must reflect the situation of each individual and take personal constraints into account.

Furthermore, the impact of remote working on productivity is mitigated:

a. Many employees are keen to continue working from home and will perform better this way as they will spend more time focusing on their jobs. Some studies reveal that remote employees work 1.4 more days per months than their office-based colleagues.

b. Other studies also reveal that telecommuting should not exceed 2 days per week to ensure minimal social life and psychological wellness. For some people, working from home is more stressful than working at the office. 45% of employees have experienced high levels of anxiety during lockdown and 31% of employees have needed to take a day off to preserve their mental health.

Employees who are telecommuting are not happier than others, but they are apparently more productive. Latest workforce surveys show that around 60% of employees still prefer working from home and many companies are questioning the need for a physical office. Thanks to efficient HR Tech tools, employees’ performance and productivity can be monitored and tracked precisely, even if employees are working 100% remotely. Companies should encourage telecommuting for safety reasons. It is the responsibility of each business leader to implement a safe, fair and balanced management system of the workforce, that will keep employees motivated and enable the organization to meet business requirements. Business leaders should also seize this opportunity to review the composition of the workforce, promote internal role mobility and foster new career paths. Estelle DHERINE

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