We have all heard the story of an elephant being visualised by a set of blind people in a room. Each of the sightless present in the room visualised the creature as per their imagination and understanding. While each one gave a different portrayal of the elephant, the perspective given by each individual about the elephant to all the members present was clear. While this may have resulted in diverging view-points during discussion, in the end, however, the overall view was a holistic one for all.
Something similar is currently happening around us due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some are calling it coronavirus, some are labelling it as COVID-19, but all are collectively assessing the virus and its impact. You may have already read a lot about this through various articles, videos and webinars. Many people and organisations are still trying their best to decode what has happened and express their views and suggestions on how the pandemic will change the world post the disaster.
I am in no way different in attempting to decipher the impact of the outbreak on all of us. We all concur that the coronavirus will bring about massive changes in us, as individuals. However, my assessment is more oriented towards its impact on the organisation:
Respect every role:
One thing this crisis has driven home is that no role can be labelled as either big/small or impactful/non-impactful anymore. All roles have their relevance and each role will substantiate its value beyond imagination at the opportune moment. Organisations and nations require different roles to function smoothly, and in the absence of appreciation for other roles (regardless of the associated pay cheque), this planet will struggle to survive. The last few weeks have witnessed many CEOs being confined to their homes, while their delivery staff are leading their organisations from the front, and getting closer to their customers. Our housekeeping staff and essential services are as important as our strategy/corporate functions at the head office. Therefore, once we return to normalcy, we should change our view-point about the contribution of each role/role holder and should give them the acknowledgement they duly deserve.
Be fast but not furious:
When a catastrophe of this magnitude —with no former reference point— hits, the agility of the leaders and the calmness they demonstrate makes the difference. This not the time to panic, but it is certainly not the time to procrastinate either! Not only do decisions need to be taken in the best interest of the team members, but these decisions have to be swiftly percolated down to the last man standing, so that everyone acts in unison and with the same spirit. Once normalcy is restored, we must revisit the competencies required for our organisation which stimulate this type of agility and awareness. One may contend that these are one-off occurrences in the lifespan of an organisation and cannot be premeditated, but it is still better to attempt and build systems around them.
Be competitively creative:
Like any tragedy, COVID-19 also gave us ample opportunities to wear our creative hats, be it for personal or for business reasons. We all comprehend that creativity creates opportunity. In these tough times, we have seen how people have taken creativity to the next level (like using tooth picks to press elevator buttons to avoid human contact!). In this race, organisations are also not lagging behind. Through their employees, they have used this opportunity to take this challenge head on. We never expected automobile companies, such as Maruti and Mahindra to come out with plans to manufacture ventilators. Who would have thought ITC/Marico would use Swiggy/Zomato to service their customers at home? Though all this is unprecedented, it still gives us a silver lining, that once this crisis is over, we will continue to reset our creativity button more often and will do different things differently.
Help teams transition into tribes:
One of the biggest impacts of the coronavirus outbreak will be on the way we envisage roles in organisations. Instead of bundling activities into one role, a reversal will take place. Roles will perhaps be redefined as activities, and hence, the dependence on one individual, one function or one location will be minimised to a large extent. I further feel that this crisis will give us an opportunity to structure our teams. The whole manner of defining and interpreting teams will change, giving rise to a more tribe-oriented functioning. It is too early to envisage how and when it will change, but change it will. You will see many organisations and consultants starting to function in this direction.
Accept that technology is not a threat:
For years now, we have all been pondering on how technology is a threat to human beings in the workplace, and how people are getting addicted to gadgets. However, in the current situation, we have seen the appreciable side of technology. We have seen it emerging as a saviour for the humankind. Right from drones disinfecting localities, to robots replacing human transactions in the infected areas, technology has been all pervasive and has now become integral for human survival. In the times to come, this conversion will be steeper and will require serious discussion and considering in business planning. Robots/ virtual technology will dominate industries and will co-exist with humans at the workplace. Technology in sectors, such as healthcare, manufacturing, and retail will gain more prominence and will become the central agenda of the boardroom.
As an HR professional, I can perceive a lot of opportunities emerging for us out of this calamity. It is now upon us to use this to help our organisations shape the new approach of working. However, it will be unfair on my part to claim that these are the only potential areas, where organisations will see renovation. These are just a few of the areas, which in my limited wisdom, I can envisage. At the end of the day, I am one of the blind men in the room, trying to feel the elephant with my imagination and understanding. There are many more like me in the room, who will interpret/imagine the elephant in their own way and share their outlook.
However, one thing is quite clear — the current crisis is humongous and so will be the learnings from it.