2020: What to learn – what to erase
If someone had told me around this time in 2020, that the world will turn upside down starting March, I would have certainly questioned that person’s mental balance!
None of us have seen anything like this ever in our lives. This said, in hindsight, there were several things that worked out well. For one, I learned many new skills and I am not talking about Teams calls or WFH! The life skills I learned in 2020 cannot match anything I have learned before. Starting from basic housekeeping skills, to cooking, and doing various chores, ever since March 25, 2020, I have consistently completed 12,000 steps a day, burning about 630 calories! I have not missed a single day, and I am very proud of this.
On what I would like to erase — pretty much nothing. As Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk says, unless one embraces one’s fears, one will not be able to get over them. Corporate India has seen several cases of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression-related ailments. Even as several families grew in bonding closely, some lost out. My view is that simply erasing these is not going to help. As a human race, we need to start learning from 2020, and for that to happen, embracing the erasable is important.
HR has shown great agility and business acumen
While it is true that in many corporations, HR found its rightful place on the table, I think in most progressive companies, HR was always a key function on which the bedrock of talent rested. To me, just calling HR a business function will not make a difference. Any successful CEO, be it Jack Welch of GE or Satya Nadella of Microsoft, would unequivocally state that managing softer issues is the harder thing.
2020 helped us learn the real meaning of being agile. For years, companies have been talking about agile methodology and practices, such as flattening organisations, ability to collaborate remotely and working in teams. This year, agility happened at scale. Several friends of mine, who are senior HR leaders, tell me their companies moved faster than they thought was possible. Things, such as digital transformation and the redesign of performance management happened in months. We learned that a focus on helping employees be productive, safe, and included is really the core of a transformation.
Personally, I relearned how to learn. While I had talked about this for long, I really did not know much about public health, viruses, workplace hygiene, or global social issues, such as ‘black lives matter’. This year has shown me that HR professionals are learners at heart. In fact, the L&D function reinvented itself and has helped HR and businesses manage this complexity with growth. Personally, I have seen more consumption of virtual learning than I ever thought possible, and our employees are as engaged as they have ever been.
2021: Changing organisational design
Personally, I am not a big believer of ‘year of such and such’. Most business imperatives that HR supports have multiyear outlook and impact. Even as I heard of automation in 2020, can we truly say we never discussed automation earlier? The virus made sure that in 2020 several companies shed headcount and laid of employees. However, in my mind, talent acquisition remains one of the most complex parts of HR. In 2021, companies will begin to put more emphasis on job sharing and internal talent mobility. I also see gig working finally opening in India, what with several young workers not willing to put all their eggs in one basket. One of my mentees asked me why she cannot professionally pursue weekend singing at a local band even as she works as an HR manager during the week.
Any successful CEO, be it Jack Welch of GE or Satya Nadella of Microsoft, would unequivocally state that managing softer issues is the harder thing.
Digital transformation that began a few years ago and picked up in 2020, is certainly here to stay. I do not think there is any more reason to believe that the roles, which can be performed from home, should not or cannot be done so. Several of my colleagues are now working from everywhere. In fact, the big trend to me is that work comes to one rather than one going to work. In HR, this translates to how we double down on digital work experience by way of simplification, integration and design thinking. Products, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and so on, are sweeping across the world, enabling HR teams to create a single-platform experience for employees.
Blurred work-life balance: Managing employee experience to managing the life experience
If I were to sound a bit confrontational, I would say that the concept of work-life balance never existed in the first place! The two realms were always blurred and 2020 made sure that they successfully integrated!!
As for ‘managing life experiences of employees, I would say we should stay with what we can influence and not venture into the space beyond it. I continue to think that workplace experiences are a significant part of the work engagement of employees. It is a plum research topic to then verify if such work engagement has an impact on customer service, especially in industries, such as mine.