2020: What to learn – what to erase
Despite the havoc it created, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise in several ways. Almost everyone quickly adopted some form of digital technology to facilitate working and business processes. Most sectors are now looking forward to building smart and efficient systems for sustainability and cost-competitiveness. Corporates realised that working from office is not equal to being productive; that one can deliver desired outcomes operating from anywhere. There is a realisation that unnecessary travel and in-person meetings can be avoided without compromising on results. There is a genuine focus on health, hygiene and a disciplined life. One thing I would like to erase is the pain arising out of loss of life and loss of income, which affected many families.
HR has shown great agility and business acumen
Yes, the HR fraternity was more active and visible during the pandemic. They worked in tandem with business managers and teams to ensure safety of people and availability of workforce, despite sustained lockdown. They helped manage stress and anxiety, providing support to those affected by COVID and ensuring that people stayed connected and engaged, overall. In short, they played a crucial role in guaranteeing business continuity. Pandemic or no pandemic, the HR function is a strategic one. Organisations that do not consider HR a part of business are certainly oblivious to contemporary reality. It is not always fair to blame the management for their inability to recognise the importance of HR. A lot depends on HR professionals themselves and the way they create an impact on the job. The HR professionals who only focus on their routine and administrative roles will be relegated to the back office.
The ones who understand the business, know the pulse of the people, and work towards improving the competitiveness of the business by providing innovative people solutions will be the true partners. Naturally, they will be seen as a business function. Given the new normal and related complexities in the future, HR is expected to not only take care of pandemic-induced issues, but also ensure sustainability. This requires focus on hybrid work methods, adoption of technology, learning requirements of the workforce, upskilling and re-skilling, engagement, employer branding and other issues.
“Technologies, processes and systems are changing so fast that one cannot afford to ‘rest on past laurels’”
Identifying right skill gaps or reskilling
The dual issue of identifying the right skill gaps and reskilling will remain a perpetual challenge for organisations. The related complexities will only increase with time. A recent report of ILO-IOE stated that for 53 per cent of Indian businesses it has become harder to recruit people with the required skills. The ‘Future of Jobs 2018’ report mentioned that more than half of India’s workforce will need to be reskilled by 2022.
The NASSCOM Sector Skill Council pointed out that 55 new job roles and 155 new-age skills will be relevant in the future — Big Data, Analytics, Machine Learning and AI feature prominently among them. Many such surveys highlight the stark reality of rapid change in skill requirements and the need to stay relevant in all sectors.
Upskilling and reskilling are the current buzzwords. Technologies, processes and systems are changing so fast that one cannot afford to ‘rest on past laurels’. What worked six months back, may not work now. Traditional jobs and roles are under threat. Accelerated automation will replace most cognitive and routine manual tasks. Only investing in continuous learning can better equip organisations and individuals for future jobs. While organisations will have to provide the right environment, resources and support in upskilling and reskilling, individuals themselves will have to take the initiative to keep themselves updated and relevant. After all, ‘one can lead a horse to the water but cannot make it drink’.
Getting the employees out of the pandemic fatigue
Lockdown, work from home, incessant video calls, webinars, fear of infection, loss of near and dear ones in some cases, job losses, salary cuts, no increments to muted increments, no means to relax — caused fatigue across most sectors. In the essential goods or essential services sectors, continuous work, extended work hours and no leaves, only added to the fatigue. Innumerable initiatives — ranging from wellness programmes, online stress busters and happy hours, to virtual employee-support programmes — were undertaken by organisations in right earnest.
However, they have often been received by employees as yet another task and have failed to address the real source of energy drain. They say, in the Navy, that after a particularly stormy sail, captains navigate ships to calm waters for sailors to rest. In a corporate environment, the calmer waters may be equated to leaders and team members actually taking time off to unwind. With the situation improving, it would be wise to let people go for vacations as per individual circumstances.
The lockdown phase also saw many de-stress by brushing up their lost interests and hobbies. It is important to continue pursuing such interests and hobbies to stay energised. However, depending on how 2021 unfolds, and given the release of vaccines, people will figure out their own ways to rejuvenate and restore their smiles and energy.