Human resource managers must try to meet employees' needs during the crisis. Source: Shutterstock

Human resource managers must try to meet employees’ needs during the crisis. Source: Shutterstock

How CHROs can augment workforce management systems in a pandemic

RESILIENCE, efficiency, flexibility, compassion, and leadership are some of the key qualities and values that enterprises should emulate in times of crisis.

At least, that’s what many businesses have been told to do when the severity and extent of the pandemic became apparent about a month ago.

It’s not an easy thing to do — justifiably so. As a new set of unprecedented challenges emerged, impacting not only company operations but their work culture, leadership values and business models, enterprise leaders found themselves truly caught off-guard.

A survey conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF) back at the end of 2019 revealed that less than 10 percent of business leaders considered the virus a global threat.

A few shorts months later, it is an entirely different story: Business leaders are now being tested in terms of their leadership and management qualities and contingency plans. Now, more than ever, company human resource leaders are being asked to step up their game.

Why are the roles of CHROs more critical than ever?

When it comes to how the workforce is best managed, the expertise and managerial capacities of chief human resources officers (CHROs) are being put to the test.

CHROs have an in-depth understanding their workforce, and they know how current changes will impact each employee differently. Some roles can adapt to remote working environments, while others will struggle to function outside an office setting.

With that knowledge, CHROs are faced with the challenges of solving their organization’s shortcomings, ensuring employees are well equipped to support the continuity of business and maintaining the well-being of their workforce.

The WEF believes that the concept of stakeholder capitalism, where corporations serve their key stakeholders from customers, to suppliers, employees, shareholders and local communities, can serve as a foundation during these new times. Utilizing holistic workforce management principles, CHROs can then leverage this outlook when navigating the changes that are taking place.

With this in mind, here are some key imperatives outlined by WEF in their latest ‘Workforce Principles for the COVID-19 Pandemic’ report:

# 1 | Employees’ well-being and effective communication must come first

According to a survey by Deloitte, executives in China believe that the most pertinent matters facing workforce management are flexible working schedules, employees’ psychological stress reliever, employment and compensation packages, and emergency assistance.

Employees retention is instrumental in ensuring the continuity of business during the crisis. Their emotional, physical, mental, financial and social well-being plays into this directly.

CHROs must make it a point to deliver a support system that’s holistic enough to address the well-being of employees, whether it’s those who work remotely or those who have to remain on-site during these times.

Sending out well-documented key policies and procedures can help employees stay informed. It’s also important to prioritize empathetic and personalized communication between leaders and employees.

Morals can be low during these trying times. As much as the operation requires consistent work and productivity from the workforce, employees will need consistent support from the enterprise as well.

#2 | Responsible work redesigns can help establish change

Amid the disruptions that the pandemic has caused, there are plenty of positive outcomes for enterprises to consider. Changes in operations, work culture, and a growing reliance on technological solutions are set to influence work outlooks for years to come.

When the crisis ends, there will be a new normal and this new normal will include more efficient organizational redesigns. They need to be implemented responsibly.

For one, if an enterprise was to make a shift from permanent to flexible or remote working environments, the new operational model must account for the needs of its employees, the readiness of the workforce, the adequacy of their current skills, and whether they are digitally capable of executing the shift.

With automation tools expected to be a common asset in new working environments, enterprises need to make sure that employees have all the right capabilities and skills up to date in order to navigate the technology.

Employees also may need productivity training to bolster remote working arrangements, which is another factor CHROs must keep in mind. On that note, it’s also a good time to reevaluate how the current workforce can be re-skilled so that they can support an increasingly digital operation.

#3 | Short-term cost concerns must be balanced with medium-term resilience

CHROs understand that in uncertain times, decisions about labor costs and risk management can be the most difficult to finalize. A lot of factors come into play and especially now, no enterprise wants to be held back by miscalculated judgments.

Based on the report by the WEF: “Companies must recognize the often competing demands of shareholders, customers and employees, and look for innovative solutions to ride out the medium-term crisis while minimizing the negative impact on all groups.”

In other words, it’s a balanced ecosystem.

At the same time, an organization cannot loose focus on the financial well-being of employees that are most vulnerable to the changing tides. This is particularly important for customer-facing businesses and conventional retailers. It is indeed a scary time for those that are financially at-risk of ruin, undoubtedly, and company CHROs must try to see how they can help these employees navigate these difficult times.

CHROs must also remain flexible: There is no one-size-fits-all solution in a very fluid business environment. Taking a segmented view of the workforce would be key in making no one is left behind.