07 Sep 2020 20:42 IST

HR leaders need to move fast and communicate faster

Managing virtual interactions and instilling confidence in employees is crucial to the recovery process

Johnny C Taylor Jr, President and CEO, SHRM, made a very interesting observation — he compared HR’s role now, in the Covid-19 disruption, to how IT professionals handled the Y2K problem. HR leaders need to step up and help businesses to get back on track in the post-Covid world – and the planning for this starts now, dealing with the short-term and long-term ramifications.

The pandemic has permanently changed the way we manage work, workers and workplaces. The urgent and pivotal role of HR will be to ease and eliminate the problems Covid-19 has left in its devastating trail. The top priority will be facilitating remote working, employee health, and well-being.

Communication is key

HR so far has been more of a service delivery function. Going forward, the role of HR will need to be more agile so as to respond to employee needs quickly, communicate fast-changing HR policies clearly, and become an enabler of efficient two-way communication between employees and management.

HR will need to balance the human side and the digital side of the workforce. There will definitely be an increase in employees preferring remote working, and virtual business interactions are going to become the new normal. As a result, the role of HR as an enabler will become even more prominent — this includes upskilling the WFH employees so that they work as is or perhaps more efficiently than before, designing and implementing policies that ensure business continuity, keeping employees motivated when working from home. In addition, they will have to be provided flexibility in work hours as employees take care of children taking classes online as schools may not open immediately, or have to look after ageing parents, yet another vulnerable group.

Apart from managing WFH employees, HR will also face the challenge of building robust and integrated teams remotely. It will be an added responsibility to make sure the teams remain engaged without meeting face-to-face.

Many HR activities will be done remotely — recruitment, on-boarding, training and development, and so on.

Enhanced role of tech

HR will need to aggressively bring in next generation enterprise CRM and human capital management solutions to facilitate the transition into the new normal. They need to put in place a work culture that will help restore the operational health of businesses, after the lockdown is lifted. The aim will not only be to recover from this crisis but also make the organisation resilient to future disruptions.

Keeping the morale high

In these times of uncertainty, HR needs to communicate transparently and frequently to ensure a smooth transition. Employees returning to work will look to HR for providing direction, motivating teams and keeping the morale high. There has to be multiple channels of communication to synchronise the activities of employees working on different platforms.

The pandemic has not just affected the economy, it has thrown into disarray the community at large and it is left to HR leaders to instil confidence in their employees and make them feel valued.


With emerging new work norms, employees will need to learn new skills, engage in cross training to fill lacunae in knowledge. Apart from enhancing efficiency, this will also have the added benefit of the employees feeling valued by the company.

Instil confidence

HR leaders are the custodians of talent and their priority and focus should always be employee health and well-being. One of the biggest contributors to stress is the constant concern of job security. Social distancing and isolation will have an effect on the mental health of many. Earlier these were “nice to have” perks provided by “evolved” employers. But going forward, comprehensive well being programmes will become a necessity to ensure high employee productivity and engagement.

A company focussing on the holistic wellness of an employee can always expect great loyalty in return.

Role of advocacy in HR

HR leaders will also have to step up their advocacy role and work with the government to help put in place labour laws that support the new normal, for example, laws on lay-offs, working from home regulations, and employees in the gig economy. Drawing from the lessons in the past, companies that evolve and adapt fast will succeed, and HR will be right there paving the way.

(The writer is Associate Advisory Services, SHRM India.)