The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a tragic toll from a human and public health standpoint, along with causing massive business disruption, resulting in some businesses shutting down completely. In contrast, others have had to rapidly expand service teams and ramp up production to meet increased demands, while many companies have become remote workplaces practically overnight.
It’s a fluid situation, and businesses have had to adjust and then readjust as conditions change. HR is playing a key role in maintaining business continuity, driving ongoing transformation efforts, and supporting staffing decisions. The most successful HR teams are defining the new normal with best practices that enable informed decision-making and organizational agility.
1. Best Practices HR Is Using to Maintain Business Continuity in a Crisis
Maintaining business continuity during a crisis starts with the initial response. That includes enacting health and safety measures like social distancing protocols to control the spread of the virus, work-at-home policies, and mass onboarding for companies that need to expand the services they offer that are now in greater demand, such as home delivery.
The next phase of business continuity is recovery, which includes developing solutions to mitigate the outbreak’s impact on employee health and well-being and actions to normalize supply and demand to allow the business to recover from the abrupt change in conditions. The final phase of crisis-oriented business continuity is to work toward creating a new normal, adjusting to circumstances as conditions demand.
2. How HR Is Driving Transformation to Reach a New Normal
Before the outbreak, many companies were pursuing organizational transformation to improve agility via digitization and gain a competitive edge. To compete for highly skilled Millennial and Generation Z workers, HR leaders paved the way for transformation by building company cultures that are compatible with telecommuting and putting technology assets in place to support remote work.
The pandemic’s social distancing protocols gave these transformation efforts new urgency and are requiring businesses to redefine normal operations. HR teams are stepping up and demonstrating their value as business partners, providing data and expertise and outlining the options business leaders need to manage dynamic factors that require an agile response.
For example, HR teams are identifying the assets needed to maintain productivity for remote workforces, including technology resources. They’re also engaged in strategic planning to protect employees and maximize productivity under challenging circumstances. The most successful teams are building critical skills and competencies while keeping employees engaged and protected.
3. Tips for Making Staffing Decisions in Uncertain Times
When making short- or long-term plans to manage a crisis, HR needs to be able to identify critical roles quickly. Depending on the type of business, these positions will include jobs that drive business priorities in affected areas, jobs directly linked to production or service delivery, and roles played by key contractors and customers.
For businesses to achieve operational resilience, HR teams are reviewing those functions to determine whether their organization can manage surges in activity and identifying additional staff to serve as a backup. Creating role categories is the first step in planning for uncertain times:
- Essential: employees who must be available under all circumstances
- Temporary suspension: workers who can be suspended for a short period
- Extended suspension: workers who may be suspended for an extended time or indefinitely
HR teams that categorize employees can evaluate whether they have a sufficient number of employees to manage essential duties as conditions evolve and, if not, take steps like cross-training, certification, or finding temporary or contract personnel to serve as backups. HR teams that complete these steps early and make adjustments as conditions warrant are better positioned for success in a crisis.
Navigating Uncharted Terrain
For HR professionals to see their companies through the pandemic, their teams are making significant efforts to maintain business continuity, drive transformation, and ensure the right people are in the right locations to help their company fulfill its mission, whether that location is at home working remotely or on the front lines delivering essential services.
It’s a complex set of tasks even under normal conditions, and a public health emergency adds new dimensions and urgency to HR’s role. Modern HR analytics and visualization capabilities can quickly give HR teams insights into their current status and backup resources and provide tools to manage a crisis:
- Location map to gain an overview of where employees are
- Leaner, easier-to-manage structures
- List of part-timers, probationers, and consultants to optimize the workforce if required
- A way to collaborate and have discussions online in real time on a secure cloud solution
- Lists of skills beyond current profile requirements, the ability to view certifications, etc.
- Employee availabilities for different time zones to cover for absent colleagues
As the COVID-19 outbreak demonstrates, it’s crucial for HR to have these capabilities at its fingertips to respond to an emergency quickly. But while the pandemic represents uncharted terrain in many ways, it’s always important for HR to have the capacity to maintain continuity, drive organizational transformation, and optimize staffing. By enhancing these capabilities now, HR is defining the new normal—and improving its companies’ people management competencies in ways that will outlast the present crisis.