We are already living in the new normal. The revolutionary era we have been ready to enter after the Covid-19 pandemic, is in fact upon us.
Living with the pandemic, in a state of technology-enabled social distancing, with constant hygiene and sanitary awareness, is going to be how we work in future.
While many of us are gradually returning to the physical workplace, a large proportion of the workforce are still working from home. As we have seen, that home-office approach, without commuting or a fixed nine-to-five routine, blurs the boundaries between work and personal time, with implications for our work-life balance.
As professionals in the human capital space, my colleagues and I have had ringside seats as society’s ways of working change irrevocably.
We have seen that in a time of such dynamic change, there are certain tools that are vital to businesses navigating the space effectively. They are in fact key human-capital skills, and will be vital during the new era of business.
Everyone’s lives have been intimately affected by the shifts brought on by the pandemic and the lockdown. A human-centred approach to HR is therefore essential, for businesses to understand how the current dynamics are impacting their employees.
Organisations need robust channels for employee engagement to ensure that they are constantly aware of how people are coping. This is no longer as simple as calling someone in to your office for a chat. It requires scheduled catch-ups, and most importantly, a sincere, empathetic approach.
This humanist approach should suffuse the entire organisation. It relates to the concept of Design Thinking. Our company’s leaders have just completed a six-month Design Thinking training course, and for us, it is about taking a human-centric approach to solving really complex problems.
Design thinking is about deeper thinking, consulting and relating, to gain insights from people around us in order to build better systems.
In the operational context, this helps us find new ways of working by putting the customer first, and finding solutions that meet their requirements. But it is equally useful to design systems that suit our staff, protecting their state of mind, and enhancing their effectiveness.
Having consulted broadly, it’s important that businesses by flexible enough to implement the insights they have gained from their people. When we design new work solutions with input from all of our people, it is more likely that these solutions will be sustainable in the long term.
Flexibility is a mindset. The days of an HR department being obsessed with managing hard-and-fast policy rules must end. The best solutions will come from an open-minded approach. Where previous polices would have stated, “No special favours for anyone,” now we must understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and work processes need to cater for them.
In this context, soft skills are becoming ever more relevant. We need leaders who can put themselves in employees’ shoes. The best solution will no longer be the best idea, but the idea that best suits the people.
These people skills can be taught. As such, companies need to invest in constantly upskilling their workforces with engagement skills as well as technical and technology skills. The scope for this is enormous, as training is highly effective in the online environment, where it now takes place.
In our business, we found the lockdown was the ideal period to launch these training initiatives, when many operations were suspended. Our people have emerged from the lockdown stronger, smarter and sharper. The shutdown became a blessing in disguise.
This inclusive approach also calls for constant communication. The communication must be regular, scheduled and systematic, as the new remote-working reality makes random, ad-hoc communication impossible.
Likewise, more consultative, open employee relations has helped us unlock a raft of solutions and new ways of working that all staff are happy with, enhancing productivity and improving health and wellness for all of us.
The age of social distancing has also forced much internal communication into the digital realm. However, it can be highly effective. Virtual townhalls and business updates, webinars and webcasts can be far more effective than physical meetings with venue hire and catering requirements.
The digital channels have been in place for years, but they have been neglected. The pandemic has simply accelerated the pace of our digital migration. Those digital systems may need some tweaking, but they are a priceless opportunity to relate better and to educate our people more effectively on our strategy.
The need for flexibility, trust and communication means that HR skills are more important than ever. Human capital practitioners need to be aware of this, and work to ensure that whatever changes they implement are right for individuals, their organisations and their customers.
Ultimately, there must be one priority at the heart of everything we do: our people.
- Pam Xaba is Head: Human Capital at Netstar, a subsidiary of Altron.