Workforce management in the new normal

New order: A food-delivery rider is pictured near the Twin Towers. Many novel ways of working have emerged as the workforce adapts to the Covid-19 pandemic. — AP

NONE of us in our generation have been trained for the current situation. There is no textbook answer on how to manage the Covid-19 pandemic with precision and certainty. The reality is that we are still learning how to cope with it every day.

Some of us in essential services continue to work seamlessly (kudos to our brave Malaysian frontliners for keeping us safe!), or work from home (WFH) with minimal fuss. For others, being stuck at home for almost two months during the movement control order (MCO) period has been a really daunting challenge.

They have had to bear with the emotional and mental stress of feeling anxious, vulnerable and fearful.

Some may have received retrenchment letters by now, particularly given the slew of hotel closures recently.

Nonetheless, many new things and new ways of working have started to emerge as the workforce adapts and adjusts to the challenging situation.

Virtual meetings are becoming the norm. Virtual onboarding for new recruits is the new default. Digital learning opportunities are becoming pervasive with free content being made available.

Virtual team exercise sessions are also creating new bonds.

From a workforce management perspective, the digitalisation of human resource and talent practices has gone on overdrive.

Strict physical distancing and health measures will need to be observed when returning to the workplace as part of the new normal.

In the context of Malaysia, organisations may consider three practical workforce management actions as we enter the new normal.

Continue to make employee safety and wellbeing top priority

Put in place mechanisms for employees to report health concerns.

It’s paramount to have clear policies to ensure employees can report on any safety and health concerns immediately.

In Malaysia, EY is piloting an app (#EYStaySafe) to allow its employees to carry out a virtual health “check-in”. This allows the talent team to manage employee health risks proactively.

A rapid emergency response system is also in place for urgent broadcasts to employees.

Have regular check-ins with employees. This is the time to be more human than ever. A simple “how are you feeling today?” goes a long way in employee engagement.

Conduct remote working pulse surveys. These are effective in understanding employee sentiment in this difficult period, and have their voices heard.

The data and feedback may be used to further refine engagement actions. Unfortunately, few Malaysian companies are adopting this.

Amplify your company’s purpose and values. This is a crucible leadership moment.

Leaders should be guided by a clear purpose and values to set the right tone and articulate why certain difficult decisions are being made in these trying times.

Make productivity your best friend

Implement holistic WFH practices and policies. Until a vaccine is found, WFH is here to stay with potential multiple MCO scenarios in the next 18-24 months. Strengthening workforce, technology and cybersecurity capabilities will ensure smooth business operations and continuity.

Be explicit on productivity expectations. KPIs and metrics may be blurred due to a fluid business environment. The key is to break down business processes to a granular level to identify meaningful outputs which can be measured and tracked, eg, the total number of calls answered, the number of transaction processes, etc.

These outputs may still be measured even if the work is done remotely, eg, from home.

Adopt e-learning extensively. Encourage employees to use this opportunity to reskill and upskill. An easy way is to enroll for digital courses as content is pervasive (subscribed, paid, free) and readily available.

Conduct rigorous workforce planning based on business scenario planning

Use scenario-planning techniques to balance workforce capacity, capability and in different time horizons. The priority is to focus on optimising workforce needs to survive in the short term.

So, work closely with the business to align with overall business scenario planning efforts. Assess if the government’s wage stimulus package could be of assistance in the immediate period.

If workforce right-sizing is inevitable, find ways to exit employees with dignity and respect.

Plan for returning to work in the new normal. It is imperative to conduct detailed planning for teams who will be returning to the workplace as the MCO eases.

For example, department rotations, team rotations (Team A/Team B), physical distancing in the workplace, logbooks, hand sanitisers, masks, etc for different work teams need to be planned.

Update HR and WFH policies and communicate the updated policies clearly to employees. The HR team plays an important role in embedding deliberate changes into the new ways of working.

As Malaysia continues with life under a conditional MCO, it is our duty to keep our fellow Malaysians safe, competitive and productive.

Courage and a resilient mindset are important ingredients to help us build a better working world.

Low Choy Huat is a Partner in People Advisory Services in Ernst & Young Advisory Services Sdn Bhd. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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