Insight - Rising to the new normal


  • Economy
  • Thursday, 23 Jul 2020

Blurry lines: The flipside with work-from-home is that the lines between work and personal life are getting more and more blurred.

THE year 2020 has been one of the most challenging years yet. As organisations grapple with major global disruptions caused by an invisible mutual enemy, there may very well be no return to “business as usual”.

According to the International Labour Organisation, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 94% of the world’s workers are now living in countries with some sort of workplace closure measures in place. With our old ways of living rendered obsolete overnight, it’s safe to say that parts of the traditional office setup as we know it, has been put to bed.

Work redesign

With that, the role of Human Capital has been thrust to the fore for businesses recalibrating their operations. As the virus accelerated, so did the need for work redesign as managing safety risks at the workplace meant adopting remote work practices as the norm.

Identifying essential on-site tasks, reallocating staff and working out rotations, while enabling the majority of the employees to work remotely, had to be done in the shortest time possible for most businesses. Going digital and effectively remote is no longer an option, but mandatory, in order to survive.

Meanwhile, for organisations that have future-proofed their operations, the pandemic has been the ultimate stress-test, paving the way for improvements and further enhancements. But for others, the implementation of work-from-home (WFH) initiatives or mobile work and other alternative flexi-work strategies have meant experiencing WFH for the first time.

While technology is an enabling tool at the workplace, ultimately capability-building by upskilling and providing anticipatory support mechanisms are what empowers people to be their best. We can’t control the wind but we can adjust the sails, is very apt.

And equipping the workforce with the requisite skills through human capital development initiatives such as targeted learning programmes positively impacts productivity. It is tempting to assume that workplaces can transition seamlessly into WFH practices, but nurturing in place a culture that incorporates remote working practices, virtual collaborations, and continuous learning, are vital in encouraging productivity.

The flipside with WFH, however, is that the lines between work and personal life are getting more and more blurred. Studies have shown that maintaining boundaries, be it physical or temporal, is crucial in encouraging well-being and positive work engagement. Setting up a dedicated workspace, carving out work-hours, prioritising important work, and mutual respect of boundaries will help manage the need to be “busy” or on-call all the time, which can lead to burnout.

A vital ingredient underpinning the flexibility of WFH is trust, coupled with accountability, and an aligned vision and mindset with the organisation’s values system. An organisation’s crisis response is reflective of its values system and the outcomes will outlast the crisis. Thus a workforce that has internalised the organisation’s values, and steps up during the crisis alongside the organisation, is typically more resilient in weathering storms along the way.

Another key element is communication, and along with it, engagement. As we are shaken out of our comfort zones, with the pandemic affecting how we work and communicate, a clear communication channel to boost engagement with the workforce is crucial.

Holistic engagements that include not only the do’s and don’ts during the crisis but also cater to physical and mental health help shape a more resilient and agile workforce. In the face of uncertainty, it is even more imperative to design Human Capital policies that nurture resilience and agility to retain a productive talent pool.

Highly engaged teams are known to produce better results, treat customers better and attract new ones, and are more likely to stay on. In addition, engaged workers are also healthier and less prone to burnouts.

During a time where only change is constant and evolving faster than all the past industrial revolutions, clearly a resilient and agile workforce through reinvention and redesign is crucial in surviving a revolution brought about by an infectious virus.

Redefining “business as usual”

How an organisation redesigns its workforce structure will ultimately influence how it redefines its “business as usual” beyond the pandemic. It has to be remembered that not only are organisations or businesses trying to adjust to this new normal, so are their employees. It is a defining leadership moment for employers and a people-first approach will put them in the best position to achieve future and continuing business success.

Right and best Human Capital practices will help lay the groundwork in further future-proofing the talent pool. After all, while we have accelerated into digital-based technologies, the fundamental component in any industrial revolution is still people.

Datuk Nora Manaf is Maybank’s group chief human capital officer. The views expressed here are solely the writer’s own.

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