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What Corona Virus has taught HRPs so far about the future of work

By today March 17th 2020, it is reported that over 182,000 people have been infected by the Covid-19 with about 7000 reported deaths worldwide. Africa woke up to the first case a few weeks ago and shortly after, the virus spread across many nations in the continent. The virus, deemed a world pandemic by WHO, has brought the world to a halt. Literally. World cities like Italy have been deserted, lockdowns imposed, schools closed, elections postponed and financial markets have been on a downward spiral like never seen before. Because of the contagious nature of the virus and since a cure hasn’t been found yet, most nations have resorted to self-quarantine and social distancing as a way to flatten the curve & reduce new infections. Companies worldwide have been forced to deal with these new changes rapidly. This is what Covid 19 has taught HR so far;

Jack Welch famously said, “Change before you have to.” For the longest time, HRps have had numerous conversations about the future of work. And sadly for most this has just remained theory with many sticking to their old ways and not exploring what’s coming. Maybe it was because the term ‘future’ to many sounds like 2100 when in reality “The future comes a day at a time.” Because of the travel advisories & isolation measures, HRPs have been forced to quickly adapt to the changing dynamics of the world of work, starting with remote work.

Noah Rule- Predicting rain doesn’t count, building Arks does.

Photo by Matteo Jorjoson on Unsplash

Remote work

Almost 80% of companies globally have been forced by governments to encourage their staff to work from home. The hashtag #StayHome has been used by millions to push for remote work options for staff as a way to curb infections. For many, this decree has caught them pants down. Many professionals online have admitted to not having the right infrastructure to implement this. From general observation, the most successful companies to have made the shift fast are tech giants & startups who were already practising this. HR teams have been forced to figure this out within days including remote work policies, KPIs & OKRs, communication & the right technologies to support this. For instance here in Kenya, it may be hard to work remote if your staff are still using Desktop computers or you measure performance by who arrived to work after 8.01 am. So lesson 1, The future is already here. Get on board fast. The so-called predictions aren't a theory anymore for forward-thinking companies who know that to be competitive as a business in the 21st century you have to stay up to date with trends & more importantly be a fast adopter. Although many predict this trend may not stay for some companies & regions(especially in Africa where majority of the labour force is in the informal sector)even after Covid, it’s still one to look out for.

David Green on Twitter has highlighted ‘The 11 Sources of Disruption Every Company Must Monitor’ via @mitsmr

This hopefully after the crisis will bring the future of work conversation closer to home and will make employers do more to identify what the future(and present) hold and how they can best adapt or disappear. It will be interesting to see the changes HRPs will bring to the office after this crisis is over. Some changes may include;

  • how we measure employee performance(managers’ too)
  • how we communicate internally & externally
  • how leadership structure is aligned
  • workforce planning for the future- may be less hiring for fulltime roles & more consulting & remote workers
  • how we work including encouraging flexible schedules & remote work
  • employing more technology in the workplace to improve communication, training, analytics, hiring etc.
The 11 Sources of Disruption Every Company Must Monitor

Change Management

The art of life lies in the a constant readjustment to our surroundings- Kakuzo Okakura

The next ten years the business will change more than it did in the previous fifty- Bill Gates

The entrepreneur always searches for change responds to it and exploits it as an opportunity- Peter Drucker

The true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis.- Brian Tracy

So how has HR managed these changes so far? Well, the Covid-19 crisis has brought alive what has been said before “All great changes have been preceded by chaos”. Take one of the factors above- demographics. Unconfirmed analysis of the Covid 19 infection rate across the world has got many thinking that Africa has had fewer infections due to its young population. With an average age of 19 and being the youngest workforce population in the world, African employers have so far failed to understand the impact of what the changing population demographics & psychographics are having on the world of work. From changing how companies source & hire to the day to day of the office, Millenials & Gen Z are slowly affecting how we work & play. The changes young workers have been demanding such as increased use of technology & flexible work schedules are being forced upon employers with this crisis. The lesson here being -continuously work with your young staff to learn their needs & exchange ideas. We’ve previously discussed this in detail here about reverse mentorship.

Secondly, this Covid-19 has put change management practices into action & speed test. This month many will be tested on how to manage & communicate all the changes being brought up by the virus. Many companies have had to let go of thousands of employees and with this comes the need to handle exits well. And not just change management, but the company’s resilience, unity & leadership too.

Empathy is also on the test as workers are monitoring how & WHY management is responding the way it is. Some have risen to the task by restructuring their health & safety policies, medical insurance packages & employee benefits like extending sick leave days or extra salary advances & emergency reliefs. This brings us to the last critical component of the Covid 19 impact on employers.

We cannot talk about predictions in HR without the mention of how technology has affected the world of work. But now more than ever, HRPs have come to full contact with modern technology & the good and bad of it. For instance, in communicating change, HRPs have had to consider communication tools in lieu of normal in-person meetings. Apart from the usual emails, HRPs have to utilise faster tools such as social media to also beat the speed to the employee especially in the world of #fakenews. Whatsapp, for instance, has been sighted as being a very fast way to spread misinformation. Social media also forces us to figure out how to create & share meaningful information in bite-sized pieces for easy sharing & because let's face it, no one has time to read your 10-page update PowerPoint. How can you leverage technology to provide accurate, comforting & timely information to your remote staff now?

Secondly, teams are being forced to quickly explore technology to ensure company processes are uninterrupted and customers are still being served. For instance, the pandemic & panic that followed has caused massive panic shopping globally. Supermarkets & stores have been under pressure to serve customers who are shopping for the Armageddon it seems. Apart from reassuring customers of supply, some have benefited from the use of technology during this time where many still are unable or unwilling to enter crowded stores for goods. Amazon Prime has seen a huge spike in orders & deliveries through their online grocery shopping platform and has even had to hire 100,000 part-time delivery workers to manage the surge. Tuskys in Kenya has also quickly adapted by partnering with Sendy the delivery app in Kenya to provide consumers with a faster & SAFER way to shop & deliver groceries. A good point to note is that Tuskys has done a good job by also tailoring this service to a market which has over 85% mobile penetration rate but still has low internet penetration. Instead of building an app, they are allowing users to use SMS & WhatsApp to submit their shopping list and pay after using mobile money. The Ministry of Health in Kenya & many county governments have also resorted to using USSD, SMS & Whatsapp groups as a way to quickly disseminate updates to citizens.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

With the rise of technology comes another much-anticipated change in how the organisation looks, works & delivers value. HRPs are going to have to learn faster how to integrate the different types of ‘labour’ available in the market now i.e Freelancers, Internal, Robots, otherwise known as the 4Bs. Some of the companies thriving during this COVID period are those like Mercedes & Tesla who had already structured their work not to depend entirely on the physical workspaces & employees. For more on this, read our latest piece of the workplace of the future.

In conclusion, we can only hope that this crisis will end soon because it has led to a great economic impact on all world economies so far. Many staff are sitting on edge not sure if they will still have work after the epidemic. This will also be a good time for employers to put their best foot forward in terms of empathy like we’ve seen with companies going out of their way to support their staff during this tough time including those who’ve lost their jobs. With employer brand being so critical now, many people are observing how your company is reacting & responding to this crisis including how to handle layoffs. Your entire company is on test-internally & externally. It’s also noteworthy to note that HRM organisations worldwide are on the test too about how they communicate & provide guidance to the HR community during this time. Much effort has been done by International communities like SHRM who’ve continuously supported HRRps through online twitter chat sessions, webinars & blogs. Until then, stay safe, observe hygiene & prepare for the future now. All the best.

Despite this global pandemic, there’s much your team can still do to achieve your hiring goals. Read this.



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Stella Ngugi

HR Generalist| Founder @JobonicsHR | Where HR, Tech & Entrepreneurship meet | 🇰🇪 IVisit for more info.