Team AckoSep 7, 2021
COVID-19 has posed unique challenges for both employers and employees. Businesses, particularly their human resource (HR) teams, are struggling to ensure employee safety, digitise products and services, and stay competitive in this new normal. All this can feel overwhelming. Thus, this article is designed to offer sustainable solutions to overcome challenges posed by these unprecedented times.
While it must seem like every aspect of your business requires immediate attention, that’s not true. Here are five core areas that you and your organisation need to prioritise to emerge from this crisis and thrive.
Business continuity plan
An important question to ask yourself is, how adaptable is the business in the face of an unstable environment? After assessing the same, you need to figure out ways to strengthen your business resilience. Hence, having a solid business continuity plan in place is helpful. When building one, you will need to redesign your company’s plans including digital transformation, talent management, and employee benefits. Read on to know how to unlock businesses amidst COVID-19.
Business resilience is the key factor that has kept businesses moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic. While no organisation in the world was prepared for the pandemic and its consequences, be it financial or health-related, several companies have managed to stay afloat due to their resilience.
A resilient business can continue operations and remain functional despite significant disruptions that could be in the form of an unanticipated increase in demand from customers or a supplier backing out of a contract without notice.
The pandemic has tested the business resilience of companies on several fronts, such as digital adaptability, effective leadership, team morale, talent management, financial foundation and the ability to adapt and pivot continuously.
If you have managed to keep your business going, it indicates that your company is resilient. However, it’s essential to strengthen your business resilience because the challenges and uncertainties of the pandemic persist. Having a business continuity plan ready is a solid place to start.
Depending on your company and industry, there will be some specific aspects that you will need to cover in your business continuity plan. Here are the general key aspects you need to cover.
Remote working has given rise to strong demand for flexibility and increased employee healthcare benefits, including mental health support. Since employees breathe life into an organisation, no company can thrive if it does not have employee-centric policies in place. Hence, it would be helpful if you redesign your employee benefits to make them more employee-centric, modern and relevant.
You must first analyse the key roles that require on-site operations while devising a backup plan in case your employees fall sick due to COVID-19. It is good to have a plan ready even for their general absence. For example, having ready access to a pool of freelancers or contract-based employees can help in such cases.
Accelerated adoption of digital technology is the need of the hour. Look at setting up sufficient IT support for employees working from home. Ensure to set up security controls that work outside of office premises and transition the accessibility to all key apps and platforms through cloud-based software.
You must prepare yourself for financial shocks. Consider if, and consequently which, offices need to be closed temporarily or permanently. Work at stabilising the costs and processes in the organisation in the face of a significant economic impact. You must have a plan in place to meet employee payroll, taxes, supplier commitments, etc.
Design policies and measures to help employees manage stress, regularly review their workload and set up communication mechanisms with all stakeholders — employees, investors, suppliers and customers. Having transparent conversations with your employees before making changes to the employee benefits program is essential.
Technology is the principal area that every organisation, irrespective of the industry, has had to prioritise post the outset of the virus. The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies by several years.
McKinsey conducted a Global Survey of Executives in July 2020 that garnered responses from 899 senior managers and C-level executives across regions (Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America), industries, company sizes and functional specialities. The following are some astonishing insights from the survey.
Organisations and industries realised that they could pivot digitally a lot quicker.
Approx. 53% of customer interactions have become digital in the Asia-Pacific region since 2020.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the share of products and services that are fully or partially digitised has almost doubled.
The expected days to increase remote working and/or collaboration was 454 days, but it took only 10.5 days at an organisational level.
As for increasing customer demand for online purchases/services, the expected number of days at an industry level was 585, but it only took 21.9 days to meet the demands.
While these numbers are impressive, the transition is not yet widespread. Several small businesses only have a temporary digital blueprint for short-term functionality. However, as it is evident, technology is at the centre of business operations, now more than ever.
While there is no one-size-fits-all digital solution, here are two key areas all companies should continue to focus on.
This involves revisiting and redesigning processes from scratch to understand how the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and smart machines can change standard business processes. For example, Vanguard, an investment firm, launched the Personal Advisor Services that uses technology to combine the best of the worlds. With the help of AI technology, they have combined automated investment advice along with insights and guidance from their human advisers. Consequently, many tasks have been automated, such as building a customised investment portfolio and rebalancing portfolios over the investment horizon.
To capitalise on company resources better, the transformation of the business model requires developing and/or employing technologies that benefit the customers and employees. For instance, the US-based company Alice’s Table, which offers engaging experiences such as flower arrangements and cooking lessons to its customers, quickly pivoted post the COVID-19 outbreak. It shifted its business online and now offers highly curated live streaming experiences to its customers. It partnered up with suppliers that deliver the flowers and other needed materials to the customers’ homes so that they can have the same fun experiences but in a hybrid model.
Hiring, retaining and motivating high-performing employees is a whole different ball game now. The extensive EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey revealed striking facts about what employees want. The survey’s statistics include views of over 16,000 employees across various industries and roles in approximately 16 countries. Close to 500 employees in the survey are from India.
The results of the survey reveal the newfound importance of flexibility for employees.
54% of employees would consider leaving their job post the pandemic if they are not offered flexibility (where and when they work).
54% want flexibility regarding when they work.
40% want flexibility regarding where they work.
Employees would prefer to work remotely for 2–3 days, even after the pandemic.
Only 22% of employees are okay with working full time in the office.
A shorter working week is preferred by 33% of the employees.
When unlocking your business post the COVID-19 era, it is essential to keep in mind that the type of benefits expected by the employees has changed. Thus, only resorting to Casual Fridays and Free Pizzas will no longer keep your employees happy.
As discussed above, flexibility and work-life balance are at the heart of what employees want now. As for how that impacts productivity, 67% of employees believe that their productivity has nothing to do with the work location and can be accurately measured irrespective of it.
As per a Harvard study of more than 16,000 employees of a Chinese multinational travel agency conducted over nine months, work from home increased productivity by 13%. This proves that you don’t need constant surveillance and micromanagement of employees to ensure that they do the job well.
Therefore, other than flexibility and remote working options, what more do employees want? Randstad Employer Brand Research (REBR) 2020 reveals that employees consider healthcare, flexible working hours, the possibility of working from home, internal training, subsidised education, and group life insurance as attractive employee benefits. Hence, it is important to integrate them into your employee benefits program.
Healthcare benefits need to go beyond a health insurance cover for employees and their families. The need of the hour is a balance of comprehensive insurance coverage and overall healthcare benefits for mental and physical well-being. This includes having provisions for free therapy sessions, 24/7 mental health assistance helpline number, prioritising work-life balance, etc.
For example, ACKO’s Group Health Insurance offers free teleconsultations with doctors, discounts on lab tests and prescribed medicines, online sessions with nutritionists, rewards for achieving fitness goals and cashless claims settlement via the ACKO Health app.
As the government has allowed public and private organisations to have vaccination clinics in offices that have more than 100 workers aged above 45 years, the employee benefits can also include on-site COVID-19 vaccination centres and camps for all employees.
When the pandemic broke out and a nationwide lockdown was placed, many individuals wanted to utilise the time at home by upskilling themselves. Online learning through accredited courses, workshops and webinars became popular.
Typically, several motivated and ambitious employees want to keep investing in their learning and growth. They like to stay at companies that encourage them to do the same, whether by giving them the time or funds to take courses and learn new skills.
It is important to offer opportunities for internal training and programs as well as subsidised education. If your company cannot afford to support employees with 100% of their tuition fees, you can have a reimbursement policy of up to a certain amount per employee each year for accredited courses. For example, Intel has a generous tuition reimbursement of $50,000 per program, with no annual limit.
There will be a considerable amount of anxiety regarding safety and health among employees when asked to return to the office. You must ensure that you are not forcing any employee to show up at work if they feel unsafe. The need for a gradual transition is paramount.
Considering different people have different challenges, setting a date on which all employees are expected to return to the office might not be the most beneficial approach. You can conduct an internal survey to understand what your employees want and what they are worried about. And if you are considering opening your office, here are some basic workplace policy changes to consider regarding office cleanliness and hygiene.
Provide hand sanitisers, disinfectant wipes and tissues at every employee desk, and keep these readily available throughout the office to promote hygiene.
Look at common areas, such as break rooms and pantry, in the office and set lower capacity thresholds for them.
Implement staggered shifts and hybrid working schedules so that not all employees are in the office every day of the week.
It’s essential to consider how things will pan out over the next few months. The possibility of virus mutations needs to be taken into account before you reopen.
Since there’s still uncertainty regarding how the pandemic will further impact the country, it’s better to sagaciously plan the return to office model.
Here’s a checklist of crucial questions for you. It is related to the points discussed in the above sections and offers a framework for moving forward.
Which employees will return to work, when and why?
What are the new workforce requirements regarding composition and size?
What flexibility is currently being offered to employees?
What policies concerning remote work and timing do we plan to experiment going forward?
Which digital technologies have we adopted that are working for us, and which ones do we plan to use in the future?
What tools and support can we offer for making virtual work more productive and convenient for all employees?
How prepared are we for the increased cyber risk and security that comes with the dispersed workforce?
How can the company capitalise and scale the productivity that comes from the combination of virtual and in-office work?
What is the company message we want to communicate to employees regarding new policies, benefits and expectations?
How are we addressing the concern of our stakeholders, including suppliers and investors?
Which areas of our business and financial models must be modified, and in what timeframe?
How can we focus on little wins and keep the motivation and engagement levels of employees high?
The content mentioned above is purely for information. It should not be construed as any recommendation/legal advice on any subject matter. It is better to seek professional/expert advice before acting or refraining from acting based on the content.
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