CHROs share ideas on navigating the new normal at HR Indaba Online

Top people executives discussed remote working and borderless employment models in the wake of Covid-19.

Remote working is the new normal and the silver lining is that organisations and leaders are stepping up in critical areas, according to the panellists at the 2021 HR Indaba Online.

The session explored the impact of remote work on employee value propositions and other areas of talent management.

Unilever Africa’s HR vice president Mechell Chetty said that what sets Unilever apart from other companies is that it is an extremely compassionate organisation. “We want our leaders to recognise that when you deal with people you have to show compassion every day,” she said. She added that what prompted the decision and transition to faster remote working was that they had to put people first.

“We didn’t know how we were going to secure our revenue, but one thing we needed to make sure was that we survived through this,” she said. She explained that their view was to save jobs, because jobs save livelihoods, and protecting livelihoods comes first for the company. They were ruthless about costs, but not about jobs," she said.

“We had to reimagine employment models because when you can’t fill a vacancy, you must think of how that work is going to be done, so that we keep the business sustainable.”

Michelle shared some of the borderless business and employment models they implemented:

  • Ruthlessly prioritise – they redeployed the food solutions workforce into the health and hygiene team to keep the business alive.
  • Flex – employees around the world, irrespective of hierarchy, posted assignments and people who were underutilised stepped in to help.
  • Talent swap – they sent some of their employees to work for Dimension Data.

OneCircle founder and managing director Emma El-Karout said that things have changed because there used to be one single point of entry in one’s area of expertise. “We have networked careers,” she said. “Businesses are aware of that and are grabbing the opportunity where they are also looking for employees with networked careers, because they are more creative and innovative.”

Emma believes that talent attraction and retention are critical to business success. The use of virtual assignments and other remote work arrangements can prove to be an attractive proposition to draw in individuals with valuable competencies.

Webber Wentzel’s HR director Rachel Masuku said that trying to change the culture and the DNA of the company meant implementing flexible working across the firm. “Borderless talent for me goes beyond the traditional concept of borders across countries,” she said. “What we’ve been taught by the pandemic is that we can still render the same services and represent our clients virtually.”

She said lawyers and technology don’t always see eye-to-eye, but the pandemic had forced them to embrace both technology and change.

It’s clear from the tone of the discussion of these HR leaders that recruitment models are evolving – and that responsive organisations will successfully navigate this new world of work.