HR Indaba Network reveals that working from home has necessitated new ways to manage people

Google market HR head Avanthi Maharaj and panellists discuss new plans to manage people in a changing world.

During an Impact Session at this year’s first-ever virtual HR Indaba Network, Avanthi Maharaj, market HR cluster head at Google said it was important to them to ensure that their employees were able to access and leverage supportive benefits that the company had made available during quarantine. “We also needed to be flexible and thoughtful of the unique challenges we all faced globally,” said Avanthi.

One of the biggest challenges facing companies in March was getting employees online and connected from home in record time. Michaela Voller, chief HR executive at Dimension Data, said South Africa faced unique challenges compared with other countries.

“Power cuts, multiple people living in one household as opposed to single-family units per home, or the more sordid side where home is not safe: we were very conscious of supporting our staff in these circumstances,” said Michaela.

Dimension Data set up an app called Stay Safe and Connected, that their employees could easily download on their mobile phones. The company also offered stipends in the beginning to assist with data costs. The app allowed staff to keep in contact and keep each other’s spirits up during quarantine.

Search engine company Google gave employees worldwide $1,000 each to set up offices at home. “Our Googlers have been phenomenal in their approach of utilising their allowances to set up the infrastructure of a home base to be optimal to what would allow them to be productive and to deliver,” said Avanthi.

Marissa Wild, head of learning and development and change management at advertising giant Ogilvy, said their staff found themselves utterly blindsided by the impact of Covid-19 and assumed that normal working operations would resume after the first 21 days. Wild said as levels of lockdown continued and weeks turned into months, more staff started making use of the company counselling services. Ogilvy then launched an online wellness platform that provides staff with tools and resources to help them cope emotionally with the sudden changes.

Plans to return to the office and manage people in a changing world are now slowly taking shape. But Loic Potjes, managing director at Disruptive Leap, predicted that remote working will be the new normal and said it’s highly unlikely that things will ever go back to the way they were pre-Covid.

“Change is now embedded. We are in hybrid mode,” said Loic. Companies have spent the last few months trying to figure out the new normal workplace after people went from nine-to-five at work to full-time remote working overnight.

While some employees have been more productive working from home, others yearn to be back at the office. Parents have ultimately had more on their plates and were probably more likely to overextend themselves beyond regular working hours because of home-schooling as an added responsibility. Many would have also have had to share resources like laptops with their children, and set aside specific time blocks in the day (working hours) to accommodate their children’s online classes, all while balancing and meeting work deadlines.

“We might be in sort of an 80/20 now because we’ve settled into a new norm. I don’t think the pendulum should be one way or the other. If you have doubts about this, ask your employees one question: are they looking forward to resuming one hour of peak traffic every morning and evening?” said Loic.

But even for those who want to resume regular office hours, Covid-19 is still among us and poses a life-threatening risk to some employees, who are more vulnerable to the effects of the disease. Loic said it’s now about fine-tuning the concepts and principles that companies have learned over the past months. He said jobs of the future are no longer just an abstract concept, but very much a reality. “Companies now have wonderful opportunities to take a leap forward and add to their workforce under the new normal,” said Loic.