HR leaders on how to better manage workers during Covid-19

Webinar tackles some HR headaches and how to thrive in the workplace.

The world of work has changed and HR departments have had to tackle the challenges of helping employees to transition to working from home.

In an HR Indaba webinar, Ronnie Toerien, HCM sales development and strategy leader at Oracle, and Cathy Acratopulo, MD and co-founder of the UK’s Lace Partners, talked through some of the HR headaches HR leaders are still facing.

Ronnie said the next normal is not about going back to pre-Covid-19 conditions, but rather about how we reshape the future. He said we need to shift our approach to accepting that, and start to think about how we will adapt and thrive in this new way of life.

Quoting Plato, he reminded the audience that “necessity is the mother of invention”, explaining that what we have seen is the increase in growth of digitisation to improve operations and entrepreneurial businesses and that acceleration in the use of technology is likely to continue.

“Although the pandemic caused businesses to struggle to adopt these new technologies to keep going, businesses need to start looking at optimising these technologies to transform their operations and try to increase productivity,” he said.

Ronnie added that unfortunately, this new world of work does not come without challenges. For example, organisations no longer require office space and canteen facilities, so decisions need to be made regarding workspace design. Employees also need to upskill or reskill to remain employed in some instances.

“We are likely to see people transition from what is regarded as low-wage occupations to high wage occupations as a result of upskilling.” he said, adding that there is an increased need for assistance from HR on issues such as wellness, performance and engagement of employees who work remotely.

One of the headaches the audience raised was productivity and Cathy said that was because it is a direct result of how people are engaged in the workforce. That engagement is an outcome that is directly related to the experience they are having in the workplace whether at home or physically at work, she said.

“HR’s role in productivity and the challenge we are facing going forward is how we can maximise the employee experience so that you are driving engagement, which in turn drives productivity. And ultimately we know that a happy work makes happy customers,” Cathy explained.

Another common challenge was performance management, which Cathy explained by saying: “Your experience in working for an organisation is directly linked to the capability of the person who is managing you, the one you interact with on a daily basis.”

She explained that those conversations tend to be around feedback and performance and while the process of management should be relatively simple, the behaviours that go with performance management can be more challenging.

“Having an honest conversation with someone on a structured basis about what they have done and achieved, and what they are not doing so well can be uncomfortable both for the line manager and the employee involved, and I see this as a big challenge.”

She said there are process trends in performance management: “We are moving away from the annual cycle, the six-month reviews and end-of-the-year reviews. Instead, we are moving to real-time reviews, to shorter and sharper conversations and to more bite-sized chunks of performance management and feedback.”

Another common challenge raised was the employee value proposition which Cathy said was mostly seen as an employer brand, or as recruitment and marketing and how you wanted to be perceived in the marketplace, but in reality was more about setting expectations.

The last issue raised was burnout due to extended work hours. Ronnie explained that if you are sitting in front of the television at 11pm and you are replying to emails, it will not have the business feel and your response might not be the same as you would typically respond in a working environment.

Cathy added: “Certainly, in terms of workplace wellness, it links closely to managing the remote workforce which I know is one of the other pain points that we are talking about. The need to be sympathetic and empathetic as organisations is critical, and things like mental wellbeing and the support you provide employees will be table stakes.”