The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the much-needed focus on critical illness and refurbishment of the healthcare sector. Coming from an organisation which is in the domain of holistic child development, what do you believe is the biggest HR opportunity that the pandemic has provided to the non-profit sector?
COVID-19 did not break the system, but has unmasked the realities. The VUCA (read C as COVID19) situation has further highlighted the inadequacies of our healthcare infrastructure in terms of quality, accessibility, affordability in addition to compromised hygiene practices and shortage of trained healthcare workers.
However, beyond healthcare, we are beginning to witness how this outbreak could indeed “leave” many vulnerable people behind in contrast to UN’s tagline “leaving no one behind” by SDG 2030. The economic and social crisis triggered by the lockdown has further aggravated the iniquities and marginalisation. The underprivileged and vulnerable have been hit hard from aspects namely nutrition, livelihood, safety, mental health and education. The most vulnerable are children, including those with special needs.
I would say that this unprecedented crisis has provided a much-advocated platform and a brilliant opportunity for HR professionals to rise up as strategic business partners and build the organisational resilience. NonProfit Organisation (NPO) leaders are looking at HR leaders for their counsel for ensuring business continuity as they empathetically handle the people resources that is at the core of what we do and how we do. HR professionals with strong business acumen, sense of urgency, and the influencing ability to build resilience within the organisation have remarkably buoyed the cause of business just like a CEO.
While tightrope walking on the dwindling budget lines, NPOs have always debated investment Vs cost, flexi Vs traditional approach. However, this pandemic has helped HR leaders to show and tell that things can amazingly work together without compromising the programme impact or business continuity if we have the hearts and minds of our people, regardless of their workplace positioning
Fundraisers, events, and human contact are the hallmarks of the NonProfit sector. With the COVID-19 Pandemic, all the above activities have come to a naught. In such a scenario, what are the possible ways in which an HR can enhance employee morale?
Although COVID-19 has ruled out face-to-face fund raising drives, other avenues remain open. Our teams have broken the distance and timezone barriers and are scaling up efforts, as the need of the poor are huge and immediate. However, the recent amendment of Companies Act allowing corporates to donate their CSR funds is a big dampener. It will deprive the grass root NPOs who have been amazing in providing food and shelter to lakhs of migrant families, while all systems seem to be clueless and apathetic.
As People & Culture (HR) leaders, we were able to co-create a flexiworking environment much opposed to the traditional thinking that the social sector cannot thrive minus inperson dialoguing. The Last 60+ days have shown that flexi-working has brought in more resolved results, and has added more meaning to the staff. We have been able to do so as our front line workers and community leaders have demonstrated their leadership and have stood in the gap.
As our commitment to duty of care, there is increased focused on wellness including mental health as the staff continue to cater to the needs of the people we serve. We have been proactively consulting and communicating the needed shifts in our service conditions and processes with our staff as the work-arena has moved beyond the confines of office. Increased frequency of town hall video meets, virtual shout outs for staff recognition and virtual lunch meets to remain social amidst the lockdown has been an effective antidote to lockdown stress.
Honest and inclusive communication, trust and empathy holds the key to keep the morale high. We are mindful about not adding to their anxiety by springing up surprises for the fact that we need a “motivated-them”. Moreover, a “motivated workforce” is a byproduct of the success stories that stems out of what we do in our communities, and we have plenty of them to keep our staff motivated and moving.
With tech-enabled tools and telecommuting dominating the work arena today, do you believe that team interactions in the non-profit sector are bound to significantly change in the immediate future? Do you feel that this has come about as a huge advantage for instant decision making in the nonprofit sector?
Many recognised INGOs and NGOs are not new to virtual platforms, very much reflective of their stewardship of resources. It may however be newer for the smaller NPOs. However, what has changed across in the NPO space is hooking on to technology as a lifeline for business continuity.
There is a significant shift in the way the team was interacting in the pre-COVID scenario versus the way it is currently. We do foresee that the pattern will further evolve in the coming days. Days are past when the staff could read a colleague’s body language and facial expressions, and that calls for investment around virtual communication that is crisp, clear and correct. The crispier the communication, the lesser time it requires for consumption, analysis and decision-making. Yes, the techenabled tools have aided faster decision-making.
To remain future ready, NPOs have to explore using virtual platforms beyond the current usage. Development sector needs to explore programme delivery until the beneficiary at the village level. Technology can help us to overcome time and cost barriers and can provide us space to do more. However, virtual trainings call for adequate caution in terms of appropriateness of our language and presentation in view of local cultural context. Therefore, figuring out what activities/resources that we could provide virtually, and how to be intentional when it comes to the safety of individuals who participate and/or volunteer with us are critical points to consider.
The breadth, depth, and scale of the novel challenges being experienced by HR leaders are indeed astounding. According to you, what are the biggest pain points for the nonprofit sector? How must they be tackled by a HR Leader?
To explain how our interventions work, let me share of a statement by Rainata, 16, from Burkina Faso. On being asked why she is actively engaged in COVID-19 relief work, she says, “I have learned that as a leader I should always inspire others by setting a good example.” There are many such children and youths across the globe who have stepped in for the greater community good. I appreciate our front liners for their long-term investment to make it happen So far, we have well-weathered the disruptions caused by COVID-19. However, it has nudged almost all the non-profits to think through on drastic revamp of programme design, newer/deferred ways of programme implementation and the allied wrenching decisions about staffing. There are big names who are restructuring their organization making it leaner and stronger. Even non-profits whose funds have not declined are nonetheless experiencing significant shifts in how they do business. For organisations that thrive on values of equity and justice, managing the people aspects of the business during such unprecedented times presents challenges and opportunities.
Human connections are at the core of any non-profit impact. However, in view of the dwindling funds due to mass layoffs impacting our donors, and a large chunk of donations landing in the government’s coffers, the NPOs are left with a constrained scenario while pushing us to think of newer ways of cost optimisations for business continuity and sustainable impact on the lives of children, youth, families and communities.
When we say newer ways and cost optimisation, we already know what the pain points are. Now the practical challenge for HR is how to actualise the hard decisions while upholding the values we profess and neutralise any legal risk allied with those decisions. In my opinion, HR’s maturity and preparedness while dealing with shortterm shifts in people policies to negotiate challenges in the current scenario and the ability to figure out long-term improvements based on experiential learnings in supporting staff will be key aspects for effective business positioning. While we face this pandemic, we constantly remind ourselves not to take any permanent decisions to negotiate any short-term problems.
According to you, what has COVID-19 changed the most for HR professionals? What are the areas of concerns that employers might be called upon to address going forward?
In short, the biggest change is changed working. The new work arrangement is not the same as the work from home that used to be in the pre-COVID world. When thinking of deliverables, we need to be cognisant of the changed work atmosphere with household chores and well-being while weaving in empathy into equation. The Shift in work setting has forced HR professionals to unbox their thinking as the very idea of employee experience suddenly has different measuring indices. The evolving context has opened up avenues for HRs to step up business partnering to a more strategic level to augment effective yield.
As we look forward all employers will have to address the following areas:
Tweaking of HR policies: It is almost certain that remote work will be a permanent feature. HR needs to unpack how the practicalities of employment terms including compensation & benefits, process flow, travel requirements, office protocols, and communication strategy would play out and they remain legally sound.
Talent acquisition and management: This pandemic might enable NPOs to afford hard to find hires and let go positions that are not business critical in the changed context.
Cultivating culture in dispersed workplaces: Culture is more vulnerable in times of crisis as each of our action and inaction sets the foundation for our next chapter. Culture has to be cultivated through authentic human connects infusing identity and purpose of our work.
Engaging a dispersed workforce: Research tells us that staff, who feel that their physical, social and emotional well-being is a genuine priority for the organisations they work for, are generally more engaged. How do we keep our staff engaged, inspired and industrious will reflect our professional capability.
This situation has again reinforced that engagement cannot be bought. It is our privilege to have people driven by passion and who are clear about their purpose in life. And that makes it somewhat easier to continue to do whatever it takes to ensure our communities flourish in spite of operating in a constraining environment.
Does your organisation support you in maintaining work-life boundaries?
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