What HR Leaders Need To Do

What HR Leaders Need To Do

Like a digitally created frenzied soldier's avatar, it would behove our HR leaders to take an aggressive stand and lead from the frontlines. And only then do they stand a chance of vanquishing the enemy viz. COVID-19


Armed to the teeth, clad in full battle gear, the soldier steps across the doorway into the expansive shop floor. With a quick turn of his head to the left, he scans the landscape through his misty goggles and tries to detect the enemy. Even though unsuccessful, he presses down on the trigger and lets his ammunition flow in sharp bursts, hoping to strike at least a few of the vermin. A shuffling of the feet, a quick turn of the neck in the other direction and there follows another staccato burst of the firepower at his disposal.


You would be forgiven for imagining the above scenario to be a first-person shooter game, given that ever since 1992, when Wolfenstein 3D was first released by ID software, the genre has been a worldwide success in computer games, a major contributor to what is today a $150 billion gaming industry. But then, we are not here to discuss fantasy land. After all, if nothing else, the recent black swan event, the COVID19 pandemic, has taught us one thing - and that is to be in the here and now.


So, to drop the suspense and bring in the main characters of this play onto centre-stage, let me clarify that the trigger-happy, bodysuit-clothed individual described above is none other than the facilities worker in any one of our office spaces, disinfecting our work areas, even while endangering himself, shift after shift. What he is letting loose from the gun slinging across his shoulder is nothing more than a humble spray of disinfectant


And here is where the Human Resources Manual gets edited with yet another KRA (Key Responsibility Area) which is centred around ensuring the safety of the workforce. The dimensions of this KRA are, indeed, expansive. After all, the risk implications are immense. Even a single, coronavirus-inflicted employee could lead to the closure of an assembly line or a department. In a worst-case scenario, it could lead to shutting down of a plant, a store or corporate office.


Pillars to safeguard workplaces



As employees troop back cautiously into their workplaces, the task at hand for HR managers is to adhere to social distancing protocols, for that is the only defence humanity has against this infliction as we stand today. Let us examine what all this encompasses and what needs to be addressed in each aspect.

1. Staggered Workforce:


For too long, companies have overcome the financial hurdle of expensive real estate by packing in employees like sardines.

With every square inch of office space being valuable, creative ideas have been implemented to make sure that workplaces are used ‘optimally’. This in turn has created what we call ‘rush hour’ traffic in our cities, where lakhs of office goers head towards their workplace at the same time, causing crowding in personal and public transport. In the ‘new normal’, for the safety of employees, workforce planning will need to factor in another variable in the staff deployment calculation, viz. the maximum percentage of employees who can be in the facility at a particular time.


2. Physical Distance: As per WHO (World Health Organisation), the defined guideline of physical distance is minimum 1 metre (3 feet) distance between two individuals. Organisations have to facilitate and encourage their employees to follow this guideline in their own interest. In recent years, workplaces have embraced the ‘open office’ culture propounded to facilitate communication and collaboration, by removing barriers. In many cases, this will involve the entire redesigning of the physical layout of the employees’ desks and extend to modification of areas such as meeting and training rooms, to ensure employees are, by design, physically distanced.


3. Hygiene Protocols: With extreme caution required to prevent the spread of the harmful virus, organisations have to take a leaf out of the books of hospitals. Right from providing required enablers such as masks and sanitizers to employees, to ensuring that only prepacked food is sold in their cafeterias, each possible contamination source will need to be studied and adequately addressed thorough hygiene protocols. HR personnel will also have to define the disciplinary action that would be taken in case of any wilful nonadherence to the required protocols. In a similar vein, HR would also need to define standardised action steps to be taken in the event of detection of any suspected or confirmed case of infection.


4. Tracking & Recording: The challenge of safeguarding our workplaces becomes much more acute due to the fact that they are more akin to a ‘motion picture’ than to a ‘photograph’, to use an analogy. Not only employees, even visitors such as customers, vendors, authorities, etc. keep flitting into and out of the workplace, on a given day. HR needs to ensure that processes are put in place to appropriately track and record every movement. In case of the unfortunate incident of an individual getting inflicted by the virus, healthcare personnel can swiftly move towards tracing all those who would have been in close proximity to that individual and be potential carriers. Effective tracking, therefore, can greatly assist in breaking the ‘coronavirus chain’.


5. WFH Policy: The pandemic has exponentially increased the usage of technology that facilitates remote working, almost overnight. For a very long time, WFH (Work-From-Home) was a privilege of a rarified group, usually the senior leadership or those whose work was considered ‘non-customer facing’. With the virus practically bringing the world to a standstill, with countries implementing a version or the other of the ‘Lockdown’ that has been implemented in India, every employee has suddenly found himself or herself being encouraged to WFH. While this has been warmly embraced by many, HR leaders also need to define their organisation’s WFH Policy to ensure that it covers all the requirements, protocols, and enablers of this new working model.


6. Performance Management System:


The social distancing protocols have many dimensions. The most important of these, no doubt, will be the cascading effect they have on our traditional PMS (Performance Management System) which has more often than not, risen from its setting in the physical office space. Remote working and the blurring of lines between weekdays and weekends (as we have seen in the period of the lockdown) demand that our PMS models be overhauled too.

Driving employee performance and monitoring productivity will require combining some learnings from the new ‘Gig economy’ with our traditional processes. HR leaders will need to combine their wide-ranging skills from behavioural science to data science, to come up with a PMS model that is robust, sustainable, and fulfils its core task of motivating employees to operate at their peak performance levels.


These are the primary pillars on which the safeguarding of our workplaces will hinge, as we emerge from our confined environments and re-join our workplaces in the coming weeks. Much like the digitally created frenzied soldier’s avatar in the opening paragraph, it would behove our HR leaders to take an aggressive stand and lead from the frontlines. Only then, do they stand a chance of vanquishing the enemy, which in this case, happens to be the respiratory virus, more commonly known as ‘the coronavirus’ that has literally turned the world upside down.





Vikas Dua is an accomplished HR and recruitment professional, a TEDx speaker, and a Vlogger and Blogger on HR practices. With over 15 years of highquality experience in the field of IT and ITES, he has worked with both start-ups and large corporations like Wipro, Concentrix and Startek Aegis. Currently, he is Chief HR Mentor at An active collaborator in the campus space, he shares his learnings under his selfdesigned 'HR in my HeaRt' brand umbrella.


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