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Rethink, Reapply and Reboot

Ankit Goyal, Healthcare and Lifesciences Practice Leader India, Heidrick & Struggles, enlarges on the changes in work trends and talent management strategies in the Indian life sciences sector due to COVID-19

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Life sciences leaders are working to balance a drastic shift in their revenue stream and volume, with some businesses that have halted and others that have become mission-critical, while managing remote employees and rising employee anxieties.

As the pandemic resets major work trends, HR leaders are rethinking workforce and employee planning, management, performance and experience strategies. Of the various future of work trends that are identified, some represent accelerations of existing shifts; others are new impacts not previously discussed. Several leaders have deployed new tools and strategies to maintain employee engagement and to ease growing anxieties. It is imperative for leaders to evaluate the impact of each trend that it will have on their organisation’s operations and strategic goals.

Increase in remote working is reshaping a new world of work: Recent polls indicate that about 50 per cent of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19. As organisations shift to more remote work operations, HR leader will need to explore the critical competencies employees will need to collaborate digitally, and be prepared to adjust employee experience strategies.

Consider whether and how to shift performance goal setting and employee evaluations for a remote context. This would also translate into fostering the relationship between workers and robots (remote workstations). One of the biggest trends is the partnership between robots and humans. The human element will never go away. HR will continue to manage the human workforce, and information technology (IT) teams will manage the robots.

Expanded employer role as social safety net: The pandemic has increased the trend of employers playing an expanded role in their employees’ financial, physical and mental wellbeing. Support includes enhanced sick leave, financial assistance, adjusted hours of operation and child-care provisions among others. To help manage employee anxieties, many are also implementing virtual culture-shaping events, including fitness classes, happy hours, cooking classes, lunch meetings, etc.

Companies are creating a team of global and regional health coordinators that are prepared for and trained in central crisis management. These coordinators are present at each company location to answer questions, give information on procedures, and establish policies in how to act during the crisis.

Transparency and agility on benefits and workplace policies: Organisation should be working towards a principle-based approach, rather than a rules-based approach especially in uncertain times and in this unprecedented situation.

With limited elective surgeries and lower workload at hospitals, several sales executives are now no longer active in the field which are significantly affecting their incentives. Hence, companies should be revisiting compensation structures and sales metrics considering the current situation with some guaranteed incentives for impacted sales teams to help with retention.

Increasing transparency around the state of the business and providing a realistic view to ensure no one is caught off guard in the event of difficult decisions need to be made.

Transition from designing for efficiency to designing for resilience: Most organisational redesigns before the pandemic were focused on streamlining roles, supply chains and workflows to increase efficiency. While this approach captured efficiencies, it also created fragilities, as systems have no flexibility to respond to disruptions. Resilient organisations were better able to respond- correct course quickly with change.

To build a more responsive organisation, design roles and structures around outcomes to increase agility and flexibility and formalise how processes can flex.

Many have seen that agility, accountability and resilience are not only a slogan but core values that teams illustrated every day in their initiatives. Barriers have been (positively) broken, and creativity has allowed companies to find new ways to continue to deliver.

Separation of critical skills and roles- Reskilling an important ingredient for future workforce: Before COVID-19, critical roles were viewed as roles with critical skills, or the capabilities an organisation needed to meet its strategic goals. Now, employers are realising that there is another category of critical roles- roles that are critical to the success of essential workflows. Leaders/employers need to encourage employees to develop critical skills that can potentially open multiple career opportunities.

Rapid development of contingent workforce: The economic uncertainty of the pandemic has caused many workers to lose their jobs and exposed others for the first time to non-standard work models. Organisations will expand their use of contingent workers (freelancers, consultants or contract workers, contingent labour etc.) to maintain more flexibility in workforce management. It has been observed through research that over 30 per cent of organisations plan to replace selected full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure.

(De-)Humanisation of employees: While some organisations have recognised the humanitarian crisis of the pandemic and prioritised the wellbeing of employees, others have pushed employees to work in conditions that are high risk with little support – treating them as workers first and people second. Be deliberate in which approach you take and be mindful of the effects on employee experience, which will be long-lasting. Address inequities if remote and on-site employees have been treated differently.

Simple and frequent communication is becoming increasingly important: In this global pandemic, communication is essential. More than ever, leaders must create trust and share clear guidance in their messaging. Organisations should invite groups of employees and give them an opportunity to share their stories, listen to and learn from each other. Taking a pulse check via surveys and town halls to get the voices of their employees – these company-wide town halls allows the CEO and leadership team can answer questions live and transparently. Moreover, lean on purpose and values to anchor the culture and keeping employees connected.

Emergence of new top-tier employers brand and employers’ value proposition: In this moment, the values of any organisation shine through, and the mission of the company is critical. Increasing communication, maintaining a strong culture, supporting the organisation, and reinforcing that purpose has allowed the best of the company to emerge.

Prior to COVID-19, organisations were already facing increased employee demands for transparency. Employees and prospective candidates will judge organisations by the way in which they treated employees during the pandemic. Balance the decisions made today to resolve immediate concerns with the long-term impact on the employment brand and value proposition.

Progressive organisations communicate openly and frequently to show how they are supporting employees despite the implementation of cost-saving measures. Where feasible, look for opportunities to arrange talent-sharing partnerships with other organisations to relocate employees displaced from their jobs by COVID-19.

Pivoting ahead

“On the day that we can all breathe a sigh of relief and we have diminishing curves, what is it that we see? While it is difficult to do it when you’re on the battlefield, how do we think through what the long-term plan looks like and begin to work towards that?”

The big opportunity moving forward is for HR to partner with IT and other departments, to collaborate and manage the human experience.

Organisations are also evaluating and working with third parties partners (consultants) to support organisations in crisis management and how they could be used as we ‘come out’ of the crisis. For many organisations, contingent workers are the fastest and most effective way to augment their current workforce and respond to rising talent demands, staff large strategic projects, add new skills and expertise and accelerate growth.

Provide employees with varied, adaptive and flexible roles so they acquire cross-functional knowledge and training. A one-size-fits-all approach will likely not work, and increased flexibility is critical to effectively manage unique employer needs in areas of work hours and leaves, commute, childcare and support, insurance among other benefits. As well, offer greater career development support to employees in critical roles who lack critical skills.

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