Zulfiquar Hussain is a renowned practitioner in the Human Resources field with experience of over two decades. He has previously worked in HR Management in some of the biggest organizations in the country, including Citycell and Nestle. Mr. Zulfiquar, with his extensive knowledge of the field, has been delivering practical and effective HR solutions for positive and visible impact. Bangladesh Brand Forum sat down with Mr. Zulfiquar to discuss the impact of the ongoing pandemic on human resource management.
What are the major trends in human resource management that you see happening after the pandemic?
We are currently experiencing an unprecedented crisis from COVID-19, with the pandemic having impacted both our lives and human resources management practices. However, a crisis can be useful for redirecting our efforts in bringing new solutions. While we are not sure when the pandemic will end, we are already experiencing scenarios that are forcing us to change many HR practices. For example, a huge portion of the workforce started working from home for the first time in history after the pandemic broke out, despite the concept of working from home has existed for a long time.
Also, to ensure sustainability, corporates will try to adjust to the new situation and there will be exercises like optimization & cost reduction, organizational transformation, and workforce preparation for the future. These exercises will have an impact on organizational structure, role, and people aiming to drive more efficiency and productivity. Technology and new business models will change what we do at work, with our jobs requiring us to constantly reskill and upskill. Training programs have already moved online, and it is highly likely that webinars and other virtual learning experiences will become more prevalent in the future.
Presently, the employment market has been severely hit globally. Hence, at the entry-level, firms will be more willing to do contingency hiring, rather than permanent hiring. Recruiting will continue to slow down as more industries cut their budget. Certain companies are already reducing compensation temporarily. The Health & safety of employees is an area that has never received adequate attention in the past. COVID -19 will change that, with various new health practices, which will transform the way we work until at least a vaccine is available. All these will have an impact on corporate culture.
The uncertainty cantered around the pandemic has seen a drop in employee morale. How should an organization cope with that?
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event in modern history which has impacted employees emotionally and economically in many folds. In these critical moments, leaders of organizations need to be in constant touch with their people and share with them the possible way forward. It is important to help employees feel connected while working from home by setting regular team & one-to-one meetings. Furthermore, we should be open and honest with our team about business performance & potential effects. Finally, we need to extend sincere support, empathy, and encouragement to our employees which will help them remain optimistic.
How should organizations ensure employee wellbeing?
As the number of affected people and deaths increase in our country, employers must ensure the best possible protection for their employees. Beyond all physical protection measures, organizations need to make sure employees know where to find information, guidance, and medical support. We also need to establish contact points for communication to know how employees are feeling, listening, and responding. In addition to organizational support, both line managers and HR must encourage individuals to take ownership and responsibility for their wellbeing.
Remote working is on the rise, do you see this becoming the norm, or more common in the days to follow?
In our country, our office-based employees have been remotely working for more than 2 months. As per our recent survey, almost 3 in every 4 employees are enjoying working from home. However, the majority think work from home is not sufficiently productive. Communication issues and interruptions from family have been highlighted as major challenges that need to be addressed. More than two-thirds of employees think that “work from home” should be the way forward for the future. Once the formal policy for “work from home” is in place and the organization provides support like flexibility in work, technological support, increased interaction, and engagement, I believe that work from home will be the norm for at least one-third of current office-based jobs.
Is flexible timing an option that organizations should opt for? What are the major challenges to implementing flexible timing?
Those now working from home may need to rearrange their office timing with increased childcare, online schooling, and other responsibilities at home and organizations should accept it. Also, in many cases, employees are working very long hours in this crisis. Hence, flexibility is a must in this situation. However, there are certainly various challenges as organizations are unable to monitor their employees closely. As a result, organizations need to work continuously on values & culture which will enable employees to be productive & succeed from remote locations.
How should organizations handle the job cuts and layoffs? How will the organizations prevent job and pay cuts from hurting the business, and employee morale?
People are certainly a company’s greatest assets and any decision regarding job cuts should be taken after carefully reviewing all alternatives. Due to changes in the business model or severe cash crisis, job cuts are required and organizations should pay employees all legal dues as per contract and Bangladesh labor laws. It is expected that organizations will handle the entire process by protecting employees’ dignity and respect.
Companies may exercise compensation restructuring like a reduction of compensation temporarily. Furlough leave is another option where companies inform employees to go on leave without pay and do not retrench them. Organizations may also take measures like freezing on hiring, promotions, increments as well as reduction of other costs where possible to avoid job cuts.
How important is reskilling to the success of HR management? And what should be the organizations’ approach to this matter?
Due to technological advancement or other reasons, some jobs have become less relevant and others are becoming more crucial. Reskilling results in greater employability and organizations can utilize its surplus workforce for new jobs.
Organizations should follow a structured approach for reskilling and the process begins with skill mapping as per new requirements which are followed by reviewing the gap, focusing on people, tasks, and timeframe. Afterward, organizations can develop detailed approaches to close the gap, by coming up with a suitable action plan.
What new skills should organizations look for in the employees they will hire in the future? And what changes will come to the hiring process?
There have been numerous studies on the future of work & skills in the last few years. Considering the current context, skills such as adaptability and flexibility, tech-savviness, creativity & innovation, digital and coding skills, agility, and emotional intelligence will be more relevant than ever. Besides, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data literacy will also be critical to acquire in this era of technological transformation.
In the arena of hiring, video interviewing has increased substantially which is also very cost-effective. These video interviews will be more in practice even we come out of the pandemic. Besides, the candidate pool for any role will become more local as an increasing number of people avoid traveling.
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