The Covid-19 pandemic has, in the last 100 days, disrupted how the workplace functions by digitizing the interaction between organizations and their stakeholders, both internal and external.
With employees largely working remotely, in order to curtail the transmission of the virus, institutions that had not established systems to operate remotely have been forced to build them speedily.
Amidst this workplace turmoil, Human Resource (HR) practitioners need to critically evaluate their business’ agility and offer insights on how the changeover can be achieved while taking care of the interests of an organization’s main stakeholder – employees.
The most critical aspect of the Human Resource function in the current dispensation is staff wellness in terms of general health and psychosocial support. The severe and unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on employees and their families has affected their mental wellbeing. Organizations should support their employees by providing counselling sessions and establishing other mechanisms to support affected employees.
The Government’s agility in managing transmission of the novel virus at the workplace was commendable, including issuance of guidelines on home-based deployment. Organizations in the Public Service should take advantage of the resultant permanent physical and social changes to transform their operations.
Government offices are set up around creating teams through physical interaction. In order to comply with the Ministry of Health’s social distancing protocols, seating plans will have to be reviewed with a plausible scenario being a rotational programme where some employees work remotely while their colleagues report to work.
Remote working will translate in cost savings for the Government, in terms accommodation and utilities costs, and these funds can be deployed to critical development and technical activities which are key to reviving the economy.
Agencies that were planning to recruit more employees to boost productivity can now do so at a much lower cost. However, restricted physical interaction at the workplace will require organizations to enhance their communication channels with staff through frequent virtual meetings and townhall forums.
Further, the changes occasioned by the pandemic present an opportunity for the Government to enhance service delivery through digital platforms.
Policies on recruitment, placement and induction, performance management, and training and development should be reviewed in order to clearly provide guidelines that accommodate the present needs of the workforce.
It is commendable to note that the Public Service Commission has been advertising and filling positions by leveraging on technology. Online receipts of applications and virtual interviews is indeed going to be the new norm in Government.
Home-based deployment also calls for enhanced performance management. Virtual and consistent discussions between employees and their supervisors regarding specific assignments will ensure every party remains responsible and accountable.
Training and development in the Public Service accounts for a significant chunk of the Exchequer budget. Organizations should now shift to e-courses to build the capacity of their workforce. One downside of this is that officers will not be as exposed. However, the strain on financial resources, which are in any case dwindling, will dramatically reduce.
Further, organizations should, within their capacity, empower staff with the tools needed to work productively from home including access to laptops, Internet connectivity, and ICT system support to ensure minimal downtime.
At the Competition Authority of Kenya, we have a well-established remote working mechanism supported by a robust ICT infrastructure, productivity monitoring and measurement tools, and organized communication channels.
The ICT function, especially, can no longer be placed at the ‘back’ in an organization. It is a key business driver and as such requires increased budgetary allocations and enhanced capacity in terms of numbers and skills development.
In a few years to come, we shall look back at the Covid-19 pandemic as a disruptor that catalyzed a better way of living, one that propelled the employers and employees to embrace remote working and digital interactions.
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By Faith Marete - Human Resource & Administration Manager, Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK)