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How businesses can adapt to the 'new normal'

Saturday May 23 2020

PHOTO | FILE Much as the future may be uncertain, its wise to endeavour to work on a business that you are proud of.

PHOTO | FILE Much as the future may be uncertain, its wise to endeavour to work on a business that you are proud of. NATION MEDIA GROUP

FAUSTINE NGILA
By FAUSTINE NGILA
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1. Do you think the job market will face substantial changes in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic? If yes, by what extent and what kind of changes should we expect?

Emmanuel Mutuma, CEO BrighterMonday: Indeed, Job markets will face some changes post Covid. Companies have been forced to be extra innovative to work virtually and reach consumers through other digital channels. As a positive, organizations will come out of this with better ways to interact with their customers or work virtually while cutting down their costs. Those learnings will shape future jobs and how to perform them.

The most successful companies in the world solve major problems for their customers and create a lasting impact, with Covid, organizations are thinking deeply about their consumer’s behaviour and will find better tech-powered solutions that satisfy their needs even better.

Perminus Wainaina, HR Consultant: I’d say the workplace has been disrupted. For starters, it now evident that one doesn’t need to report to an office to get work done. I see many employers adopting remote working. We shall also see the adoption of technology in areas such as training, meetings etc. unfortunately, they are businesses that will not survive this and I see many layoffs in the short terms. It’s also possible that employers will now opt to offer short term contracts in order to manage risks. Expect performance-based contracts as opposed to a secure 8 -5 job.

Denis Nyongesa, Group HR Director for Ramco Group of Companies: The job market will undergo a major shift. This pandemic is unprecedented, so no employer was prepared. One shift will be a thought of employment insurance fund, whatever they will call it, it will be put in place to cushion employers and assist employees.

Secondly, the reality of working from home has knocked the door. We are taking notes, some positions we thought are only executed by presence in the office, we have discovered that they can be executed remotely, so there will be a need to start changing our mind-set to accommodate this phenomenon of working from home. Especially investors who will see cost saving of office space and other office utilities etc.

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Thirdly, this unpaid leave and retaining skeleton staff clarion, has disclosed a natural way of staff lean management. We are making notes, that some positions which held 10 staff, 4 who have been left working are executing very well without strain, this unpanned discovery of rightsizing is a reality. Not to mean that the excesses need to be fired but can be utilized elsewhere in the company post Covid-19 through acceptable labour processes.

Lastly, there has been a clear understanding from all stakeholders that companies are not performing well due to the impact of Covid-19. The employees have cooperated with all measures undertaken by employers e.g. taking unpaid leave, taking pay cut and salary deferments etc. Post Covid-19, employees will be looking forward to employers reciprocating, also declaring profits/ company good performance when it happens, and also expecting employers to reward them openly as they have openly also supported when companies are not doing well without putting in place inhibiting policies through performance measurements.

Nicholas Kasidhi, Pan- African Headhunter and HR Advisor: The world of work has already shifted substantially and Covid-19 only brought this reality much closer than most of us may have anticipated with the ‘future of work’ mantra. Critical to appreciate that we are operating in a VUCA environment and it’s no longer business as usual. This is an uncertain time. It’s also an unprecedented time. It’s totally normal to be anxious and unsettled about the prospects of the job market in the coming weeks. It’s impossible for anyone to make a statement with 100% confidence and accuracy. So what do we need to do in order to adopt to our new reality? Companies are currently opting for remote working or Working from Home (WFH) and have put in place enabling infrastructure and policies to support this; Specific roles have also emerged in response to the new demands such as – Digital and Ecommerce, Innovators in virtual solutions, Take Home/Off-Trade delivery, Virtual on-boarding/off-boarding specialists, Performance/Productivity monitoring plus many others and its really upon the organizations to re-engineer their processes to be more inclusive of the new ways or working (consider freelance/short-term vs long-term contracts/crowd sourcing vs agency work depending on industry verticals.

Tom Shivo, Group HR Director, HF Group: The job market will definitely change. Social distancing will be here for a while so we should expect a new normal. Work changes in the expected design will take the form of relationship management, fieldwork strategies, mass mobilization and trade partnerships will be impacted. The unemployment rate in Kenya is also going to go up due to the industries affected e.g the tourism and hotel industries. Another aspect of change will be in the element of skill-set required in different industries. For instance, front-facing roles are likely to now include say an aspect of digitization and customer behavioural analysis to make activations and customer service effective. This way they will switch from front-office, face-to-face interactions to back office, data-driven initiatives. The market will reconfigure itself and demand a new set of skill sets for difference industries that will be anchored in digital transformation. 

Flossie Njagi, C-suite Corporate Leader: The Covid-19 pandemic has already changed the world of work immensely to this end and what we should obviously expect is further incremental and radical shifts in all aspects of life; work being an integral part of it. In fact, the faster the world adjusts to what has already become the new normal the earlier it will respond appropriately to effects of the pandemic to the global macro - economics. In this application macro-economics being defined as the branch of economics that focuses on the aggregate changes in the economy such as unemployment, growth rate, gross domestic product and inflation. Having said that, the Covid-19 pandemic introduces additional socio-economic challenges to an already depressed global economy that was barely surviving to stay afloat. Whereas it may be early to form an authoritative opinion of the precariousness of the pandemic, early signs of additional involuntary job losses are evident. Security of tenure is therefore elusive and uncertainties continue to scourge workers raising concerns of emotional wellbeing. Certain roles that were deemed critical will fall back as others take prominence in the battle to overcome. 

Heather O’Shea, Talent Acquisition professional: This pandemic has seen a monumental shift in how people work - many companies had never considered remote work for their staff - yet when crises was released, ROAM was one of the first companies to successfully shift their staff to working remotely - and it has proven to be very successful.

The future world of work most certainly comes with more options - an agile workforce who are able to work remotely - the challenge however, remains infrastructure - but most certainly in the near future, these would be easily overcome with more people opting for setting up the correct infrustructures at home. 

 

How do you think businesses should respond to the current changes in operations?

Emmanuel: I believe the faster businesses adapt and embrace digital transformation, the better it shall be for the companies. Businesses should embrace innovation and find better ways to perform. Remember, how we work might change but business culture doesn’t change. I would advise businesses to be positive and invest more time in re-emphasizing their value and build a strong culture.

Tom: Markets are being disrupted and the world of work is changing and things are now shifting to virtual teams. Businesses should now start thinking about managing productivity virtually.

There is a need to innovate around providing solutions to our customers while observing safety requirements like social distancing. Innovation should, however, be anchored around speed. Customers will go to the provider who innovates fast enough to meet their needs. Businesses should also have a mindset of managing productivity through crisis. Business continuity is therefore critical, and the need for contingency planning is a practical ingredient for survival. Businesses should work to have their business continuity to cover the following spheres; financial resilience, commercial resilience, operational resilience and people resilience. 

Perminus:  I’d encourage businesses to put in place a business continuity plan. Many of the SME’s and midsized business were caught by surprise. They are many risks that businesses face and one should always have a plan B inform of a business continuity plan. As to how to treat staff, I’d request companies to be humane and not just look at the costs. Firing of staff or asking someone to take unpaid leave should be the last thing. Employers and employees should have a frank discussion with a view of achieving a win-win situation. Remember, you still need employees and people never forget how you treated them at their lowest.

Nicholas: Businesses have to be agile and rejig their modus operandi! However, first point of call is to put the employees’ health and well-being as priority. Increasingly most businesses would consider furloughs, layoffs and workplace closures during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As the situation becomes more dire, economic conditions and government mandates may require businesses to significantly decrease or even cease business operations altogether. While some employers may not be able to avoid permanent layoffs as a result of the pandemic, others may wish to explore temporary layoffs or other stop-gap measures in the interest of keeping as many employees on the payroll as possible. Some of the measures that may help an employer deal with furloughs and temporary layoffs during the pandemic include but not limited to; i) Retaining Employees - Often, employees show their true value to the organization during emergent circumstances. An employer benefits from retaining trained, productive employees during a pandemic or other emergency. Once the crisis has passed, these experienced employees can help boost much-needed revenues more readily than new hires. ii) Temporary layoff – Even if this unavoidable, an employer should communicate its desire to retain its workforce in the long-term. Explain that the step must be taken only due to circumstances outside of the employer's control, and that the decision is not based on performance or misconduct. Explore any available alternatives to temporary or permanent layoffs like unpaid leave for a period of time. In addition, An employer may wish to institute a hiring freeze during a pandemic. Hiring freezes should affect non-essential positions. This will allow an employer to restructure operations as needed with its current staff. This maybe be done in conjunction with a number of other actions, including reductions in compensation and benefits and changes in flexible work arrangements/shift patterns especially for factory workers. Ensure that any managers with hiring authority understand the greater plan.

Flossie: Business will respond depending on their priority areas. The Leadership team (being human) have a critical role of offering a steady pair of hands amidst the billows of thick smoke brought about by the pandemic. The leadership skill of managing unforeseen change through crisis is indeed in test. Even so, Covid -19 is a curveball and no one person can claim to have the magic wand or antidote to calm its ravaging effects in all life sectors. Leaders will therefore require to summon all necessary support systems involving all constituents in order to lighten the burden and possible burnout. 

This is an appropriate time to seek the services of accredited and experienced Coaching Services, Crisis Managers and Change Experts. Businesses that have an existing Business Contingency and Recovery Plan will call it to action and possibly find it easier to navigate these unchartered waters. However, as with any deliberate change process, a sense of urgency is a critical requisite. Learning Organizations proactively position themselves to respond aptly to change and are adept to reengineering by recalibrating their culture and strategy as need arises. Besides providing Personal Protective Equipment, businesses will most importantly need to establish and maintain an open communication loop first with their primary Ambassadors (employees) as a clear message of reassurance, care and importance of team dynamics. Since change is a reality, there lies prudence in establishing an in-house Change Management and Crisis Response Team to assist with the process so as to ensure that all aspects of the business are factored in the change process and that all stakeholders are involved as may be necessary. Finally, and in no particular sequence a critical take-home is consolidating lessons learned for further preparedness and change in the future. 

Dennis: Since this pandemic is unprecedented, employers are trying many things. But what I can for sure stress on is ‘sensitivity’ to employees on how we communicate any changes. The first response in my opinion is to protect employees from contracting this virus. For those employees who are still going to work, they need regular supply of quality masks, their working space need to be re-designed to ensure social distancing, they need regular supply of running water and soap and fixed sanitizers that don’t run dry. Some employers have gone a step further to supply extra soap and masks for their families at home which is commendable.

The employers need also to create awareness and map out all extremely vulnerable employees to Covid-19 with a view to deliberately making them aware of the dangers of exposure and let the work from home e.g. those with pre-existing conditions, expectant mothers and the elderly.

If the employer reaches a level that he may not be able to sustain payroll, he needs to take measures progressively i.e. start with option of employees utilizing their leave to reduce leave liability, then move to a certain % of salary to be deferred , if things still get tough, discuss % pay cuts, if worse, send employees on unpaid leave. Employees need to see that you are genuine in trying to keep them around. Now what will be crucial in implementation of these is how you communicate.

Communicating tough measures like pay cuts need to be done with sensitivity. It should never be assumed that it is obvious everyone understand that we have a pandemic so you can just pull a trigger on the payroll and at the end of the month employees find less pay! NO. You need to schedule consultative meetings with employees, explain to them the situation, even if it means repeating yourself, allow for questions and encourage them to ask, show empathy and show confidence of overcoming this situation soon. Then write personalized letters to each and thank them for their support. This process will determine if you will keep your key talents post Covid-19 or not. If you show your employees that you don’t care, this will give an opportunity to your talents to leave post Covid-19. I predict that we may have a scramble for talent post covid-19. Those employers who never showed sensitivity, they will find it hard to take off post Covid- 19.

3. How should recruiters and hiring managers adopt to best capitalize on available technology to manage staff and new employees?

Perminus:  For those of us in recruitment, it’s a high time to adopt technology. Personally, I have learnt that you can do Skype interviews and be able to engage candidates. This saves both parties time and resources. Technology is here to stay and only those who adapt have a future.

Heather: Hiring has take on an entirely new look - with interviews happening via Skype or Zoom - however, the challenge becomes more real when you consider onboarding new staff, who are not actually in the office - which means that we need to do this completely remotely.  Technology has proven once again, to be an enabler in this process - by allowing a lot of interaction at once with teams, getting new hires up to speed with daily standups - and focussed time with new hires through technology.

In a "'normal'' working environment, Induction and Onboarding is done face to face, often with managers having to dodge in and out of meetings, as well as staff - but with technology - you are able to introduce the new hire to the teams - focus your time and energy with meetings set up and dedicated to various areas of the business - with no interruptions (unlike being in the office).

HR plays a bigger role than usual, as they play an on-going integral role in the ''virtual onboarding experience'' with daily check ins on new hires, and spending a lot more time with new hires - which makes the ''new normal'' more engaging and is completely focused on ensuring the new hire settles in.  Good brand experience!

Emmanuel: For new hires, hiring managers and recruiters should focus on the potential of talent rather than shortlisting candidates through legacy ways. At BrighterMonday we have introduced tools to help employers identify the best talent by using our Assessment solution which tests hard skills. 

For managing existing staff, it’s important to understand if people are placed in roles that they can be most productive. This is an opportunity to re-access their skills. We do have behavioral testing solutions that show employers graphically where to focus on after employees take on behavioral tests.

Succession planning is also very important, there are tools to manage employees by evaluating the long term value and filling gaps where visible. This helps fill gaps and ensure that there is business continuity.

Nicholas:  Recruiters and Hiring Managers have to adopt a different way of engaging and assessing talent with a virtual lens; Leverage video technology to meet and screen candidates remotely and there are lots of tools currently available as already indicated. “Developing an agile, modern, integrated recruiting technology stack is now a top criteria for success.” - Josh Bersin. Top priorities to consider when choosing your virtual solution is candidate experience, Set-up for success and ease of use and potential Plan-B/back-ups. Hiring Managers need to re-assess their critical hiring needs during Covid-19 and beyond and partner with the recruiters for targeted candidate pipelining and mapping for continuity beyond the pandemic.

Dennis: I think recruiters miss a very important opportunity of continuously following up on their new recruits and partnering with not only the company HR Manager, but going further to connect with the supervisor of the new recruit. To build a relationship between the new employee and the supervisor, a recruiter has a massive opportunity to ensure that the new recruit understands quickly the personality of the supervisor.  In my experience, I have seen great talents leave simply because they couldn’t understand or connect with their supervisors in the first six months.

Tom: Managing staff during a crisis requires a strategy driven by compassion. The previous management style was mostly physical. The current management will require flexibility and compassion. Managers need to look into their staff situations and act accordingly, for instance, allow staff with pre-existing conditions to work from home in order to ensure their safety. When recruiting new staff, focus now needs to shift to a flexible working approach. This means that recruiters will need to evaluate if candidates have the capacity to work from home and have enablers like Wi-Fi, laptops, phone gadgets that are digitally compatible etc. Data security and overall ICT security is also a factor that companies need to take into consideration.

Flossie: Recruiters can leverage on the available technology to appropriately source, select, interview, place, train, on‐ board and manage existing and new hires. Recruiters should consider the need to adopt systems that are user- friendly or integrate systems with their Clients for ease of processes. Time management and appropriate record - keeping are critical aspects for the success of technology application. That said, personal touch where possible would help to better cultivate and manage long term business relationships and build trust for additional opportunities. This can be done by having scheduled periodical physical meetings where geographical and hygienic conditions allow. Special attention to principles of diversity and inclusion will be beneficial by way of promoting consistency, minimizing conflict and narrowing gaps where intellectual, language or cultural dynamics are concerned. 

4. What is your advice on business continuity for business owners and recruiters?

Flossie: The priority of any business owner is to, in the very least remain in operation as a starter-pack down towards the recovery path. Whereas some businesses may have previously thrived on autopilot by sheer luck, fluke or working systems, the truth is that luck is not always lucky. 

A laissez - faire attitude towards business management will and can no longer survive. The global down time created by Covid-19 presents a grand opportunity to conduct a truthful appraisal of all systems of operation if businesses are to survive. The outcomes may demand for total system overhaul, recalibration and adjustments of existing ones, acquisitions and mergers, new partnerships or even sabbaticals and closures. Whatever the decision that the leaders will elect to take, revisiting the reason for existence; the often boldly displayed mission and vision statements may be a great place to start. Doing so will help to address the question of purpose. 

As with every project of which change process is one, cost implications can be a deterrent to already haemorrhaging industries. Amid the challenges; purpose will summon the zeal, tenacity, legacy and faith from the inner recesses of the heart to pick up the pieces and start all over again - somehow. 

Businesses have an opportunity to congregate not as competitors or rivals but rather as critical contributors to the national basket with a common agenda - demanding an enabling business environment for bounce back. Through the relevant arms of government, industrial relations, lobby groups and unions, their voice will be louder and more effective in influencing tax and other fiscal concessions, legislation (especially employment laws) and national policy in support of business continuity, manufacturing and value addition as well as creation of new jobs while retain existing ones. 

Emmanuel: The future looks dim for many business owners from where we are now. We are in a huge storm and the horizon looks blurry. No one expected this.

Business owners need to understand that this will be over, the most resilient businesses will overcome the storm and even come out of this even stronger and more successful. We just need to listen to the market more keenly and innovate around where consumers are getting more value with the current disruption. Innovation is key, embrace technology and transform to the digital world really fast.

Tom: My advice on business continuity: Build ahead. Look out for what is required tomorrow post-Covid-19. If you are just maintaining status quo and surviving, when circumstances change, it is the businesses that are prepared that will go ahead fast in their industries. This is not the time to stop training. It is the time to train people who will be agile tomorrow and to recruit people who will be relevant in your industry post-Covid-19. Analyze your business in terms of employees, customer and suppliers then conduct scenario planning and risk mapping. Ensure communication channels are open and that important information is over-communicated to staff, customers and suppliers. This way the organization is aligned to think and move in one-way. There must be a continuous monitoring and checklist approach to ensure the situation is in check. Lastly, ownership at the top is critical. Top management should own the business continuity strategy and give direction.  

Nicholas:  Business owners should first and foremost try secure their Cash flow to ensure and deprioritize what can wait while focusing on staying afloat during this period. Also invest more in remote product suites (like Microsoft Teams or Zoom) to stay connected for business continuity depending on the need/industry and size of business. Managers need to more than ever stay virtually connected to their teams and customers, Build a regular pulse of virtual meetings: people managers with their teams/leadership teams /sales people with their customers, Implement skip level virtual 1 to 1s for functional leaders to pulse check on the mood of teams, leverage on continuous Learning – and pick out new ideas on how to manage teams through change and crisis. Finally over-index on communication – keep your staff, stakeholders and customers engaged with regular updates to provide a sense of assurance and control. On the other hand, Recruiters need to keep their ears on the ground and connected to critical talent moves arising from lay-offs/furloughs and hiring freezes for purposes of staying ahead of the curve in the job market while ensuring any candidates whose hires have been affected by resultant freezes are well informed and kept warm with clear visibility on the current circumstances.

Dennis: Like I mentioned, employment insurance or payroll insurance fund, whatever you call it, is a must post Covid-19 to ensure business continuity in case of any unforeseen emergency of such magnitude. Please take notes of the emerging issues, you will need these notes post Covid-19.  Do surveys to find out how employees are feeling, take keen interest in the responses you get from staff, reach out to them on the phone and assure them that you are in this together.

Perminus: What is needed is to have a long term approach when dealing with issues. So whether it’s your customers, suppliers, employers, or shareholders, whatever you do think long-term. For example, a business that is thinking short term might decide to fire staff only to incur time and resources recruiting, training, and onboarding new staff. It’s better to ‘suffer’ now but ensure that whatever decision you are making is for the long term.

Heather: Your company is only as good as its staff - on any given day - without people, you have no company.  They are the hearts and souls of your organisations.  Recruiters will continue to find skills in the market - the way we go about it now, is virtually.  We could not have created a better opportunity to be more passionate about our brand - to attract top talent - all done through company webinars, focused engagement - and remembering that our company is our people. It is a great opportunity to be more candidate centric in our approach.