APAC Panel Discussion: The Impact of the Coronavirus on the HR Function

8 Minutes

Recently Elliott Scott HR APAC held a webinar panel discussion looking at ‘The Impact ...

Recently Elliott Scott HR APAC held a webinar panel discussion looking at ‘The Impact of the Coronavirus on the HR Function’ in partnership with Arcadia Consulting.

The session was moderated by Joanne Ford and Tom Forrest from Arcadia and our panel of HR leaders consisted of: Michelle Leung – HR Officer, International Markets, Cigna Angelo Pinto – Regional Head of Learning and Development and Head of APAC Campus, BNP Paribas Stuart Elliott – CEO and Owner, Elliott Scott HR

The Coronavirus is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges we have seen in our lifetime so navigating a crisis of this scale is new to all of us. Alongside successes, mistakes will undoubtedly be made. One of our key talking points was to ask what HR challenges different organisations have faced to date, the solutions they’ve implemented to overcome them and the impact these have had. Michelle Leung kicked off the Q&A discussing the areas of the HR function that have been impacted the most. In short almost every area of HR has been touched. One of her biggest challenges was raising awareness of the virus to Cigna’s employee’s right at the beginning of the pandemic. There were numerous consultations with their doctors but given the uncertainty, deciding on new policies and procedures in unchartered waters was difficult. A key concern was how to ensure staff kept safe while at the same enabling business continuity. It was also important that they maintained corporate social responsibility and looked at ways Cigna could keep the community safe, such as donating medical equipment.

Angelo Pinto stated that L&D has a particularly important role to play in a crisis by being a proactive function. Over the last few years BNP Paribas’ L&D division has developed rapidly by becoming more virtual as well as a shifting to more “bite size” content. This shift has worked well for the current situation and Covid-19 has only accelerated this change. The most important thing moving forward for L&D is to not only ensure the tools are made available but to make sure that audiences have the correct mind-set; individuals need to be as adaptable and flexible as possible. Staff coming into organisations will need to be ok with learning virtually and not in a face to face setting. The content also needs to be constantly changing and very relevant to the challenges a particular function will be facing – there is no one size fits all.

One of the key focuses since the Coronavirus has been business continuity and employee well-being. With a huge shift in employees now working from home, productivity is naturally a concern. HR leaders need to give the business guidance in order to make sure this doesn’t drop. As Michelle Leung pointed out they did expect a drop in productivity purely because of the restriction that comes with working at home. This shift however has caused employees to work longer hours as there isn’t the “natural break” that commuting provides. The segregation between home and office is also disappearing which is great for productivity but workers are struggling to “switch off”. This does cause concern from a well-being stand point.

Ultimately productivity hasn’t dropped and engagement remains high. The only roles where there has been a drop in productivity is with roles that can’t be done at home simply due to regulatory reasons. Steps are being taken to see how this can be solved. The Talent Acquisition function has probably been one of the most severely affected areas of HR - Stuart Elliott commented that 56% of our clients have frozen hiring until the situation becomes clearer. The healthcare, logistics, IT and food sectors would be the current industries where sign off on active roles within the organisation would be possible.

Governments in the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore have taken steps to assist impacted companies with retaining their employees during this time. A few companies have taken to retraining their employees internally, for example moving those in sales to a client services position in order to keep them employed. Unfortunately job losses remain high and being able to retrain in this climate is incredibly difficult. Angelo remarked that this crisis is unlike any other as we are in this for the long term and no one can gauge when life will get back to normal. The key now is to take positive steps. Well-being is even more impacted in countries where people are in lockdown and having to take on the extra pressures of educating and entertaining their children - which is draining both mentally and physically. Here HR can show employees that they care and help them as much as possible in managing their mental health.

So how is HR going to change in the future? This is definitely something that has been keeping Michelle Leung up at night. Obviously impossible to predict but she sees 3 keys changes coming out of this:

Leaders – will need to focus on becoming more empathetic and be able to address employee well-being. The leaders in the workforce will need to be better at connecting and engaging teams more than ever in order to retain their top talent.

Performance Management – we will need to judge the performance of someone working remotely differently to what we do now. The correlation of performance to rewards will also need to be looked at, given this new dynamic.

Mobility – we are going to look very differently at where people need to be relocated in order to do their job effectively. Cross border work travel will probably be more regulated going forward and companies will need to question if travel is actually needed. Access and availability of talent will no longer be as localised which will lead to much larger talent pools.

Collaborative work spaces might also become less prevalent due to maintenance of social distancing. At some point things need to start returning to normality and when that happens Stuart Elliott recommends working through these steps, considering:

  1. What do you want it to look like?
  2. What do you need it to look like?
  3. What must it look like?

He definitely sees the number of people physically sitting in an office dropping dramatically as many companies have now realised that it’s not needed. The concern with this change in how we work is its impact on employee engagement and therefore ongoing productivity. Stuart’s prediction is that “normal” will not return and instead we’ll see a hybrid. At a time when communication is more important than ever, this lively discussion between HR leaders enabled them to share how their businesses have been responding to the pandemic, what current challenges they are facing and their thoughts on the future. Over 150 HR professionals in the APAC region joined us and submitted many questions to our panel.

Thank you for joining us. If you would like to get in touch with myself, you can reach me at gt@elliottscotthr.com. We have also just released our 2020 global pulse survey results on ‘The Impact of the Coronavirus on the HR Function’ which can be viewed here.