The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to change lives and businesses far beyond the current crisis. The HR function plays a key role in showing care and stimulating collaboration, writes Selina Lomholdt, Chief People Officer at Telenor Myanmar.
Friday is the International Workers’ Day, traditionally celebrated with parades, paroles and speeches. This year, as so much else, it happens online.
Our work lives today have changed more in the last weeks than in the last decade. For an HR professional it is encouraging to see how quickly employees are adapting. Field force staff are making a habit of taking strict precautions and following elaborate hygiene requirements. Office workers huddle in their homes, trying to get things done amid distractions and disturbances there.
Coping successfully with the COVID-19 situation requires resources and flexibility from both workers and employers. HR plays a key role in facilitating the shift, accelerating digitalization efforts and helping leaders and workers adapt to this new normal.
Keeping frontliners safe and engaged
Frontliners across all industries are essential in time of crisis. It is their efforts that keep businesses and societies running. Manual, operational work cannot be done by distance. Companies rely on the representatives who are our faces, eyes, ears and hands towards customers. While many workers risk being furloughed as enterprises dial down activity levels, essential services like telecoms see even higher activity levels and increasing expectations. To keep business running it is crucial to give frontliners credit for their essential role, recognizing their importance both through attention and incentives, and ensuring they are free to do their jobs safely.
Facilitating a sustainable work from home situation
Office workers have had to shift their place of work to their homes. In the midst of a pandemic, that means adding another layer of activity to already crowded homes: with schools and kindergartens closed and only essential stores open, employees have to juggle tasks at work between everything else. Connectivity makes it practically possible: for the 40% in Myanmar who have an internet connection, videoconferencing traffic in April has increased between 2x to 13x for the most popular services, and data traffic overall is up 27% compared to normal.
Working from home may not work for everyone. According to Buffer’s ‘The 2020 State of Remote Work’ global survey, 20% of remote workers struggle with loneliness, and another 20% face difficulties in collaboration, according to survey of 3,500 remote workers. It is HR’s job to facilitate the transition and it help tailor policies for different circumstances.
As work-life boundaries blur, open and frequent communication is key to keep employees engaged and feeling connected. It becomes even more important for employers to help create shared digital experiences, providing internal platforms and offering virtual support systems.
Responding to employees’ needs
To stay in tune with employees’ needs and undercurrents in the organization, it is important to have an open dialogue and foster trust between employees and employers. Having employee representatives who meet regularly with management to share perspectives from the field, can be an efficient way to help the organization respond more quickly to remove blockers or address challenges.
In Telenor Myanmar, we work closely with the People Care Board, a body of employee representatives who will raise concerns and hold management accountable to ensure employees’ interests are considered when new policies are developed. We have benefitted significantly from this close dialogue as we have had to quickly put in place a work regime that is dramatically different from what we are used to.
Entry of the virtual leader
Telenor Myanmar’s CEO, Jon Omund Revhaug, took the helm at the company on 1 April, from his home quarantine in Singapore. During the first month of his tenure, he has engaged personally with leaders and employees at all levels of the organization. He follows market development and operational performance closely. But it is all happening through calls and videoconferences.
Gauging our employees’ engagement and motivation earlier this month, they report feeling connected to our company’s leadership despite the special situation. Virtual leaders keep people informed through a variety of digital interfaces: Our CEO speaks regularly to all employees through video messages, internal social media channels and live streamed “Tea Sessions”.
Making it work for all of us
The workers who gathered for that first march on 1 May in 1890, could probably not have imagined how work life has evolved over these 130 years. What remains unchanged is that collaboration and flexibility, from both workers and employers, is the most efficient path to creating shared value. We need to continue working together to make the new normal work, for all of us.
Selina Lomholdt is the Chief People Officer at Telenor Myanmar. She has more than 20 years’ experience from HR and People Development, and has served in HR leadership roles in Telenor Denmark, Dell and Radisson SAS Hotels.