As the Covid-19 scare gripped the world, exactly a year back to this month, the Government of India announced the largest lockdown the world has ever seen, limiting the movement of India’s entire population.

Many were stunned into inaction by the happenings, but human resources (HR) departments went into overdrive, and worked closely with businesses mapping out all kinds of scenarios and possibilities that employees would undergo given the uncertainty of the pandemic’s spread.

From freezing recruitment and travel to deciding on pay cuts and retrenchments, to overseeing remote working and employees’ well-being and framing new policies around work from anywhere, productivity and employee health, HR departments did go through a lot of pressure irrespective of the sector or the brand of their organisations. While these changes were urgent and needed to be made, forward thinking enterprises are also redrawing the blueprint of what work will mean and look like in the future. While some would say the journey began even before Covid-19 but was accelerated a lot because of it, HR along with business will continue to play a central role in ensuring a safe, seamless, and structured transition to this new normal of the enterprise.

These trends will dominate in the year to come and HR leaders who embrace them proactively will find themselves in an advantageous position.

Making performance and leadership communication real-time and reciprocal

Most teams have transitioned fairly seamlessly from office to virtual collaboration and communication tools that have been instrumental in keeping employee productivity and engagement at par or close to pre-Covid-19 levels. While this does not equal human-to-human interactions that are the essence of our work experience, technology has helped us mirror some of these interactions and in some cases taken them to the next level. As there is still no semblance of working in the ways we did pre-Covid-19, leaders within the organisation need to step up and set the example of how to collaborate and communicate effectively in a new normal.

HR tech companies are offering augmented and intelligent technologies to help leaders interact collectively and individually with their teams towards high-performing outcomes. At the heart of this technology is a double scoop of empowerment and accountability. It allows leaders to stay away from micro-managing while providing their teams a clear line of sight on goals. At the same time archaic annual customs of performance management and goal setting need to be reinvigorated. Wait for three, six, nine, or 12 months to give and get feedback that can be a game changer in performance and outcomes will no longer work. HR teams that embrace these technologies strategically will undoubtedly go through a learning curve but come out with more progressive policies around performance appraisals.

Upskilling and reskilling

The pandemic has put the need for reskilling front and centre. Sectors such as travel, retail and entertainment that took the biggest hit also felt the heightening of this need. Employees that had to be let go could with a little training be made employable for other sectors that required similar skill sets, such as healthcare, ecommerce etc.

Also, companies embracing technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and the cloud for greater efficiency, have been talking about a skill upgradation for their employees who would be relieved of their essential tasks thanks to the technology and have the bandwidth to take their role to a higher level, adding more value.

The pandemic has also put the spotlight on online learning platforms, making them the go-to platform for training, in areas from technology to soft skills to job-related technical skills. HR teams across sectors that leverage their technology solutions and learning platforms will succeed in scaling their learning offering by thousands of courses for employees across geographies in the format they prefer—be it video, mobile, text—thus preparing them for success.

Putting purpose before profits

Issues that society cares about and want to do right will eventually filter into the organisation and hold meaning for employees. For instance, organisations that have strong policies around areas such as pay parity and diversity and inclusion will be applauded and create goodwill among employees.

Feed your people’s souls, not just their wallets

If there’s anything this pandemic has taught us it is that we first need to put on our own oxygen mask before we can help anyone else with theirs. Mental health issues have been brought to the fore more than ever before. Work from anywhere, including home, has changed our outlook on everything. Nothing— be it life, work or family—exist in silos anymore and employees are seeking satisfaction not just from achieving their work KRAs but also personal milestones, whether it is running a marathon, writing a book, or planting a Moringa tree.

HR organisations need to nurture this need of their people just like they do their latent organisational talents because both when unfolded improve outcomes—professionally and personally. It begins with a culture of care and ends with retention, results, and respect. An employee who feels heard, taken care of, and most importantly accommodated would give her best.

Make employee safety and security a top organisational and HR priority

Employees returning to work, even if on a part-time schedule, will need to feel reassured that their workplace is safe and secure with visible tools in place to protect and safeguard their health. Employers will need to listen to their employees’ apprehensions and adapt to their needs and thereby garner their trust.

Companies struggling to survive in a fledgeling national economy, uncertain global business dynamics, and changing customer preferences, can by putting the focus on employees develop a strong ally in the one area over which they have some control.

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