The past two years of Covid-19 pandemic have seen multiple changes in the Human Resource (HR) domain. This has been at the local, national and global levels. The trouble is, with the confusion, which a phrase like “global HR” makes, reference to global HR is often a generalization of experiences of select part of the English- speaking world. But blinkers that many people wear allow them to see change only in important sectors, not always in the sectors that sustain them.
Globally, one is looking at a small window. In reality, the world is bigger than our own. The corporate sector is a small percentage of the employability scenario. The data which people work on is often drawn only from this sector. Thus it is that generalization gets based on perceptions. There is no need to quarrel with this, but there is a need to understand that the word “global” is being used in a loose sense.
There are other problems of definition and understanding. When one talks of employability, one needs to keep in mind that a large part of the rural and agricultural sector earns its livelihood in a self-employed mode. A lot of the service sector, such as blacksmiths, mechanics, cobblers and even household helps, are in the self-employed mode. There is little data on this.
Secondly, what has changed in the HR scenario is often focused on the changes and issues in corporate terms. There is little experiential data available. The change of HR scenario is a wider issue. Consider the hospitality sector. Some of these are in prime locations in multi-storey buildings of important metropolitan centres. Using this as an example, empirically one notices that many of the hotels lodged in these locations have a fractured existence. They have outsourced catering, laundry, transportation, and sometimes even medical concerns. There are occasions when a guest falling ill has to find a doctor for himself. Such cases have been few in the past. Clearly, much of the hospitality sector is undergoing change. What hurts profits and what cannot be absorbed has been changed. Empirically, this creates unusual experiences for the user.
One can ask whether despite adversities, there were any opportunities in disguise during the pandemic that may have benefited select groups. The truth is, there is no such thing as a total opportunity or a total loss. In the worst of situations, there is always some environment where advantages come out of it. With the Covid pandemic also, there are advantages, but often in a limited sectoral sense. They often show in terms of profitability and growth. For instance, pandemic has been to the advantage of the pharmaceutical sector and the industry of online business. After nearly two years of spending on video conferences and online meetings, the first experience of physical meetings is seen differently. In fact, no one situation has been a total gainer. So also is the case with the pandemic. Some facets of business gained and others lost.
An example in the IT sector may be helpful. The question is the future nature of this sector. Will distance still be factored in sales, investment of time? The second question is that of HR. Will it be changed? In reality, nothing has changed except the location of employees at work time: Are they working from home or in the office?
The third issue can be the appraisal system, of performance and inter-personnel exchanges. Companies would need to examine how the system is structured. It is obvious the appraisal assumptions will have to be re-examined. The focus will have to reorient to a new working environment.
One is often hearing of the HR sector having to change when Covid-19 set in and then readjust with the lifting of the pandemic. However, the ailment is here to stay. From pandemic it may become endemic. People will need to get used to it.
The ailment has affected organized work style in a number of ways, including job design. Externalities of jobs have in many ways changed. Those who are not savvy, smart and conversant with electronics are being abandoned to work-ghetto spaces. This is a substantial proportion of work force. Simple things like the number of documents that now needs to be downloaded for each online service is exponential. Such a push to make money on electronic platform is immense. This is being given an aura of a move in the right direction.
In this context, the upcoming 49th IFTDO world conference, which is happening at New Delhi in May, is a very valuable effort that needs to be observed and replicated. The HR fraternity is big and one is talking of scenarios running into thousands and more. While one could say that HR fraternity is too big a scenario for one conference to answer all the questions, such efforts are useful in keeping the issues alive. Hopefully, the conference will have an impact. The impact on the corporate world will be large.
The 49th IFTDO because of its global nature, has involvement of experts from the US, North African countries, the Arab world, Australia, to name some. The perceived impact at this stage is aspirational. However, it will be a forum to raise several matters of interest. What is important is that it would be an occasion to interact globally and to take back a message.
To sum up, as the pandemic moves to becoming an endemic, it is obvious that the orientation of many management functions like HR will have to change. Design issues will come up and livelihoods will be affected. The facets are many. The temptation at generalization will have to be resisted. It is going to be an ongoing situation. Caution will have to be exercised that a new kind of poverty does not replace the existing deprivation.
Dr Vinayshil Gautam, FRAS (London)
President Emeritus ISTD
Chairman Steering Committee, 49th IFTDO World Conference