What about those who can’t work from home? by Ankita Poddar

Who knew that when 2020 began, we would be facing a global pandemic within three months of the year? HR gurus predicted, per usual, that this would be the year that work becomes more flexible, mental health becomes an area of focus and technology plays a greater role in the life of an HR professional than ever before. While they did not predict a virus accelerating these, they were accurate with most predictions. Every single organization and profession is witnessing unprecedented transformation. Endless articles on the World Wide Web talk about how this crisis will define the future of work and usher in greater flexibility. Yet, we seem to have forgotten about the very large segment of workers who cannot work from home.

Working from home is a luxury reserved for a privileged few. For most employees working in the manufacturing sector, sales, laboratories, the hospitality segment, hospitals and others, flexibility at work is a utopian dream, and working from home an unachievable one. Hence, while we sit at home pondering about the future, working our regular jobs, complaining about our ‘home office’ not being well equipped, and completing quarantine challenges, these employees are either risking their health and continuing work or at home worrying about financial security. The worst thing to do at this point of time, for any organization, is to take actions that adversely affects its employees. One would think that this is obvious, but clearly not.  

Everlane recently came under fire for letting go almost all of its 65-member customer service team. Bird Ride decided to lay off 400 people via Zoom, using a pre-recorded message to the masses which the company denies doing. ZipRecruiter, also decided that it was a good idea to communicate layoffs to a large group of people at the same time. Wetherspoons and Virgin Atlantic too came under fire for similar reasons. This is just the beginning of a growing list. If you want a larger list of organizations that are cutting work force, look here. The list contains names ranging all the way from startups to organizations that have fairly deep pockets.

On the other hand, there are organizations that have stepped up their game. Cognizant in India decided to pay a 25% increment on base to all its associates. Gravity Payments made the news for finding a way to keep paying all 210 employees, even though the company’s revenue fell by half. The company asked each employee how much of a pay cut they would be able to take for the next few months. Supposedly, by trimming salaries accordingly, Gravity now has enough reserves to keep everyone employed for up to a year under the current circumstances. Other organizations are helping employees find alternate shelter, helping with supplies and more.

Why are there organizations on both ends of the spectrum? Are cash reserves the defining factor? As Gravity Payments demonstrated, it is likely not. While governments in some countries have passed regulations to protect jobs, many have not. Under these circumstances, organizations need to keep one thing in mind – avoid decisions that put financial security of employees at risk. For cash rich organizations, it is easier. They have the cushion to absorb the impact even if it means that the company projects large losses. If an organization does not have the reserves, maybe explored a cut in pay or repurposing them to roles that can contribute to the organization remotely. If one absolutely has to let employees go (which is a strict no no), at least find a humane way to do so.

Remember how organizations touted about employees being their most important assets. Well, this is when you walk the talk. As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘out of adversity comes opportunity’. What organizations do now will be remembered for at least the next three years.  Therefore, while it is tempting to cut short-term losses and stay afloat, it is equally important to think about what happens when you do survive the pandemic. Who will come work for you then? Will the best talent really overlook all you did in 2020? I think not.

This article is exclusive to The Business Transformation Network

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Ankita Poddar is HR Business Partner at Amazon

Ankita is an HR professional based out of India. Identified as one of the top emerging young HR leaders in India in 2016, Ankita’s experience as an HR Business Partner gives her the opportunity to work closely with business leaders, innovate and execute on the behalf of customers especially in areas of people analytics, employee engagement, rewards and recognition and performance management.

Ankita blogs about all things HR at https://thehrbpstory.com.

You can follow her on Twitter @ankitapoddar.