When the COVID-19 pandemic started, it appeared like a mirage – something that was far off and removed from our reality then – but it finally landed in Kenya. The pandemic brought unprecedented changes to most organisations and their employees, a situation they were ill-prepared.
Calls from disease experts on social distancing, quarantine, avoiding physical contact and the like, had adverse effects on both the formal and informal job markets. Overnight, offices and work stations were closed, movements restricted, curfews imposed and lockdowns initiated in a bid to stop the rampant spread of the Coronavirus disease.
The current crisis is a revolutionary one for the human resources practice and will influence the management of human resources going forward. Organisations have had to put in place immediate transition strategies, and HR practitioners had to come up with measures on how to protect the employees.
Effect of COVID-19 on KMT
Just like its peer organisations, Kenya Markets Trust (KMT) was not spared by the COVID-19 pandemic. We had to close and request employees to start working from home to maintain social distance and limit the spread of the virus, as directed by the government and health experts.
Telecommuting was tough on employees during the first month as they tried to adjust to the new way of working, alongside the anxiety they experienced due to the pandemic. During this time, there was a need to heighten internal communication; psychosocial health talks and counselling services were also organised online, for those who needed assistance.
KMT has been strategic on its modalities to continue with program implementation while keeping all employees safe. We were quick to employ the use of technology and our new CRM to continue with our operations quite seamlessly. Some of these innovations and technologies were enforced after the terrorist attack on 14 Riverside Complex in January 2019 where our offices are located.
The pandemic hit the organisation during its rollout of the Microsoft Teams platform. This virtual collaborative platform has been the backbone of the organisation during the telecommuting period, keeping staff connected through monthly and team meetings. Employees can share and have a check-in with their colleagues through it; birthdays have, and continue to be, celebrated every month as was the norm. In June, we held our first virtual quarterly progress review meeting – a three-day engagement which was very successful. This rapid adaptation to technology has helped the KMT family to remain productive, cohesive and warm as ever.
We have also finalised on an elaborate back-to-office plan that is in line with the occupational safety and health (OSH) guidelines and the organisational risk assessment plan. Certainly, organisations will incur considerable costs to ensure the workplace is safe for employees to work.
More pandemic challenges
In most organisations, the pre-coronavirus office space will no longer be able to hold the number of employees it held before, compelling organisations to strategically and innovatively utilise the available office space. The main question they need to ask is ‘which employees can work from home, remain productive and achieve their set objectives?’. The identification of these employees may then evolve to organisations having some of the employees working from home and others from the office.
Employers are also supposed to meet the testing cost of their employees, in addition to providing them with essential personal protective equipment (PPE). This might be a perpetual expense in employers’ budgets until a vaccine is developed.
COVID-19 came with its share of challenges but on the flip side, there are some great learnings and innovations. Some organisations were forced to lay-off all or part of their staff, or send them on unpaid leave, negatively affecting the labour market in Kenya. Mental illness has risen due to financial stress and anxiety.
At KMT, staff productivity initially dropped due to the abrupt changes and anxiety. Gradually, this has improved as employees adjusted to the new normal. Line Managers have since come up with innovative ways to supervise their team members remotely. Disruption of staff development plans led to the adoption of online learning platforms and trainings. Several staff members are taking their training online, with this proving to be a cost-effective option with minimal logistical costs. Online recruitments are taking shape and candidates are adapting well to the new normal of virtual interviews.
Opportunities from the pandemic
Going forward, organisations will need to re-think how to manage their employees. There is a need to review organisational policies and develop new policies in some emerging areas. Employee re-skilling and up-skilling will be an essential strategy for all organisations. Employers will have to re-design working models as more employees will now opt to work from home. Organisations will have to review and re-design some jobs that can be accomplished virtually or on a part-time basis.
Automation has played a vital role during the pandemic as most organisations have moved to full automation and do not need to have their staff members physically present in the office. Continued adoption of technology will be a crucial area for most organisations going forward.
Further, employee mobility is expected to be high as ‘online employee’ options become available, and employees will have opportunities to work for global organisations from the comfort of their homes.