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Reshaping HR in the Light of COVID-19

HR

Dávid Bauer

Many companies in Hungary responded to the first wave of the pandemic by cost-cutting and delayed procurement. Current crisis management has shifted the focus onto smooth remote work solutions, new communication channels, and online administration tools. As for the future, consultancy, predictivity, and analytics-based decision-making are all on the agenda.

“There is nothing permanent except change,” as the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus so presciently put it. The COVID-19 pandemic is fundamentally shifting the way we work. According to international experts, the pandemic is serving as an accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime.

Among the most common factors are the ramping up of employee training, investment in remote working and skill-based hiring, as well as the growing importance of global interconnectedness. These are all elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (an expression apparently first coined by the German government back in 2011) and driven by smart technologies and supercomputing.

In Hungary, the labor market encounters similar difficulties generated by the intensively changing legal, employment, and economic environment. A survey lead by Prof. József Poór at the Management and HR Research Center of the Hungarian Agrarian Life Sciences University (MATE) reveals a comprehensive picture of how the Hungarian HR industry responded to COVID-19 related challenges in the first phase of the pandemic.

As a first step, Hungarian companies adapted four general crisis management measures, the study finds. These were an increase in organizational efficiency, overall cost reductions, procurement, and spending postponements, and the introduction of new strategies.

When it came to direct HR-related policies, the survey highlights that most focused on introducing new health and safety measures, the creation of home office and replacement plans, and assisting employees’ social difficulties.

“More than a third of responding organizations see the economic downturn caused by coronavirus as an opportunity,” Poór explains to the Budapest Business Journal. “According to respondents, this possibility lies in the completion of digitalization and the implementation of more effective internal communication.”

This is confirmed by Dávid Bauer, HR director of Hungarian oil and gas giant, MOL. He thinks the current crisis can help uncover hidden opportunities while it also helps unleash potentials that have not been exploited so far.

“I surely believe that we can use this situation for our own benefit,” he tells the BBJ. “In MOL we believe that personal contact is a key factor to boost creativity and create team spirit, thus we follow a hybrid working model rather than full home office,” he explains.

“When people are working remotely, information flow plays the greatest role. We opened numerous new communication channels with the support of our IT, taking into consideration the multiple job functions, tasks, and the different age groups we have in our company, and their specific needs. Within HR, besides our regular and prompt communication tools, we introduced online training and new online administration solutions,” Bauer adds.

The proportion of those aged 15-64 working regularly from home was 5.3% on average in the EU, while in Hungary it was only 1.2% in 2019, Poór says, quoting data from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical body. According to economic research institute, GKI, the share of tele- and home-office workers in Hungary increased significantly to 16% in 2020 due to lockdown measures.

This new situation presents significant new tasks for HR departments. To ensure smooth operations, teleworking and home office ICT security became a key priority. Recruitment strategists say that the proverb Heraclitus first spoke sometime in the late 6th to early 5th century BCE is still valid today: “Nothing is permanent except change,” Poór agrees.

Hungarian regulations emphasize that working from home (WFH) is different from teleworking. The latter has been regulated in the Hungarian Labor Code for a while, while the concept of home office is not. Teleworking is governed by the employment contract and the job description attached to it; WFH was brought to life by the epidemic situation, which may be canceled after the epidemic, Poór explains.

He also points to the fact that, according to a joint International Labor Organization-Eurofound report published in February 2017, it is a misconception to say that WFH is less productive than working in an employer’s office. The study highlights the lack of travel time and greater flexibility provided by the home environment as an advantage. However, the price of this is a mixed-up work-life balance (the morning commute helps separate work from home), and the lower levels of the average home ICT environment.

When asked about MOL’s new remote hiring and recruitment practices, Bauer said that the firm had managed to roll out a digitalized onboarding process prior to the pandemic that has served as a big asset during the present crisis as well.

Last year, the group organized an online job fair with 22 hours of professional content, more than 30 presenters, 230 listeners, and two podcasts, and generated more than 500 CVs.

“Our fresh graduate talent program, GROWWW also went online successfully with the participation of 84 fresh graduates,” Bauer says.

MOL has introduced an array of new employment options as well to avoid considerable redundancies, Bauer says. He added that partnering with relevant bodies, trade unions, and work councils has helped the oil and gas giant successfully incorporate flexible working models into its HR strategy.

“Managers can request part-time employment and they can decide about partial or complete exemption from work or standby,” Bauer explains.

“We introduced home office work in all jobs where working from home was possible. Our colleagues doing critical work in terms of business continuity, however, kept working from the sites to operate our refineries, thus maintaining the energy supply of the entire region,” Bauer says.

“As we provide smartphones for all our employees with limitless mobile internet access, there were no additional expenses to be compensated in the recent situation. We provided more than 400 laptops in Hungary for our employees to help those working parents whose children did not have the equipment for distance learning,” he adds.

Organizations that keep in mind the natural human needs of their employees during a crisis, such as security, stability, and predictability, are on the right track, Poór says. The fundamental question for our future world is environmental awareness, he adds.

Consultancy, moving forward from proactivity to predictivity and analytics-based decision making, without losing the human touch, will be the cornerstones of future HR operation, Bauer explains.

Hybrid working models, engaged talent management, and what he calls “customer-oriented employer value propositions” will also be particularly important. Systems and processes were tested during 2020 and again this year; it is time to draw conclusions from what we have learned and implement them into new routines, the MOL HR director says.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  April 23, 2021. 

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