Surviving in the COVID-19 Era


Am I working hard enough? I am scared to turn in my timesheets because of a few empty slots. What if HR finds my skills irrelevant at work this period? Will I get paid this month? What if I get fired? How can I add value to my employer? What “skills can I develop? We have to start a work from home arrangement. How do we measure employee performance now? Can we afford to go digital? Hope we can make payroll this month. Does the economy need us? Is my business/company essential?

The above may be comments or questions that have boggled your headspace while the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown persists. You are not alone; the questions derived were from a recent survey on employers and employees spanning across different sectors.

In his reaction to the COVID-19, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres said: “Our world is facing an unprecedented threat. The novel coronavirus, pandemic is having a major impact on us and our work in many of our field offices and duty stations.”

The pandemic has propelled many to self-evaluate their purpose in life, their value in the workplace, and contributions to society – Are my services essential? It has become crucial for organisations and employees to re-strategize and adapt to the current realities to stay afloat, because – let’s face it, COVID-19 is drowning the global economy and only the adaptable swimmers will survive.

While many await a ‘Post-COVID-19’ era before adjusting to the ‘new normal’ or in some cases, the old normal, smart business owners are adapting quickly by-going digital and equipping their staff to Work From Home (WFH).

WFH is a work style a lot of organisations were indifferent to due to concerns about its impact on productivity; however, the COVID-19 outbreak has left businesses without a choice but to quash that policy. According to Bravery and Tomar, about 37% of firms in the US have implemented mandatory, company-wide work-from-home arrangements, forcing digital transformation. With the increased usage of digital applications such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and others, organisations and companies are breaking even and increasing productivity. Seminars, conferences, meetings, and training sessions are conducted online.

According to the World Economic Forum, “Prior to COVID-19, companies were envisaging the future as a survival struggle. The early adopters of digitally enabled working are in better shape than others to face the challenges imposed by the coronavirus”. For example, before the outbreak, organisations such as Amazon invested significantly in human resources technology for new hires and this enabled the company to recruit and onboard 1,700 new employees recently in a day.

Before the outbreak, organizations’ plans for a downturn signaled that they were turning future-of-work strategies into survival tactics. Some of the best enterprises around us today, grew stronger out of the crisis era. Companies such as Amazon, Netflix, and Dominos continued to grow stronger and more resilient.

A survivalist knows the importance of two key traits; preparedness and resilience. Preparedness has three elements; the first is the extent of a company’s digital working practices going into the pandemic. Organizations are now on the digital train, and Nigeria is not an exception. Though, a talent trends study in Nigeria shows that progress on digital experience has stalled in recent years, about two in every five companies have gone partially or fully digital. It is vital because digitization transforms how organizations build a diverse workforce, improves team working, analyses performance, and fosters flexible working.

The second element is Flexible working. According to Bravery and Tomar, 44% of companies make flexible working dependent on the job rather than a person’s circumstances. Remote working involves trust in employees’ reliability, capability, and motivation as well as the use of digital infrastructure. Trust is required between the organisation and the employee to achieve a flexible working condition.

The third element is agility in response to external shocks or stimulus. Having a fluid team and employees with broad skill sets is very important to companies. Employees who reskill themselves and those with an adaptable mindset can help during a crisis period to wear multiple hats and keep operations going.

Resilience is dependent on the industry involved, as some sectors such as the health sector, manufacturing, automotive, and mining are experiencing significant impact from the shutdown. These are sectors are highly people-dependent and hard to digitize. The least affected include sectors such as professional services, education, telecommunication, and technology. In the long run, and depending on how long the pandemic continues, some of these sectors will also feel the effects of limited funding to carry out their operations.

While many businesses today are struggling with the ‘new normal’, some organisations and employees are trying to meet up, because consistent upscaling of skills and work processes were prioritized long before now. Employees have undervalued essential skills such as data analytics, digital skills, digital marketing skills, etc. it is evident now that these skills are essential. COVID-19 is a catalyst for change and innovation; it is a shift employees are thirsty for. Are you thirsty enough?

Questions for thought- What value are you adding to your organization at this time? It is easy to hide behind your team or your workstation in the workplace. But what is your added value now? Remember, it is possible for your organisation to ‘forget’ and in some cases deem you non-essential if your impact is not felt. What’s your value proposition? What skills are you sharpening or upskilling? As an organisation, how are you ensuring your employees are fully equipped to WFH? How far have you gone in digitising your operations to succeed in this new normal? Is your business still relevant in the new normal? If history is any indication, we will all rebound more robust and more resilient from the crisis. Many successes will be born out of this era.

Tolu Odigie is a human resources professional and writes from Lagos