How do you think GE’s HR policy and strategy will evolve? How important will IT be in your future HR strategy?
In a lecture I recently gave at a university, one student asked what they should learn to become an HR specialist after they graduate. My answer was to learn coding, and the student was a bit confused by my response. But the reason for my answer is I believe HR is the industry most influenced by technological innovation. HR professionals have to adapt to new technologies before the rest of the organization. There are so many benefits from technological innovations, such as analytics, big data, and AI, that will continue to add new value to what HR has already been doing.
Let me give you a recent example: Since February, I have been leading the crisis response team in Korea for COVID-19, and in that role I had to make a lot of decisions in uncertain situations. The most difficult decision I had to make was when to allow employees to return to the office after months of working from home. Because it's directly related to employee safety and business continuity, we had to really think it through before making a decision.
Normally, we would analyze various situations before making a decision, but we tried a different approach in this scenario. Before we made a decision, we conducted an employee survey on returning to work, which was supported by our IT team. We asked employees things like how they felt about the company’s response to COVID-19—including the safety of work, measures to protect employees, and internal communications—and shared the transition plan that we have been gradually working on. Thanks to IT’s support, conducting all these activities and analyzing the results took less than a day.
Per the survey results, 90% of our employees expressed a high level of trust and positive feedback. They also suggested what we should consider in deciding when to return to the office. Based on these findings, our leadership team could make decisions with confidence. Now, it's been more than two months since we returned to the office and we have continued to run our business safely.
What advice do you have for other HR leaders who are starting to plan their return to the workplace?
There are basic requirements that companies should follow to ensure a safe environment before their employees return to work. Some examples are temperature monitoring at entrances, face mask requirements, accessible hand sanitizers and antibacterial film covers, new desk arrangements, and plexiglass partitions. However, what will ultimately keep everyone safe and ensure business continuity is adopting a new mindset and set of behaviors.
During the work from home period, our leadership message was about how the organization is doing all it can to protect our employees. However, now that we’re back in the office, a lot of that responsibility is on the employees to protect themselves and others. Even though we’ve instilled new regulations and protocols, it’s the responsibility of each individual to make sure they’re following them while in the office. Our community can remain safe only when everyone observes and follows the same rules.
It’s also crucial that leaders are empathetic and understand that their employees are doing their best to cope with the new realities. The workplace is going to look a lot different, so we need to stop comparing it to the past and adjust our expectations about how things should be done in our new normal.