A Russian perspective on the pandemic
2020 will be remembered as a year of major unexpected changes, in our personal lives and in the corporate world. Companies all over the world and across most economic sectors faced challenges on a scale that has not been seen for decades. Since February, companies have been struggling to preserve the continuity and viability of their business, while at the same time guaranteeing the safety of their employees.
To measure the impact of Covid on HR setup and processes in Russia, we talked to a panel of key decision makers in Russian companies and Russia-related corporate headquarters in Europe, including CEOs, Managing Directors, CFOs, and HR Directors. This report is our summary of the most interesting responses and insights.
We should acknowledge that due to Russia’s history, individuals and companies are highly resilient, and better prepared to handle instability than people in countries not used to frequent turmoil. Because of this, Russian employers and employees alike were geared up to handle Covid-related restrictions and changes in working processes. In addition, western companies operating in Russia found it easy to quickly re-adjust their operations, as the pandemic (and subsequent lockdown) reached Russia around 4-5 weeks after it had hit Europe. Companies were therefore able to roll out measures which had already been in place in other countries, and to profit from these earlier experiences.
HR leaders have been on the front line. Most have been working to find solutions that will allow business to proceed, while protecting employee health and adapting operations to the new reality.
Depending on the economic sector, companies have been coping with multiple challenges: supply chain disruption, dramatic decreases in sales and business activity due to the closure of stores and production sites, or conversely, skyrocketing demand for certain products and services. HR leaders were given a huge increase in workload and pressure, as the expectations and stakes have been very high. In this context, HR Directors and their teams have been demonstrating the strategic reach of their function, while simultaneously becoming agents of change and drivers for transformation inside companies. While reshaping corporate operations, they are simultaneously designing the optimal operational restart for the post-Covid period.
We are aware that in some industries, Covid-19 measures have had a minimal impact. One CEO told us: “In general, from my perspective, there were no big issues which were difficult to manage. It was a ‘change the processes as usual’ situation, where a little bit more attention and time was needed to modify the processes.”
In companies with production facilities, additional challenges had to be overcome: keeping production running under new safety rules, complying with local sanitary procedures in production facilities, introducing Covid case reporting, and permanent modification of procedures. The feedback showed that home office working had been implemented where possible, as well as online communication tools and procedures.
We have been able to group our findings from the survey into five main points, which characterise the impact of the Covid crisis on HR management and decision-making:
High levels of uncertainty; the impossibility of forecasting
The main challenge for all companies was to identify, collect, communicate and implement all relevant local measures, grants and governmental initiatives as quickly as possible, in order to optimise budgeting efforts and avoid bigger losses.
A further complicating factor was the high level of uncertainty and the impossibility of forecasting, which affected all areas (sales, budgeting, financing, operations). Most managers saw a way out of these problems by seeking a balance between a proactive and a reactive approach, and the redefinition of the company’s long-term strategy.
This uncertainty has increased the pressure on management to make faster decisions, and to react more flexibly to changes. Agility and speed of reaction to change are the key to lasting success in every sector.
What made it difficult for you?
HR Director in fashion retail: “Mobility restrictions.”
GM of a major white goods producer: “Production sites and stores closed.”
Regional HR Director of a leading fashion retail player: “Bankruptcies of local/global partners (franchisees, subcontractors, providers, etc.).”
HR Director of a leading food producer: “Decrease of the consumer purchasing power.”
Business leader of a major food producer: “Changes in consumer behaviour (shift to mass-market products, online purchasing).”
To be continued