Few would argue this has been a year of change and disruption. HR professionals around the world have seen their roles alter rapidly as they went from supporting an in-house workforce to navigating the world of remote work. There were no guidelines or instructions for companies to follow as they made the leap to a virtual environment which left HR with a new kind of mandate. They were the ones who needed to figure out how to support a workforce they couldn’t see and that shifted that many companies were prioritizing. As the guiding light for talent management right now, how is HR changing as the pandemic goes on and what might the role look like once this is all over?
6 ways HR is changing
The issues HR needs to concern itself with now are not necessarily what they used to be a year ago. So what’s top of mind for the current HR professionals?
Managing remote work: Like all of us, HR had to adapt to a remote world quickly. When employees left the office, few companies had remote policies in place. HR was given the challenge of bringing structure to a virtual working environment and finding ways to ensure remote work stayed on track. That meant creating new rules to govern work, identifying and investing in technology, and handling a new type of employee concern as companies around the globe faced layoffs and furloughs. With remote work looking like it’s here to stay, at least for the coming few months, HR is leading the charge in prioritizing effective communication strategies and team building initiatives more then they ever have before.
Attracting and retaining talent: Now is definitely the time you want to have the right people in the right roles. HR has always dealt with talent management including hiring and onboarding but in a Covid world that objective has taken on new meaning. Now HR is tasked with protecting the current workforce with a focus on retention while also filling in gaps through virtual recruiting. It’s certainly a different way of sourcing and hiring talent but with conferences, networking events, career fairs, and even in-person interviews on pause HR has no choice but to look online. This means identifying successful candidates, using new tools to vet them through a screen, and making an offer all without meeting someone in the real world. And while hiring new talent is a key part of the role, HR also needs to do what it can to retain the staff it already has in place. That means taking a hard look at the current employee experience and seeing what can be done to remove barriers facing employees to create a more productive virtual work environment.
Prioritizing employee engagement: In a world where everyone is self-managing and working alone, maintain engagement is key to keeping the momentum of a remote team going. At the same time, developing engagement has never been more difficult. Without the usual methods to rely on, HR is having to get creative in how it supports its remote workers. Many companies are investing in their remote company culture to maintain a sense of togetherness and inclusivity that welcomes all. Keeping employee engagement high might also mean spending more time working with managers and training them in team effectiveness or coaching strategies. Or it could mean making larger company-wide changes in how employees are appreciated and recognized. When engagement drops, teams can stall so prioritizing employee engagement helps HR safeguard teams and keep them on target to reach their objectives.
A deeper dive into learning: One shift we’re seeing across the board is companies investing in new learning and development opportunities. One way to maintain employee engagement is to help workers continue to learn and grow even during times of uncertainty. Employees likely have more quiet time now that they’re working alone that’s more conducive to learning additional skills. HR can help their workforce by ensuring the right kind of opportunities are available that will also support longer term company goals. Resiliency training, for example, has become popular with companies seeking to protect their employees and help them brace for a Coronavirus fueled winter. There’s also been a boost in self-development work as that’s one area in particular that’s easy to invest in when no one can physically be together. Finding the right programs or tools to support continuous learning is top of mind for many HR teams at the moment and will likely be a trend we see continue even post-pandemic.
Focusing on wellness: Most companies had some sort of benefits or wellness plan before the pandemic, but the past few months have really highlighted the importance of managing employee well-being. With stress and anxiety on the rise, many HR teams have turned to different ways of keeping their workforce healthy. Many are taking a more holistic view of worker health accounting for cognitive and emotional health as well as physical. Part of their role now is to find resources or training that teaches employees how to maintain a healthy work life. This could include creating policies around appropriate hours of communication, offering strategies to better balance work and home life, and providing resources to address mental health challenges. And remember, when in doubt, ask your employees what they need. Employee surveys have been a popular tool over the past few months as they’re a fast and easy way to figure out where employees are struggling and what HR can do to help.
Helping companies reposition: HR is doing more than just managing the workforce right now. They’re also helping companies decide who and what they want to be in the future. Some companies are taking this opportunity to step back and identify ways to redefine what it is they are doing. This could mean pivoting to a new way of doing business, like restaurants who started selling groceries, or streamlining a current approach to make it more successful in a remote world. HR is taking the lead on many conversations around digital transformation as leadership teams learn more about what their businesses really needs not just to stay successful, but to stay open.
HR and the new normal
In our strange new world of work, we’re all learning that little is more important than the talent you have within your company. The role of HR through the pandemic is shifting in order to better support the needs of a remote workforce and ensuring employees have the resources to stay productive from a distance. Remote working wasn’t something many HR departments were prepared for, at least not at this level, but HR leaders are making the most of this unexpected reality. They’re shifting what needs to be prioritized and building a stronger foundation for the future. Maintaining a work-life balance is now a necessity to keep remote workers from burning out. Providing easy access to technology and online platforms to connect team members is a daily requirement. Helping employees learn and develop their skills is a new opportunity. HR really is touching everything from virtual recruiting to company transformation. We may see some of these changes role back post-pandemic but others, like a genie let out of a bottle, will be hard to rewind. In an uncertain time, HR is stepping up to lead us through the crisis and into a new era of work.