What Should HR’s Focus Be Following the COVID-19 Pandemic?

An opportunity to be relished as the shape of the new normal post-COVID-19 unfolds.

The Coronovisus crisis has been at the forefront of all our minds for 2020 so far. As the most unprecedented of events, with global scale to impact our largely peaceful times. The collective focus has been on doing everything possible to help to flatten the curve, mitigate the spread of infection, whilst seeking in some way, to continue life as we know it in an altered, yet a new normal state.

As many counties around the world, including the UK, are in the fortunate position of having successfully suppressed the COVID-19 virus to levels that allow for some renewal to our former way of life. Businesses are focused on resuming operations to make up for the time lost during the enforced lockdown period.

Most business sectors in the UK will have returned to at least some form of operation and trade. With the Governments recovery plan which commenced from May, seeing the encouragement of people to return to their workplaces if they were unable to work from home. Followed by June which saw the return of some early years school settings, enabling those parents of younger children charged with childcare responsibilities in addition to working, to potentially return to their places of work. With July 4th, seeing the reopening of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers in England. With plans for Wales and Scotland, following closely behind.

So now, as the crisis of COVID-19 abates to become a more manageable state of disruption. The focus for HR will also need to shift, moving away from the sheer fire fighting towards a place of reflection and action, to tackle the multitude of people challenges and opportunities, as we progress beyond the pandemic.

What should HR be focusing on now?

HR’s attention in this post-crisis period should shift now to enabling and supporting business leaders to focus on future activities that drive business value. HR’s role will involve re-defining HR’s strategy, firmly underpinned by defining human capital value and adapting to the new future of work predictions.

An effective HR strategy provides a roadmap to create value through the organisation’s workforce

The first step in re-defining HR strategy, as outlined by Consulting firm Deloitte, on how to create value through HR strategy, is to define value by understanding how business value is actually created. These invaluable insights will be gained through deep exploration and understanding of the overall business environment. Which will undoubtedly have changed as a result of COVID-19.

Creating value through HR - HR Strategy | Source: Deloitte
Creating value through HR – HR Strategy | Source: Deloitte

Next, in order to better understand business strategy in this post-COVID-19 era, it will be essential for HR to understand market forces impacting typical conditions. Combined with an evaluation of the business strategy and how these factors will ultimately shape the HR strategy required to support the business strategy overall.

Moving on to re-shape and re-define, will provide a clear roadmap, to leverage your organisations human capital; addressing both the objectives and indeed challenges that will now lay ahead.

Comprised of three distinct steps, the process to re-define HR strategy includes: 

  1. Translating your organisation’s strategy into an effective and actionable HR strategy – comprised of priorities, business planning and post COVID-19 contingency planning;
  2. Translating your HR strategy into key people initiatives and programs, designed with the COVID-19 new normal in mind. Proactive enough to handle continued disruption and reflective enough, to respond to the lessons learned from this previous period;
  3. Identifying the best ways to attract, motivate, and retain new and existing employees. Paying particular attention to any restructuring you may have executed and the morale impact this process will have had on employees who were spared redundancy.

Review HR policies & practices to ensure they meet new demands

This unprecedented public health crisis has demanded a multitude of changes to HR policy, covering work from home policies, through to those to ensure workplaces are COVID-19 secure. The efforts made to respond to the crisis were essential, but so too is the continued evaluation of these policies to ensure they align with the revised HR and business strategy.

Policies designed for the interim periods of lockdown and any operational changes to accommodate this requirement may need to be reevaluated all-together. For others, which could include policies designed to support contingent or temporary staff, will now need to reflect the change to current circumstances and any subsequent changes that impact contractual obligations.

Many organisations would also have needed to create brand new terms, conditions and policies aligned to furlough processes, pay and conditions. With some of these measures designed to be temporary only, the reality is that these policies will need to be updated or rescinded altogether.

In the event of sick pay, being temporarily introduced beyond that of statutory obligations or guaranteed pay and benefits for contracting or freelance employee’s, where this typically wouldn’t have been in place, HR may wish to consider retaining some of these measures for the long term.

But it’s not policies alone that require re-evaluation. HR as a function has not been immune to the restructuring that many organisations who have suffered losses thanks to COVID-19 have been making. Resulting in HR teams across learning & development and talent acquisition bearing some of the heaviest losses.

Latest Labour Market Outlook highlights importance of Job Retention Scheme in preventing redundancies

As a result, the redesign of HR services will demand any lost or reduced HR functions to be re-distributed amongst the remaining HR function. With the ongoing support that these services provide, being recalibrated to meet the businesses new strategic needs.

Prioritising and designing HR service, post-COVID-19 HR using the following steps will allow HR to embrace the challenges that lay ahead. 

  1. Analyse the benefit and resourcing cost to each HR service aligned to the organisation’s strategy & prioritise;
  2. Perform an HR process & service analysis, identifying which services have or must now be reengineered or streamlined;
  3. Analyse the current people services that remain, whilst strategizing what these will now need to include as part of a new HR services portfolio.

Effective communication of any changes will need to be timely and collaborative in their efforts to ensure both senior management and wider teams continue to feel the support available from HR has not been impacted as a result of the changes brought about by COVID-19.

Essential too, to these endeavours, will be the effective data capture, measurement and reporting of all necessary changes.

CakeHR’s software, inclusive of reporting tools that aid the capture and interpretation of HR analytics, is one such recommended solution by HR professionals. Significantly improving reporting capability and benefits. With easy to interpret dashboards that draw insights and trends from historical data, HR’s partnering capability is expanded thanks to the meaningful analysis this information will provide.

Consider the impact of predicted post-COVID-19, future of work trends

Gartner, the research and advisory company, who works with business leaders and market-leading organisations has predicted nine key post-COVID-19 future of work trends. Based on comprehensive research & analysis of their partner organisations globally, the predictions respond to the lasting impact that Coronovius will have on organisations and how they operate. The future of work predictions will have wide-reaching implications for HR and it’s now galvanised focus as the Pandemic subsides.

9 Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19 | Source: Gartner
9 Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19 | Source: Gartner

Firstly, it’s predicted there will be a sustained increase in working from home & flexible working – Many organisations who may never before have adopted a work from home strategy, are now embracing it, thanks to the events brought about by COVID-19. A Gartner poll showed that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic.

It’s also predicted that an expanded employee monitoring and data collection process will continue. Whilst this practice was well established long before the Pandemic, the increases in working from home and far greater reliance on technology to facilitate communications has resulted in Gartner predicting that increased data collection will form part of the new normal.

For HR, this will see a further revision and inclusion of policies reflecting these data collection and monitoring changes. In addition to changes to employee handbooks, terms and conditions.

There’s also a predicted expansion of contingent, contractor and freelancer workers – With many organisations having restructured and turned to engage a contingent workforce to cover the gaps. Gartner’s research found that 32% of organisations have replaced full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure. For HR, ensuring that the same degrees of organisational alignment to vision and values are being realised and that contract workers aren’t siloed in their work will form essential considerations.

From an employee benefits, terms & conditions perspective, the pandemic has demanded that organisations provide levels of support they may not have done previously. Sick pay, compassionate leave, flexible working policies are all set to remain according to Gartner. Described as being a ‘social safety net’ which has increased the trend for employers to expand their role in providing employee support with their financial and mental well-being. For HR, this will be welcome news in efforts to drive down employee turnover whilst maximising reputation and employer brand.

Gartner further predicts there will be a trend towards the evaluation and separation of critical skills and roles. The post-COVID-19 era is predicted to reassess roles that are deemed as critical to the success of essential workflows. For HR, this means the shift will result in the offer of greater career development opportunities being provided to support employees who may lack wider skills to propel their career development.

Additionally, a renewed appreciation of the human element, to human resources, is predicted. The recognition of this widespread humanitarian crisis has shined a light on the need to humanise the approach taken towards the treatment and support of employee’s. For HR, this time will now serve as an opportunity to level up the focus on human capital whilst taking steps to address inequities and create a long term culture that fosters inclusiveness.

The criticality of employer reputation and being viewed as a top tier employer is more important now, than ever before – The reputation of your organisation, how it treats and supports its employees were already in sharp focus pre-COVID-19. Therefore it’s advisable that HR provides advice to CEOs and executive leaders on decisions regarding executive pay cuts, making sure financial impacts are absorbed by executives rather than the broader employee base. And that any restructures are managed in ways to ensure employees are fully supported and well-communicated throughout all COVID-19 restructuring processes. Helping to ensure the employer reputation remains intact.

Furthermore, prior to COVID-19, it was found that 55% of organisations surveyed by Gartner were designing roles for efficiency. However, the new normal landscape has indicated gaps in this approach. The recommendation now is that HR build an organisation with roles designed with responsiveness in mind, structured around outcomes to increase agility and flexibility in the event of a future crisis that could occur in the future.

Finally, HR should now also consider diversification and organisational complexity to sustain future shocks. As it’s predicted that the post-COVID-19 landscape will bear similarities to that of the global financial crisis of 08. It’s predicted that in a similar way to that period, where global M&A activity accelerated and many companies were nationalised, this period will see HR supporting similar endeavours. Resulting in a change to operating models and with it a mitigated risk of disruption in future times.

What this also means for HR, is there will be a need to customise and augment performance management to support predicted organisational complexity. One that enables employees to thrive in whatever their newly revised roles and optimised functions shape up to become.

Conclusion

The demands placed on HR throughout this period have been high and unwavering in their complexity and challenge. This post-crisis moment does, however, embolden HR to charge ahead with people led, human-focused decision making in ways that they may never before have had the scope and executive-level sponsorship to do. An opportunity to be relished as the shape of the new normal post-COVID-19 unfolds.

Jade.


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HR management software app system CakeHR human resources
HR management software app system CakeHR human resources

CakeHR is an award-winning HR software company that provides attendance, performance and recruitment management for customers worldwide. More information at www.cake.hr

Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Founder of Inspired Talent.co a people & talent strategic consultancy working with tech, finance & startup companies worldwide. Jade is a contributing writer for CakeHR and shares her knowledge on people, process & strategies to improve the world of work.