Strategy & LeadershipHR Effectiveness5 ways Coronavirus could transform HR and the workplace

5 ways Coronavirus could transform HR and the workplace

COVID-19 is hitting business hard in the short term, but it could also transform HR's role in the working world forever. Sam Alberti, Reporter, HRD Connect, examines 5 ways Coronavirus could reinvent HR and the workplace as we know it.

Since its initial outbreak in Wuhan last December, more than more than 120,000 people have been infected by the Coronavirus pandemic worldwide. With the death toll fast approaching 5,000 and the situation changing at an hourly rate, businesses are fraught with concern.

Whilst governments and organizations are beginning to introduce action plans and contingency measures, an air of uncertainty still remains, and the feeling amongst many is that a lasting effect will be felt in the world of business. As is often the case, Human Resources departments will feel the impact immediately. Here are 5 potentially lasting effects of Coronavirus on the world of HR:

1. Remote working: the teething process

Thanks to modern technologies, remote working is now an option for many businesses. This would have been unthinkable in the not-too-distant past, but Global Workplace Analytics claims that as of this year, nearly 2/3 of global companies allow their staff to undergo some form of remote working. However, this is typically used on a sporadic basis rather than permanently.

With this is mind, companies may have to face a significant challenge in the near future, with permanent remote working becoming a more likely prospect as the virus continues to spread. Consequently, an initial teething process is inevitable, with several new challenges likely to surface as a result.

It is likely that a dip in efficiency and productivity would be felt overall. Despite a large body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of remote working, there is plenty that does the opposite, with one study showing that 41% of mobile workers felt stress “always of most of the time”, compared to 25% who worked at the office. Another showed that workers sharing an office were 20% more like to stay in touch digitally.

Crucially, the challenge for business will be to adapt to an increase in remote working and do so quickly, in order to avoid a prolonged period of reduced productivity or communicative disarray. Some businesses will be better prepared than others, but the impact will be felt by all.

With the virus progressing at an alarming rate and remote working already being implemented among countless major companies (Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter, to name a few), this may be a reality for all organizations in the near future.

2. Culture will be redefined

According to a Deloitte study, 92% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success. Though just one example, this speaks to the significance of company culture in modern business, with many viewing it as the most crucial and delicate aspect of an organization, and an outlet through which to express its identity and value system. It is this that creates an intrinsic loop between an company’s mission and its employees. But with remote and flexible working on the increase due to Coronavirus, how can a company effectively convey its culture?

The short answer is that it is possible, but it takes conscious, continued effort and commitment. Culture is a fundamentally human concept, so replacing it with technological solutions simply cannot produce the same result. Tools and procedures will have to be implemented that allow as much collaboration and communication as possible.

This may include leaders communicating with their teams as often as possible, employees receiving frequent company updates via email, and dedicated leisure channels being established on internal communication systems such as Slack. If executed appropriately, this will enable the company to still effectively convey its values.

3. A talent exodus?

Talent acquisition and retention are two of the most pressing areas in the world of HR of late. One survey showed that 80% of CEOs are either extremely or somewhat concerned about getting access to the skills their business needs. But these issues may be about to become more pressing, with the onset of Coronavirus threating to cause more problems in the talent space for employers.

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One immediate threat is the loss of current staff, with many organizations already having to make cuts due to loss of revenue. Events-based companies will be particularly prone to this, with Texan film and music festival South by Southwest (SXSW) already having laid off one-third of its permanent staff after the cancellation of this year’s event. Moreover, Europe’s largest regional airline Flybe has collapsed into administration since the outbreak.

Another obvious impact will be to the recruitment process, and again this will hurt certain industries more than others. The travel industry for example will be hit hard, with TUI, Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet all announcing recruitment freezes as a result of sharp reductions in bookings.

With the number of infected still sharply rising with each passing day, many organizations may have to change tack when it comes to acquiring and retaining talent, with a potential for greater reliance on contractors.

4. Employee engagement under threat

According to Mind, FTSE 100 companies that prioritize wellbeing outperform the rest by 10%. This speaks volumes about the value of wellbeing in the modern age. Moreover, the link between wellbeing and employee engagement in the workplace is profound. Engage For Success, for instance, found that engaged employees with high wellbeing were 35% more attached to their organizations than those with lower wellbeing.

Many companies will recognize this link and the importance of it and ensure that a suitable contingency plan is put in place in response to the spread of Coronavirus. For instance, Wallmart this week announced a new emergency leave policy for its staff, ensuring that they are supported in any eventuality.

However, many companies will remain sceptical of the virus’ potential, neglecting to take such measures and attempting to continue as normal. It stands to reason that this could cause workers to become disenchanted, frustrated with their employer for not placing a greater emphasis on wellbeing during this time.

5. A new era of flexi-working?

The concept of flexible working hours is one currently gaining more traction in the working world, despite being virtually unheard of in the recent past. However, despite the exponential rise in popularity, many organizations are yet to open their eyes to it, with 58% of UK corporate workforces not being offered the option.

But whilst flex-working is generally considered a benefit or a privilege to most, to some it may be a necessity, or a facilitator to allow them greater productivity. Disabled professionals or those suffering from long-term illnesses are one such demographic, and often find themselves being refused a level of flexibility they require.

The Equality Act 2010 compels employers to take extra consideration when dealing with flexibility requests from workers, but many still get rejected. And yet, employers worldwide are introducing such measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

For many, this provokes a sense of irony and injustice. The hope is that the virus outbreak will highlight a sense of inequality that previously existed, allowing employers to develop a greater understanding of the need for flexible working.

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