Strategy & LeadershipHR StrategyCOVID-19: 3 ways HR can react to the aftermath of the pandemic

COVID-19: 3 ways HR can react to the aftermath of the pandemic

The worst of the pandemic has now passed in most of the world's regions. But what will the world of work look like upon our return, and what role can HR play in softening the blow of the changes we face? We examine this further, identifying 3 ways that HR can step up to the plate and limit the damage.

Having now endured roughly two months of lockdown and remote working, it appears that a return to business as usual is finally on the horizon for most Western territories.

In many cases, infection and death rates are falling sharply, Governments are beginning to ease restrictions and certain aspects of ordinary procedure are gaining motion.

But this will be no smooth, simple process. Coronavirus has shaken the world of work to its foundations and caused the greatest period of disruption since the Great Recession of the late 00’s.

There is no doubt that, with the abundant change that has occurred as a result of the pandemic, HR will be required to evolve from its traditionally auxiliary position and play a much more fundamental role in softening the blow of returning to work.

Here are four key ways in which HR could influence the aftermath of the pandemic:

1. Re-onboarding strategy

Where HR is concerned, the government’s furlough scheme has been one of the primary talking points of the pandemic.

But as lockdown draws to a close, a question mark remains as to how these employees will be integrated once again.

When it comes to recruitment, onboarding is considered a crucial process in effectively integrating the individual. In fact, one study found that without it, it can take 8-12 months for the employee to reach their full productivity level.

The study even estimates that this could result in losses of 1-2.5% of the business’ total revenue.

So, with the scale of change and re-organisation that some businesses will have experienced during the pandemic, it stands to reason that this process will need to be executed once again.

However, this is a notoriously tricky feat. For instance, according to a Gallup study, only 12% of people say their company did a good job with onboarding.

What’s more, this process will have to be performed en masse in many cases, with organisations re-integrating swathes of furloughed employees.

In order to survive this period and avoid significant losses in engagement, productivity and revenue, HR needs to be more vigilant and efficient than ever before.

2. The future of flexible working

The Coronavirus has bred a widespread dialogue regarding the potentially altered future of work, and the main component of this is undoubtedly the changing attitude towards flexible and remote working.

As a result, a widespread return to co-located working is simply not a realistic scenario.

Whilst different studies reflect different things, the reality is that some individuals are happier and more productive working remotely and others are not.

This distinction is crucial; employees will likely feel more empowered to request permanent remote working, and there will be a newfound expectation for business and HR leaders to become more flexible in accordance with the wishes of the employee.

For instance, a CFO survey conducted by Gartner revealed that 74% intend to shift some employees to permanent remote conditions once business as usual resumes.

What’s more, in the case of organisations who will be returning to either full or partial office-based work, HR will have a greater role to play than ever before in ensuring that workers are safe when they are on-site.

With this in mind, it is thought that there is significant potential for newly-designed office spaces that are more conducive with social distancing measures.

One global architecture firm, Weston Williamson & Partners, has announced that it has already begun development on one such project.

3. The post-pandemic culture

Culture is one of the most fundamental elements of a functional workplace, but unsurprisingly, it is something that, generally speaking, seems like it can only reach its full potential with a co-located team. 

This is reflected in numerous instances of research. For instance, one study found that just 55% of remote employees feel like they are part of a team.

What’s more, leaders may find that whilst the business has been operating remotely, they have lost sight of the health of its culture, and that there is now a great deal of work to be done.

This is likely to to be one of the greatest challenges facing organisations as the return to office work commences, and once again, this is a mountain that HR will be required to climb.

But whilst company culture suffering as a result of remote working is one thing, employees becoming disengaged due to poor management is another entirely.

It is very possible that leaders will return to office life to find that the culture has taken a major blow due to shortcomings such as poor communication and leadership and that, as a result, workers have become less enthused and less productive.

Once again, studies support this possibility, with one suggesting that organisations with ‘connected employees’ are up to 25% more productive.

So, in order to remedy this scenario, the responsibility of HR is two-fold: not only must there be a concerted effort to engage employees and strengthen culture in the build-up to returning to work but, perhaps more importantly, when co-location recommences, a greater emphasis must be placed one culture and engagement initiatives than ever before.

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