Following the Prime Minister’s latest announcements to ‘stay alert’ and return to work if necessary, organisations will now be escalating plans to react to the easing of the lockdown rules for employees. In contrast, many may perceive the rules to be premature and will be reluctant to make substantial changes at this time in the absence of published guidance from the government on how workers will be kept safe or how practical issues such as childcare can be dealt with effectively.
The forthcoming phases of easing the lockdown also raise many other long- term questions regarding the future of our workplaces and if indeed we will ever return to what ‘normal’ used to be. HR will be an essential part of the immediate recovery planning process. In the medium term it is also likely that the role of HR will need to evolve, as the demands and requirements of organisations also change.
Below are some thoughts on what the key priorities for HR should be over the short and medium term to address key challenges.
Preparing for a return to work
The most pressing priority for HR teams is how to ensure that employees can return to working environments in a safe and effective manner. Although the guidance from Government has so far lacked some clarity, the health and safety of employees will be a top priority of all organisations. But there will be other challenges too: re-integrating large teams of staff who have been furloughed, adapting working environments and maintaining an organisation culture with a dispersed workforce will all be challenges which most HR professionals will not have been required to deal with before.
Careful planning, clear communications and continuous consultation with employees will be critical. The voice and influence of HR should also be central to any discussions taking place at board or executive level.
Supporting employees through a new approach to work
Many employees are working from home for the very first time during the pandemic and in a recent flash survey by Personnel Today, almost 80% of respondents felt their employers had ‘done a good job’ handling the shift to remote working. By and large the shift to home working has been relatively successful and more has been achieved than previously expected.
This shift ultimately must have an impact on the perception of the future of how we work and expectations of employees. Large number of employees will want to continue working from home, where they can. This will create new challenges for HR teams to deal with, not least in areas such as dealing with appraisals or employee relations issues remotely, recruiting staff in new locations etc.
New leadership skills
Whether at board, executive or managerial level, the post Covid-19 world is going to call evolution in the skillsets required amongst leaders within organisations.
At the simplest level leading and managing organisations with a more geographically fragmented workforce will bring different challenges compared to organisations which have all employees under a single roof. We may also see an acceleration in the trend observed in recent years around an increasing importance in areas such as ethical leadership, impact on society, transparency and sustainability.
HR teams should start thinking now about how it can ensure that it can develop, grow and recruit the skills required to lead and manage the organisation in the future.
A new employee offer
With many roles now subject to a virtual recruitment and onboarding experience, many employers should be assessing their employee offer and whether it is still fit for purpose as we shift to a new working norm for the future. Many candidates may be reluctant to make a career move in a period of such uncertainty and will view job security as a high priority when making a decision.
Organisations will need to work harder and smarter to create engagement both at recruitment and onboarding phases. However, there also needs to be some thought given to the offer itself and how it will appeal in current times.
Some reward and benefits are likely to see a change with additions such as a ‘fast home wi-fi’ and technology benefit for new starters. Furthermore, some organisations may go further to create a sense of stability offering reduced eligibility and probationary periods, and even protected service arrangements to get top talent on board.
Mental health, wellbeing and sustainability
With greater numbers of employees working remotely with reduced interaction with colleagues it is also likely that wellbeing will be a key focus for HR with employers considering options to better support employee mental health from afar by way of online resources and employee helpline benefits.
With a reduced need to travel and many more employees working from home this is also an opportunity for employers to improve their ‘green’ status and promote carbon efficiency. More employees are becoming aware of the environmental impact and working for an employer who is promoting and working towards an environmentally sustainable workplace is becoming more attractive. There is an opportunity to use the forced period of homeworking to embed more sustainable working practices and have a positive impact on the environment. HR has an opportunity to the be a leader in this shift.
Whatever the challenges, HR will be required as a core part of the response.