Navigating the Post-COVID Era Through Progressive HR Practices
by Barbara Repandis
In any situation where employee safety is at risk, HR becomes the nucleus of any organization in mobilizing processes to ensure the safety of employees and business continuity. Workplaces issues surrounding COVID created a sudden pop-quiz to many HR departments, testing their processes and highlighting their agility and ability to take decisive actions to navigate these uncharted waters.
Luckily, due to the times that we live in, with all the remote collaborative technological applications (geared to all types of business environments, from small to enterprise size), it is easier for us to achieve these goals. It is therefore critical that once HR leaders put together committees to expedite decision-making on safety issues, that their next focus is to closely partner with business leaders to understand their needs of successfully managing their people remotely. Also, to partner closely with IT to make sure that they are providing them with those tools. HR, therefore, becomes the fulfillment center in a way, translating these needs and works to expedite execution.
We have seen many adjustments made within businesses to cope with the COVID crisis these past several weeks, including swift operating changes created by the necessity to tackle the challenges brought on by this pandemic. One of the more difficult challenges – which could also be viewed as an opportunity, depending on the organization’s technological infrastructure and ability to work remotely - is that COVID has forced business leaders to quickly get out of their comfort zones, opening them up to the endless possibilities of having a remote workforce. Leadership teams are now seeing first-hand the benefit of reducing their need for real estate without hindering growth and significantly reducing overhead expenses. All this, while providing employees with the much desired flexibility to balance work-life needs, not to mention the ability of recruiting teams to expand their candidate pools to other geographic locations (with potential lower wages) after having struggled these past years fighting the “war for talent”.
If business leaders have not had experience managing remote employees in the past, it is imperative that they are trained on how to effectively keep people motivated remotely while managing productivity. It is also important that they buy into the benefits that remote workforces provide. Some “rookie” managers of remote workforces who were forced to manage remote employees during the COVID shutdown period may still have concerns regarding diminished productivity in remote work environments. It is, therefore, important that HR leaders continue to help abolish those fears by educating business leaders on how to manage by objective and not attendance, and how to keep their teams engaged using collaborative technological tools such as conference calls, video conferences, IM messages, utilization of the organization’s intranet or creating virtual water coolers to maintain an “office feel” for remote teams. It is also important that research and data is shared with them, to assist them in understanding that in most cases, remote working has been found to be even more productive due to the lack of office distractions and more engaging for employees who enjoy the flexibility of working from home.
Managing a Remote Workforce
HR can effectively assist business leaders in managing a newly remote workforce by implementing online training to not only the business leaders themselves but also to the employees, introducing the new reality of working from home. There are many challenges that employees face when transitioning into a remote work environment such as time management, burnout, lack of people interaction, lack of frequent communication with their teams, and feelings of isolation. It is, therefore, important to share tips and best practices for keeping channels of communication open by affording teams with collaboration tools and to train their workforce on how to utilize these tools to keep them connected, engaged and productive. Moreover, it is important that HR continues to act as the quality controller in assuring that remote employees retain an optimal employee experience.
Returning to the Office
The new reality of returning to the office is around the corner and the jury is still deliberating on how this will go. The ones longing to come back to some normality will be shocked to find out that they have to wear masks in the office, keep social distancing, refrain from attending meetings, limit travel while having to lather on hand sanitizer and disinfect every few minutes. They are eagerly looking to return to the office to find out that they can no longer have lunch with their colleagues and their team will no longer be celebrating birthdays or going on team building events. How normal will this new normal be?
HR is called to help ease the stress and uncertainty of the return to the office environment, which will ensure employee safety and not undo the benefits the shutdown may have created in slowing down the spread of the virus. Transparency and the clear and prompt communication of new office practices to the workforce prior to their return is key, as well as assisting in facilitating the needs of employees who require continued special accommodations, should it be due to lack of childcare availability or vulnerable medical conditions.
Building a New Culture
COVID has silently shifted company cultures. Having to go remote overnight forced trust within more traditional environments, that their people will continue doing what they did in the office, at home and with flexible work schedules. Many are happily surprised and are now considering keeping their employees working from home, as operating with much lower overhead cost is becoming more and more attractive. Many leaders are now seeing that holding people accountable as professionals rather than looking over their shoulders is a much more effective practice that will not only ensure productivity but will increase engagement and result in building higher performing teams.
Ultimately, the role of HR leaders in this new post COVID era remains a challenging one, as they are required to balance between becoming champions of change, catalysts for reducing fears and increasing confidence in this new normal. All this, while ensuring that the employee experience remains optimal and the execution of business objectives remain uninterrupted.
About the author
Barbara Repandis is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Kelley Kronenberg, a multi-practice business law firm with more than 350 employees in 11 locations across Florida and the U.S. Ms. Repandis has more than 20 years of experience overseeing Human Resources and Administration, supporting organizational leadership and growth objectives. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.