September 14, 2022 | 4-minute read (781 words)
If asked to describe the duties of human resource teams before the pandemic, odds are that most would say HR professionals are expected to manage employees’ needs, such as benefits and payroll, and to ensure they follow company policies. Respondents might also mention recruiting, upskilling and professional development. A few might mention that HR departments are also tasked with planning resources and forecasting employment needs.
One factor that may have escaped mention was HR’s responsibility to ensure a safe workplace, but COVID-19 has thrust employee safety under the spotlight. And in today’s hybrid business models, many of which have lingered beyond the pandemic, designing workplaces that foster productivity yet that also address various physical and emotional requirements related to remote work has brought new complexity to HR.
The pandemic precipitated a mass movement of employees to remote work, and many prefer to keep that arrangement, or at least to have the option to work remotely a few days a week. That means HR teams are now tasked with providing employees with the necessary infrastructure to prevent disruption. In other words, HR’s role has expanded to include ensuring work continues regardless of employees’ remote location, which is more challenging than it may sound.
Ensuring employees’ health, safety
The pandemic has pushed personal health to the forefront for employees and employers. HR must work accordingly to ensure employees not only have access to benefits like health insurance, but that their external work environment is also conducive to performance.
Further, the isolating effects of the pandemic and the solitary nature of remote work have made employee burnout and mental health issues a central concern for HR teams. In response, HR professionals are introducing initiatives such as motivational speakers and wellness programs. Many have pivoted to offering benefits that prioritize employee well-being, such as enhanced mental health benefits and mental health days, in a bid to preserve productivity.
Training and development
A vast majority of HR professionals prefer to train existing employees versus acquiring new employees. Providing training to remote workers is now typically managed through an online performance management system. These platforms allow managers to identify areas that need improvement and to assign corresponding training programs, as well as to assess training outcomes.
The pace of training efforts is only likely to get faster, as 54% of all employees will need reskilling and upskilling to adapt to the changing work environment and the dramatic adoption of technology and automation, according to a 2020 report from the World Economic Forum. Increasingly, the role of HR managers is to empower digital workplaces and get their workforce future-ready to give businesses a competitive edge.
Maintaining equal opportunities
The expectation that businesses adopt diversity, equity and inclusion efforts also rose to the fore during the pandemic, with DEI initiatives now a prominent responsibility for HR teams. In particular, members of Generation Z seek employers with strong DEI policies. Providing employees with access to equal opportunities, increasing cultural awareness and ensuring pay parity are no longer a “nice to have” but a must have.
Rewards and recognition
Rewards and recognition programs too have been reshaped by the pandemic. New approaches have included sending personal thank-you notes that show appreciation for employees’ efforts, snack boxes, gym memberships and time off. Some HR teams have introduced compensation plans with variable pay aimed at motivating employees to deliver exceptional results.
Integrated HR management systems
An automated HR management system enables HR to increase the visibility of employees’ goals and track performance, as well as more mundane tasks such as track attendance. Increasingly, in the post-pandemic work setting HR managers rely on such platforms to give staff a transparent view of all HR-related processes, which they can view regardless of their location and all in one place.
Flexible work arrangements
In one CNN poll, 90% of employers said productivity had stayed the same or improved with employees working remotely. While similar polls have come up with conflicting figures as to employers’ satisfaction with remote work, many employees have come to expect such arrangements, with 54% of employees who responded to an EY study saying they’d consider leaving their job if not offered some flexibility in where and when they work. This has pushed HR professionals to design flexible work strategies with staying power, rather than temporary setups.
HR professionals are increasingly expected to devise more people-centric workplaces in the post-pandemic world. In addition to developing optimal remote work setups, HR teams are implementing solutions that acknowledge employee’s career aspirations and address their mental and physical health. There’s no question that designing such policies can continue to boost productivity as we move past the pandemic.