These days, it’s impossible not to discuss the human resources space without at least mentioning the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has fundamentally upset the way most businesses operate. In so doing, it’s created a wealth of technological and policy challenges.
While many have found themselves scrambling to support a workforce that’s entirely remote, HR professionals who’ve been paying attention to market trends were uniquely-positioned to adjust to the shift. As far as distributed work is concerned, the writing has been on the wall for years. Particularly in larger organizations, full-time staff would frequently work side-by-side with contractors, and regular telecommuting was supported as a matter of course.
Jeanne Meister, a partner at HR advisory and research firm Future Workplace, put it rather succinctly in a recent editorial in Forbes:
“For the past decade, I have been writing and speaking about the disruptions in the way we work, learn, and communicate. The coronavirus is becoming the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime. How we work, exercise, shop, learn, communicate, and of course, where we work, will be changed forever.”
Citing a recent survey from her firm in which she surveyed 350 HR leaders in the U.S., Meister identified several major trends. I’ve detailed them below, along with my own insights into the matter.
Wider Acceptance of and More Investment into Distributed Work
Although predictions on what the world will look like by this time next year vary wildly, there seems to be one thing everyone can agree on: We are going to see a surge in remote work. It’s going to shift from an important perk offered by savvy organizations to a must-have.
Organizations that do not allow new hires to work either partially or entirely from home will be at a significant competitive disadvantage in this new market. Not only will they find it more difficult to attract top talent, but they’ll also have a much smaller talent pool from which to draw new hires. While other organizations will be capable of supporting a geographically-distributed staff, they’ll be stuck having to either hire locally or find people willing to relocate.
There are a few things you should consider enacting to prepare your organization for this kind of workforce.
First, work with your IT department or security team to establish acceptable use policies. How should corporate resources be accessed, secured, and stored? What sort of training programs are necessary in order to enable employees to securely and productively work from home? How can you provide employee training effectively to remote staff?
Second, redefine your organization’s idea of productivity. Many professionals in the HR space have long maintained that the 40-hour workweek is outdated at best, and actively harmful at worst. Time spent at the office or connected to a digital workplace is not an adequate member of an employee’s value.
Don’t concern yourself with when a particular employee works, or for how long. Instead, measure their success by what they get done, and the quality of their work. In that same vein, consider adjusting your workday, particularly if you plan on hiring overseas staff at any point.
While you will still need to find common times to host critical meetings and ensure people are available for collaborative projects, allowing your employees to each work on their own schedule can lead to exceptional results.
A Greater Focus on Employee Well-being
The stress and anxiety surrounding the pandemic has, if nothing else, thrown into stark focus the importance of employee health and wellness. As countless people have grappled with isolation and fear while working from home, intelligent leadership has instituted new policies and controls to help protect the mental health of their staff. This focus on worker well-being can and should continue for the foreseeable future.
You already know full well you cannot simply treat people as resources – this is simply an extension of that.
In the immediate future, you’ll want to draft up a remote work policy that pays mind to the pandemic. If you want an idea of how this looks in practice, the Canadian Federal Government has reportedly done an excellent job. According to one designer, it recently sent out the following email about working remotely:
Working Remotely —COVID-19 Principles
- You are not “working from home,” you are “at your home during a crisis, trying to work.”
- Your personal, physical, mental, and emotional health are far more important than anything else right now.
- You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
- You will be kind to yourself and not judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
- You will be kind to others and not judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.
- Your team’s success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.
You may want to draft something similar. Send it to all employees. Once the pandemic is over, revisit it and adjust. Be compassionate, understanding, and proactive in helping remote workers manage their physical and emotional well-being.
If possible, consider providing staff with a gym membership and access to psychiatric care as part of their benefits package.
Talent Management Will Never Be the Same
There is no denying that the coronavirus pandemic has had a severe and pronounced economic impact. Many businesses have already permanently shut their doors. Many more are unlikely to survive in the coming months.
This will inevitably lead to a shift in talent acquisition and onboarding. Today, many businesses still focus their hiring efforts on degrees and certifications. Faced with an uncertain job market and given the opportunity for large-scale digitization, organizations are very likely to focus more on skills-based hiring as they automate the more routine tasks in their workplace.
Economic hardship is not the only factor here, either. Many prominent institutions have, during the pandemic, made courses and resources freely available to the public. In so doing, they’ve demonstrated that provided someone has the necessary talent and skills, training them in a new position is simpler than one might expect.
Consequently, organizations will likely look to make lateral hires from within their workforce, implementing large-scale training programs to support internal mobility. Yours should do the same. Consider what skill sets are in the highest demand within your organization, and pursue partnerships with relevant educational institutions wherever possible.
The Market is Changing. Change with It
The world has experienced an unprecedented shift in recent months. However, it was not an unexpected one. The coronavirus, for all its challenges, only accelerated the trends that were already in motion.
That, more than anything, is why you need to pay attention to the global HR space – because otherwise, you may find yourself functionally trying to manage your department using yesterday’s strategies, and losing talent to more attuned organizations that have already adapted.