The COVID-19 pandemic, possibly one of the biggest crises of the 21st century, caught nearly everyone completely off-guard. It led to a transition to full-time remote workforces in several nations, unprecedented layoffs and devastating economic uncertainty. However, if there is one thing this pandemic taught the corporate world, it is that swiftness in leadership, in policies and in technology need to be at the core of workplace culture in any business.
The crisis forced almost every company to urgently adapt, improve or develop remote work policies and procedures. And with offices moving to home, there has been a radical shift in how we continue to work and lead our lives. Fueled by artificial intelligence, mobile supercomputing and other smart technologies, we are already witnessing organizations innovating rapidly to cope with the uncertainties that lie ahead. Anticipating the need for emotional support and finding unique ways to connect with team members through virtual means instead of physical or team-based approaches have gained increased importance during these challenging times.
While there are endless questions when it comes to envisioning the future impact and the role of HR post-COVID-19, the bigger question is: How will this massive transformation impact you, your workplace, your team members and your business?
One thing is certain — COVID-19 and its lasting impact on businesses have called attention to the need for resilience and adaptability in today’s workforce, highlighted the importance of HR in the new normal and accelerated the shift toward a digital economy.
How HR Practices Might Evolve
At the beginning of the pandemic, company leaders and HR professionals were most likely hoping that the contingency measures that were being put in place would be temporary. However, the business world is looking like an extremely different place. Therefore, it’s important to take a long-term look at what HR management will look like in the future and how you can continue to support and engage your employees. Here are six things to consider:
1. Remote work will be a permanent feature for most companies: According to research by Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs, the number of remote workers in the U.S. increased 159 percent between 2005 and 2017, with a 44 percent growth rate in that time span.
However, that was just the beginning. Remote work is here to stay, most likely permanently. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing businesses and their employees to get comfortable with telecommuting — even those who have, in the past, maintained that their kind of work could not be done remotely. Fortunately, for most organizations, the technology needed for successful remote work is already available to employees.
The role of HR will become even more crucial when it comes to monitoring and maintaining employee morale. Therefore, it is time for HR professionals to put in place a formal process for checking in with remote employees to find out how they are dealing with the added stress during the pandemic.
That said, the culture of remote work will have to emerge from a place of trust toward employees. And when an organization already has a work culture grounded in trust and shared leadership, transitioning to remote work should be seamless.
2. There will be greater focus on training for remote workers: Remote working has already given rise to newer ways to train and learn online. According to Research and Markets, the e-learning market is expected to triple by 2025 to reach $325 billion. But this research was done before the pandemic hit — the estimate will likely increase as businesses will have to launch a radical transformation of corporate learning.
Business leaders are already looking for new and fun ways (including virtual reality, augmented reality and gamification) to create engaging experiences for their employees, while incorporating more for corporate learning. In 2018, Home Depot introduced a mobile app that leverages gamification strategies to help train new hires while they're on the job. Called PocketGuide, the app has product information and learning activities that reduce the need for traditional backroom training.
In 2016, Mursion partnered with Best Western Hotels to use virtual reality to train front desk clerks in problem-solving skills. As part of the training, each front desk employee participates in a couple of live virtual simulations with Mursion, wherein they interact with avatar-based characters that present challenging issues that mimic real-life customer scenarios.
3. There will be greater emphasis on employee mental health and wellbeing: Research says that 51 percent of HR professionals are anticipating an increase in mental health issues. The lockdown measures put in place have been challenging for many people — whether it was triggered by the prolonged months of uncertainty and isolation or battling the virus itself.
Rapid developments in digital technologies and the culture of remote work have blurred the lines between work and home lives. Thus, HR professionals will have to ramp up support and make sure that remote employees receive adequate help and attention. In order to boost health and wellbeing, they will need to help staff members create boundaries between work and personal time, as well as encourage them to understand that they are not bound to work beyond their contracted hours and should take up activities that keep them healthy and make them feel good.
4. Remote hiring practices will gain momentum: Even though the pandemic forced businesses to change their recruitment methods, it made HR professionals realize that remote hiring saves both them and the candidates time, energy and unnecessary expenditures. It also allows them to extend their recruitment reach instead of only looking for candidates locally.
Going forward, HR will likely incorporate remote approaches and platforms more prominently as part of their recruitment strategies. And if they need to hire someone for an in-office position, they may require that the new employee tests negative for COVID-19 before onboarding.
5. Employment contracts will likely include COVID-19-related clauses: One essential feature that’s likely to affect HR involves employment contracts. For instance, an organization might remove a clause that ensures the worker a certain number of hours per week to work, especially if the industry is expected to feel the effects of the coronavirus crisis for the foreseeable future.
Drug screenings are already routine at many organizations, and the same could become true for COVID-19 tests. Employment contracts may now also require employees to report their COVID-19 risk or to agree to get screened/tested. HR professionals and legal experts are working out the specifics of such contracts in light of the global health crisis. However, workers should expect to see some noticeable changes in their employment contracts soon.
One emerging trend that’s being observed concerning the construction sector is the addition of force majeure clauses related to the pandemic in contracts. These clauses cover natural and unavoidable disasters, preventing a party from carrying out a contract’s terms.
6. Businesses will show employee appreciation differently: Even though some people find working from home convenient to an extent, for most employees it can be an isolating and disorienting experience. Such changes require HR personnel to find other ways to engage employees and thank them for their hard work — three out of five employees believe employee recognition and appreciation are more important while working from home, according to research. This could mean having team-building exercises over virtual platforms or sending workers online gift cards.
What About Challenges?
In light of these expected changes, HR professionals are expected to face a number of challenges in the coming years. Some of these challenges are:
- Developing leaders of the future: In difficult times like these, leadership is extremely crucial in order to maintain employee morale and confidence. However, as the number of top performers goes up, business owners are facing the challenge of building the future leaders of their companies. The rising employee turnover rate is making it tough for recruiters to implement practices to strengthen employee engagement and help them stay longer.
- Attracting top talent: This is particularly true for small businesses, as post-COVID-19, there might be a general perception that working for bigger companies provides more security in unpredictable situations.
- Retaining and rewarding deserving employees: Many HR professionals are of the opinion that retaining talented and well-performing candidates will be a tough task in the next few years. In fact, it will be even tougher to recognize and reward the top performers as market competitiveness grows, requiring greater collaboration efforts in order to establish loyalty among employees.
- Managing crisis: Most companies did not have any crisis management plans in place when COVID-19 hit. However, having survived the repercussions of a shutdown, HR leaders are now facing the tough task of having to come up with contingency plans for a possibility of a second lockdown, or even another crisis in the future.
- Maintaining employee morale and wellbeing: This is one of the biggest challenges HR professionals are currently looking at, and will likely continue to face in the next few years. With remote work becoming the new norm, HR managers will have to come up with ways to restore the status quo, or risk a huge toll on the mental wellbeing of their staff members.
- Establishing a healthy corporate culture: Increasing demands of the market can make organizations work harder in order to grow, expand and sustain within volatile market scenarios. This directly or indirectly affects the company culture, as every employee is over-occupied with work, which may negatively affect the work culture in offices, posing a serious challenge for HR teams.
Also, the majority of companies fail to establish a clear and transparent culture at work, which affects employee morale and their dedication to work. In the future, removing communication barriers will help HR personnel attract and retain better candidates.
How Can Outsourcing Help?
The business world is vastly different today than it was a year ago, and most of that change can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has taught businesses many lessons, some good and some that haven’t been welcome. But one universal truth that’s permeated the industry has been that business owners are reviewing their business’ core operational processes, from spending to remote working arrangements. Inherent in these lessons is the realization that business owners must maintain a sharper-than-ever focus on lean operations, which means that for many companies, it’s the right time to outsource.
As companies try to scale down their full-time staff and find ways to save money while still spurring growth, outsourcing several functions is now more important than ever. While business owners focus on core revenue-generating responsibilities like sales, marketing or customer acquisition, an HR outsourcing firm can take care of the tasks that keep a business running smoothly.