The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually fade into the history books as the world returns to normalcy. However, it has already left its mark on the way we do business. In the not so distant future, the strategic role of human resources professionals in keeping remote workers informed, in touch, productive and engaged will be the focus of business degree case studies.
HR has been tasked to handle everything from troublesome technological hiccups and team-building, to sickness, low morale, and poor mental health. HR proved itself the go-to, unifying function in a crisis.
As lockdowns around the world are winding down, the task of HR managers is to remain trusted advisers to the C-suite, taking a lead on issues such as flexible working, sometimes in the face of pushback.
The pandemic has brought upon a new focus on coaching for HR departments. When lockdowns were put in place, we learned that the internal communications which can be a challenge during the best of times, can become even more chaotic when teams are geographically scattered. During such cases, the job of unifying them in common goals and behaviours becomes that much trickier.
HR’s unrivalled expertise in remote communication and productivity, honed in the COVID-19 crisis, should be shared through closer collaboration with line managers, says Dean Hunter, founder of HR consultancy Hunter Adams.
“Many HR teams still sit behind computers, guiding email traffic around much of the time. What’s required now is for the profession to move away from the personnel model to become more of a coaching function, developing and generally helping managers step up to become leaders. The opportunities for driving change on flexible and agile working, accessing a more widespread talent pool, raising manager capabilities and flexible performance frameworks all provide HR with opportunities to raise credibility and add value,” said Hunter.
While some leaders are already fully supportive of the strategic value of HR, other believe they themselves are the only true experts when it comes to motivating and engaging with their workforce.
Changing the views of the C-suite about the benefits of remote working or the strategic value of HR will require plenty of solid data, analytics, and an all-round understanding of business imperatives.
“If we can advise on aspects of HR that managers don’t understand, employment law for example, it encourages leaders to interact with the function and to partner with it; something we have seen clearly in COVID-19 as managers have looked to human resources to provide answers to a whole range of problems,” says Hunter.
Understanding how the business works, how it makes money, what the margins are and its operating performance are also essential if HR leaders are to add real value.
Making the argue for implementing remote-work options is another hurdle that HR will need to overcome. Despite a growing appetite for such options to comprise part of the standard contract, convincing leaders who are stuck on the old policies of presentation and micro-management will be no easy task.
Pointing out what the competition is doing to cater for changing workforce expectations is one way to move the cultural dial. There will be resistance as many of the old guard will be more comfortable with traditional practices and be resistant to more flexible options. However, the recent and successful immersion in mandatory home working will, he hopes, have softened attitudes.