2020 was a challenging year for human resources (HR) departments, from learning and implementing remote working overnight to managing productivity at the height of a raving pandemic. Against all odds, they proved their position as the backbone of the company. While 2021 is turning a corner and promises a better year concerning COVID-19, HR managers are staring at a steep hill. The knock-on effects of the Coronavirus pose new challenges to HR departments in 2021.
Response to the pandemic created a new normal in the work environment. While the sudden switch to remote work brought forth a few challenges, many companies embraced the changes. Some organisations implemented strategies and invested in infrastructure for remote working. Large organisations are embracing remote working as a long-term business structure. Gartner’s recent survey points out that 74% of CFOs have plans to permanently phase out working at the office and embrace remote work. Such changes have a significant impact on the HR departments and may introduce a few challenges.
Let us look at the anticipated HR challenges in 2021 and possible solutions.
1. Identifying Mental Health and Wellbeing Needs and Providing Support
The Coronavirus pandemic had devastating impacts on the mental and emotional wellbeing of many employees. The economic and social impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic doubled with growing uncertainty, driving some workers to depression. As 2021 begins and companies are resuming a business as usual routine, some employees will be struggling with mental health problems. Besides, with most of the workforce working from home, it will be hard or impossible to spot the signs of emotional problems.
In a traditional office setup, the HR department could quickly assess an employee’s mental wellbeing by observing their performance or interactions in the office and arrange for counselling. However, remote working limits interactions between employees and HR. Besides, the limited virtual resources pose difficulties in addressing mental issues. HR can boost emotional and physical wellbeing by training remote work managers on signs of burnout. Setting realistic goals and timelines also allow workers to take a break when needed. Regular communication on new policies or organisational changes also reduces uncertainty, anxiety and uplifts the employees’ morale and mood.
2. Managing a Hybrid Workforce
The shift to remote work was not a seamless process. Approximately less than 50% of organisations had remote working programmes, with some having non-existent remote work strategies and infrastructure. Luckily, many companies crossed that bridge and succeeded in establishing functional remote work structures. However, the shift created a new challenge to HR departments as the focus shifted to ensuring employee productivity and engagement. Now companies need new remote working policies and the right tools or HR software to gather real-time updates and offer support.
HR departments have to promote flexible working patterns without negatively affecting the company’s productivity. That means reviewing paid leave policies and vacation times to accommodate caring for loved ones with COVID-19, recovering from the virus and home-schooling. HR has to think about the possibility of increasing paid time off in 2021. Also, managing a remote workforce requires HR management software to keep track of productivity levels, manage payroll and generate the relevant decision-making data.
3. Difficulty in Implementing Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity
The recent widespread social justice protests prompted companies to take a stand in reviewing policies on diversity, equity and inclusion. Organisations are moving from promises to substantial efforts to improve diversity. For instance, many HR departments are taking a closer look at the recruitment process to remove unintentional bias. By digging into the existing data at all stages of employee experience, HR managers can address the existing issues in diversity.
Recent research into inclusivity and diversity shows the benefits of embracing the concept. For instance, companies with diverse teams exhibit agility and braver decision-making during difficult times. They are also innovative and can contribute positive changes to the organisation. Diverse views lead to a better understanding of consumer patterns and formulating strategies from the decisions. Organisations can leverage HR technology tools to build an inclusive workforce. For instance, behavioural assessment tests that use software can create an unbiased solution for recruiting new employees.
4. Remote On-Boarding
Coronavirus halted recruitment efforts in many organisations, with many companies only advertising pandemic-specific vacancies. However, as businesses resume their routine, they will hire new staff to fill gaps. With the changing work environment, on-boarding and hiring new employees can become challenging to HR teams. The traditional interview process will not cut it, and HR professionals will have to rethink how to vet potential employees and train them virtually. Besides, employers have to assure recruits that they will be safe in the work environment.
Since the on-boarding will be remote, it should be thorough in compensating for the lack of face-to-face training and walk-through of the facility and the business structure. New employees need comprehensive training on the remote working process, and the HR department has to pay close attention to ensure they feel welcome and part of the company.
Apart from new employees, HR managers also have to improve the skills of existing employees. Remotely building the skills and competencies of staff ensures the company continues an upward growth trajectory. Most of the training can be done remotely and will feature the latest technologies to ensure employees are conversant with the technological updates. The business world is very dynamic, and there is a shift in skill needs. Therefore, HR departments should stay up-to-date with upcoming skills. Encouraging peer learning can also bridge gaps created by the pandemic, encourage employee interactions and boost team spirit.
The complex challenges that the HR department is facing are reshaping HR functions for the better. They need to develop resilience and regularly review their HR plans and functions to ensure they are adaptable to the dynamic business world and promote employee productivity. Rethinking recruitment and embracing diversity can also promote resilience and ensure sustained success.