HR’s role is more critical now than ever as organizations navigate high-velocity change spurred by COVID-19. In the past, HR has held a transactional position and only interacted with members of the workforce as the need arose. But in a post-COVID future, HR will be much more integrated into the workforce experience at all levels.
This trend has been a long time coming. “COVID-19 can be seen as an accelerator of long-term mega-trends,” says the director of the HR Trend Institute, Tom Haak. “The pandemic has emphasized the important role HR can play.” Putting HR in a strategic position is a business imperative in a post-pandemic world.
Here’s how COVID-19 is changing the long-term forecast of human resources.
Implementing Digital Transformation
As we move further into the digital age, the cross-pollination between HR and IT will increase. The agile method is already gaining popularity in HR, and design thinking and prioritizing user (workforce) experience is also picking up steam. Ramping up the people analytics function will help HR serve the organization and the workforce strategically.
“Companies are going to be acquiring a lot of new data,” says Jeanne Meister, Managing Partner at Future Workplace Academy. Soon, she predicts wearable technology will be prevalent in the workplace for continued contact tracing.
People analytics is the future of HR, but be cautious when collecting and storing employee data. HR professionals function as the stewards of employee data, says University of California lecturer Heather Whiteman. During COVID, it’s common to share personal medical information to protect the workplace, Whiteman points out. But don’t let this become a gateway to employees waiving their data rights. As your HR function accelerates the use of people analytics, consider consulting with a data ethicist to ensure the protection of sensitive employee information.
Developing Policies for Long-Term Remote Work
Moving forward, HR professionals will need to navigate the role of remote work at their organization. Major companies like Facebook have already announced long-term plans for remote work. But that shift poses difficult questions regarding compensation and performance management, among other issues. HR will need to develop specific policies and infrastructures to support long-term remote work.
HR plays an essential role in facilitating a healthy work/life balance for employees, Whiteman says. For example, HR can put processes in place for managing workloads so workers know when they can log off for the day.
There is rising concern that remote work environments stifle innovation. HR will need to strike the right balance between remote work and in-person processes. “We’re going to see a hybrid return to the office,” Meister suggests. “You’ll work from home and go to the office for planned activities.”
Creating these agile organizational designs that can shift fluidly between remote and in-person processes will produce a more resilient workforce. “More flexible designs, with less control and more autonomy for employees, seem better able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances,” Haak says. HR is vital for developing this infrastructure as we move forward.
Creating Excellent Work Experiences
COVID-19 has emphasized the need to see workers as whole people, not just as in the context of their jobs. They are the greatest asset at any organization — and HR is responsible for their well-being. To optimize performance, organizations must first optimize workforce experience.
To understand what your workforce needs, apply consumer research tactics. “We’re used to operating as consumers in the outside market,” says Jess Von Bank, Head of Marketing at Leapgen and Global Community Leader for their Now of Work initiative. She suggests borrowing techniques from marketing to sell the experience to current and future workforce members.
To cover the full range of workforce experiences, HR will need to integrate with other departments — especially IT. “Technology decisions are also employee experience decisions, especially in a more remote workforce,” Whiteman points out. Creating positive workforce experiences is imperative and requires a strategy for moving forward. “If there’s not an overarching strategy, you’re never going to build a holistic employee experience,” Von Bank says.
In an uncertain environment, change is always on the horizon. “There’s no more static roadmap,” Von Bank says. In the post-pandemic future, HR will play a pivotal role in developing workforces and processes capable of withstanding rapid change.