• Ben Leeson

Embracing the shift to remote working -Adapting and changing the face of HR.

The last year has presented the HR industry with many unprecedented challenges. Managing the safety concerns of employees and adjusting to a remote working environment became top priorities in 2020. HR leaders are now actively exploring what potential challenges lie ahead this year.

Remote working and hybrid work were trending terms of 2020 and are likely to continue throughout this year. According to Gartner HR, even as the pandemic subsides, many employers will unlikely plan for their workforce to return to the office on a full-time basis. For this transition towards a hybrid working model to successful, HR leaders will need to focus on their strategies now.

Many HR leaders proved to be relatively successful in responding quickly to the shift towards remote and hybrid working environments. The ability to make this transition was down to several crucial movements: businesses focused on accelerating data collection and analysis, enabling them to gain further insights into their employee's behaviours and feelings. Businesses then reshaped their strategies and incorporated high-value areas such as wellness, inclusion, performance and benefits.

HR teams incorporated flexible measures into their operational procedures, enabling more flexibility and support to hybrid and remote workforces. Many employers are focused on dedicating their efforts towards employing a hybrid workforce for the long term. To enable progress in a hybrid working environment requires businesses looking beyond this as a temporary solution, and view this as an opportunity. HR leaders need to focus on collaboration and communication concerning individual roles and goals and delivering trust. In the end, the core focus is performance, not productivity.

This year we are likely to continue to see an evolution in the relationship between employers and employees, driven predominantly by the impacts of the pandemic and other issues concerning diversity and inclusion. Industry leaders anticipate a shift from managing the employee experience, to a broader focus on the overall employee life experience. In current times, business leaders are well aware of the complexities their employees have when working remotely. The businesses that show active support for employees in their personal lives will improve their own experience and at the same time, generate higher levels of performance. This year is likely to be one where employers ramp up their efforts towards supporting mental health, financial health and factors of wellbeing and package them into a more accepted benefit plan offered by businesses.

While remote working has become widely accepted through 2020, the next stage of flexibility will focus on which hours employees work. During 2021, industry analysts believe there will be a growing trend of new jobs that maynot necessarily come with an agreed-upon set of hours to work and instead will focus on a list of achievable outputs.

A recent study by the Cognizant Centre for Future of Work and Future Workplace presents 21 HR jobs of the future. The pandemic has stimulated significant changes in the types of jobs available, on how we work and where we work. The HR industry will need to be prepared to adapt to meet the requirements of a new workforce created by the impacts of the pandemic and advancements in technology.

The HR industry hasn't experienced the same change, as seen in other sectors, such as sales and marketing, which have embraced and invested heavily in innovative technology. The last year represents a defining moment for the HR industry and an opportunity for HR to expand its potential impact in a business. To utilise these possibilities requires flexibility and the willingness to adapt HR techniques to meet the changing needs of employees and maintain a close link to the best talent available.

The pandemic indicated that some HR teams struggled to manage such a rapid transition to a remote working environment. With many businesses deciding to close up, employees had no choice but to work remotely. While numerous success stories are emerging with remote work, HR will need to continue evolving to meet employee requirements and expectations for the long term. These changes could involve creating new roles that specifically facilitate remote working or driving further development of data or AI to enhance the existing functions of HR.

Wellbeing in the workplace

Employee wellbeing has been a recurring theme over the last year or so. The pandemic has had a significant impact on employment and showed wellbeing programs were not capable of meeting the needs and expectations of all.

Studies from the insurance provider, Hooray, suggest that only 30% of respondents were satisfied with their employer wellbeing plans. Further reports indicate that HR have recognised the issues of employee wellbeing for some time. A study by PayFit, before the pandemic, found that nearly 40% of HR professionals thought employee wellbeing represented their biggest challenge. Approximately half of the respondents believed wellbeing had the most impact on business success.

While the findings show HR are fully aware of the challenges with wellbeing, it also suggests that HR teams have been unable to transform or evolve their services to meet the specific needs of employee wellbeing. For many years, employee benefits focused on rewards, financial incentives or social activities. In a post-pandemic world, where working in offices and collaborating with others has declined has resulted in a shift in these benefits towards wellbeing and ways employers can support their team beyond their working lives.

Wellbeing programs have evolved beyond standard employer offerings to focus on empowering the individual. There is a continued drive to raise awareness on wellbeing and gain further recognition of how critical it is in the working environment. Studies suggest a clear correlation between wellbeing programmes and increase employee productivity and retention. With millions of working days lost every year because of mental health issues, wellbeing should become a vital element of HR and business leader strategies.

Retaining Talent

Whether it is remote working, job security or health and wellbeing, the last year has created new challenges and employee trends which HR leaders must follow to retain talent.

In the last year, there has been a rising demand for services that provide clear benefits to their employees. Businesses need to be sure that their employee programs meet the needs and requirements of their workforce. Having a clear understanding of these needs is essential and typically requires utilising employee information to make the necessary changes to their business.

The challenge for HR is that many teams lack the resources to understand and act on employee trends that drive the necessary business change. Employee expectation has risen recently, and will likely remain high. HR leaders need to be capable of adapting and evolving to meet the needs of their employees. It doesn't necessarily have to involve a radical transformation of HR. Businesses can explore their internal teams and utilise individuals with selected skills or explore working with an external provider. Implementing these measures in HR could generate significant results in terms of employee productivity, retention and wellbeing.

HR teams are core to a business, the connection between senior leaders and employees and the driving influence in developing business values and culture. Business leaders should view the pandemic as a chance to restructure and transform their HR focus and ensure we are ready to face the challenges today and in the future.

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