By: Caitlin Gibson
As most everyone focuses on surviving this incredibly surreal, staggeringly uncertain time, HR teams everywhere are attempting to do what many people can’t yet—imagine and plan for life post-pandemic.
From creating remote working policies where there weren’t any in March to crafting return-to-work plans and new safety protocols now, the role of HR has expanded immensely in the past few months. Formerly focused on administering benefits and driving strategic growth alongside company leaders, HR teams are now at the helm of their company’s crisis management efforts. So, how will these new responsibilities permanently expand the role of HR in the workplace? It all hinges on the needs of employees.
HR’s Expanded Role
From the start of the pandemic, HR teams have had to hone their organizational agility in order to keep up with the quick, unexpected changes to their workplaces—namely a massive transition to remote work. As the pandemic continues to make the future of many businesses uncertain, prioritizing and taking care of employees has become paramount. HR has always been responsible for this in some way, but that responsibility has taken on new meaning. Specifically, HR must now drive these key priorities:
Cultivating the wellbeing of employees
For millions, the pandemic has had a damaging effect on mental health, and it’s still unclear what the long-term effects of the pandemic will be on our wellbeing overall. That’s why the health and wellbeing of employees has become and will continue to be HR’s top priority. Although many companies already offer support through resources like employee assistance programs and wellness education campaigns, not all employees know about or utilize these services. It’ll be incumbent upon HR to boost their visibility through increased communications, and, when needed, add or expand certain offerings to ensure both employees and managers have access to the tools and resources they need to take care of themselves and effectively lead their teams.
Facilitating effective remote work
As it becomes increasingly clear that remote work is here to stay, HR will continue creating and refining the training, policies, and support offered to remote workers, like establishing a stipend designed to fund home office setups, all while managing cybersecurity, compliance, and risk. This work requires close collaboration with departments like Finance and IT to ensure everyone has what they need to successfully work remotely. What’s more, HR will be responsible for figuring out how to keep enterprises connected and company cultures strong in the absence of bustling offices and frequent, work-related travel.
Engaging employees through effective communication
One of the key communication challenges for HR over the past few months has been coordinating with leadership to reach and engage a diverse, distributed workforce. For example, although software like Zoom has enabled better communication among remote workers, it can be fatiguing, and frontline employees without access to computers in their work environment haven’t always been kept in the loop. That’s why it’s imperative that HR utilizes data-driven communication tools and software to better understand their employee population and enable more effective, personalized two-way communication with employees, no matter where they’re located or what their work environment looks like. change communications solutions, in particular, can be game-changers as they can readily show HR what is and isn’t working with their approach to communicating with a diverse workforce, so it can be iterated on and constantly improved.
Acting on existing commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion
Before the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the pandemic was already spotlighting very real systemic injustices, namely its disproportionate impact on communities of color. Moving forward, HR has to ensure companies offer more than lip service to their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s no longer enough to simply claim these commitments exist; HR has to take an active role in bringing them to life. That includes prioritizing the anti-racist education of employees, using tools like an unconscious bias communication journey, and amplifying historically marginalized voices, particularly in key decision-making processes. When companies take this work seriously, they’ll inevitably have to reckon with past shortcomings, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s an essential step because the only way to do better is to know where there’s room to grow.
Cultivate and nurture company culture
A company’s culture guides how people act and approach their work. Now that so many are working remotely without in-person leadership, coaching, and accountability, cultivating a strong, healthy culture is even more critical. It’s also crucial for companies that aren’t able to operate with remote work alone, particularly those that are now instituting new performance review processes and work models. HR can play a key role in strengthening and amplifying a great culture by improving internal communications, leveraging key employee engagement strategies, and equipping leaders with the skills they need to effectively coach and support their employees.
Staying on top of new legal responsibilities
With the expansion of remote work, HR has to ensure companies remain compliant with both existing policies and procedures, like those mandated by the ADA, FMLA, and Title VII, as well as newer legislation like the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Legal compliance has long remained a key priority of HR, but with how rapidly things are changing, it’s crucial that HR be especially vigilant about this as strategic decisions are made and long-term planning gets underway.
Building relationships with frontline employees
The pandemic has made it abundantly clear how essential frontline employees are, but, historically, HR has almost exclusively maintained strong relationships with company leaders, partly due to a lack of effective communication tools. Moving forward, it’s imperative that HR build meaningful working relationships with frontline employees to ensure they have everything they need to do their job well and be fully supported.
This is a lot of responsibility for one department. In order to adapt to their expanded role, HR is going to need ample support, patience, and input from across the enterprise. With it, they’ll be able to continue reimagining and constructing a post-pandemic workplace in which we can all thrive and not just survive.