No one saw it coming—including human resource professionals. In just a matter of months, COVID-19 has completely altered the workplace dynamic. Faced with shutdowns, furloughs, changes in demand and even the possibility of becoming irrelevant, companies quickly had to make adjustments in how they conducted business and managed their employees.
How can HR best help their employees through this crisis? What changes can, and should, be made in the workplace? Which of these adjustments will prove to be temporary and which ones will be part of the new normal? Here are five important ways human resource professionals can help their companies and employees navigate through these turbulent times.
1. Make the Most of Working Remotely
While some companies were able to make the adjustment to having employees work from home, others struggled through the transition. Innovative and forward-thinking companies were able to adjust rather quickly, minimizing downtime and maximizing productivity. The pandemic demonstrated just how volatile the workplace, markets and supply chains can be, with even the smallest of snags potentially unraveling years of building market share.
Companies who are still uncomfortable or unprepared for remote operations should take steps toward that direction. Establishing policies and employee task lists during emergency remote mandates will help companies prepare for similar situations in the future. Here are some critical considerations:
- What tasks and positions are best suited for working remotely?
- Will employees be allowed to use their own devices or only company provided devices?
- What security concerns for working remotely should be explored?
- What’s top-level management’s input for expectations and policies for team members working remotely?
Keep in mind, working remotely brings a number of challenges to the workplace. Many of these have been addressed in a timely article from the Harvard Business Review.
2. Protect the Workplace
Human resource professionals play a vital role in not only creating policies to maintain a safe workplace, but in making sure the workplace is safe to return to following a pandemic. Creating and implementing policies for sick employees is extremely important during outbreaks like COVID-19. Policies and procedures should be clearly stated and carefully monitored. Workplace policies could include:
- Wearing face mask
- Hand washing and sanitizing
- Managing, tracking employee temperatures
- Reviewing sick days
- A response plan for employees who test positive for COVID-19
- Social distancing guidelines
- Accommodations for those who may have compromised immunity
3. Be Flexible in Employee Performance Reviews
Human resource professionals can take the lead in encouraging flexibility in performance reviews during periods when a large amount of employees may be working remotely. This can be a stressful time when employee morale could use a boost and communications from the “office” are more important than ever. According to Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education online professor and human resources professional Craig Nathanson, Ph.D., "this is the time more than ever before to focus on well being and the whole human. This includes the physical, psychological, safety, and financial concerns of employees." Considerations may have to be made to accommodate children who may be at home and HR pros can help in scheduling reviews for times that accommodate both workers and supervisors.
This is also an excellent opportunity for HR departments to reach out to employees proactively looking for issues that may need to be addressed. And it’s a superb time to build bonds and improve trust between employees and the Human Resources department, even as we begin to think about what the new normal will look like for businesses in the future. "It is now time to place even more emphasis on virtual teams as we re-think the physical office."
4. Communicate Helpful Resources
Obviously, Human Resources can act as the conduit for employee benefits during a pandemic. But it can also serve as a resource for other benefits, as well. HR can help serve as a general resource hub, providing working and even furloughed employees insight and information on a variety of local or government assistance programs. This is a step above and beyond that demonstrates the commitment a company has for their employees and their well-being.
Once again, a vibrant, innovative and involved HR manager can help facilitate video meetings to maintain good communications with employees and recent employees on the future outlook and health of the organization. "The number one indicator now for HR to measure is the amount of joy that people have in their work," Nathanson adds. "The new generation of workers are asking, how will this job provide meaning for me?"
5. Establish a Safe Plan to Return to the Office
While some companies will choose to make remote working a part of their permanent workplace environment, others will return all or a significant amount of workers back to the office. Human resource professionals can play a significant role in making sure this transition is conducted safely and efficiently.
Plans should be in place to ensure returning workers are in good health. HR professionals should play a role in making sure there is appropriate signage regarding social distancing, hand sanitizing and the wearing of masks. They should be prepared to update employees on their use of personal and/or sick days through the pandemic and what personal time may remain.
In instances where working remotely was intended to be a temporary solution but will actually transition into a permanent solution, policies and expectations should reflect those changes. Perhaps most importantly, employees should know they have access to HR for their questions and concerns.
COVID-19 has provided speed bumps and roadblocks in all areas of life, particularly in the workplace. It has presented challenges and has created opportunities. It has prompted creativity and promoted innovation. For HR professionals, it is an opportunity to shine.
A career in human resources can be rewarding especially for those who decide to maximize their experience with an education. If you’re interested in moving your HR career forward, earn your MBA - Human Resource Management or master’s degree in Human Resource Management at Johnson & Wales University. For more information, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].