When you ask many executives to define disruption most will quickly begin to speak about how the pandemic of 2020 forced their organisation to fast track their long-term digital and transformational objectives, leapfrogging 3-5 years in 6 months, which was a major tipping point. For some, 2020 is the year of the pandemic, for others 2020 was an opportunity and viewed as the year of digital transformation.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but COVID was the accelerant of change. Pre-pandemic, the concept of 80% of workers globally not being in the office would have seemed impossible for daily business function. Organisations scrambled to pull together protocols, policies, processes, information, infrastructure, and most importantly people information.
Likewise, employees were no better prepared either. None of us imagined transforming our bedrooms, kitchens or even closets into makeshift offices. Parents and caregivers had to juggle children, home school, elderly parents, and work – many without adequate bandwidth and connectivity in the early days.
It’s easy to look back and dismiss the steep learning curve of adjustment. But with such jarring change, how exactly did organisations maintain productivity and profitability, preserve culture, and uphold engagement and inclusivity levels among their employees? What worked and what didn’t?
It’s an important question because like almost everything else, the process of going through change, changed the process as well as the outcomes. In other words, HR evolved - quickly and significantly right before our eyes. What’s perhaps less obvious is that it continues to do so.
5 Lessons Learned - Technology, Support, Health, Communication and Empathy
1. Video Intrusion & Fatigue
In the early days, employers felt that if employees could see each other, it would create the sense of personal connection. While web conferencing is a great practice, it did create a large amount of “video fatigue”. Initially it was not only too frequent, it was also intrusive. It opened the door to an individual’s personal life, with colleagues seeing into people’s bedrooms or homes.
2. Collective, Collaborative Support
Many organisations started employee groups and forums to support discussions and ideas for both work personal interests. Many employees found these groups highly successful. It created connections that perhaps would have never been made, but also started to break down hierarchy barriers. Previously, senior leaders typically didn’t engage with associates on like topics/interests. Many of these groups and forums have shifted to meeting in person as the restrictions began to lift.
3. Holistic Employee Health As A Priority
We also saw huge change and focus on health and wellbeing with more flexible working. Many organisations changed their policies to from the number of hours to productivity, which gave employees the freedom to manage their personal family needs without worrying about clocking in /out and allowed the employee to work per availability based on specific performance or production metrics. We saw more organisations push out new programs focused on both mental and physical health to include online programs focused on meditation, yoga, etc. and greater stipends or full reimbursement to health clubs and gym memberships.
4. Rethinking Employee Communication
Company communication also became a bit of a challenge. Organisations needed to find ways to communicate more effectively with their employees. Email traffic had already doubled if not tripled due to the loss of personal connections and global, regional, and team communications were losing their effect. Many organisations started to reinvent the use of social platforms, communities, and groups to provide two-way communication, Q/A, and feedback. In many of these forums we saw an increase in the use of chat, polls, etc. which also led to an increase in transparency and open dialogue among employees and leaders.
5. Continuous Coaching & Empathy
Without being able to walk down the hall or go check on an employee in their cubicle, the focus on continuous conversations and coaching with empathy became more important than ever for managing and tracking employee performance. This went hand in hand with learning and development. Organisations not only needed be able demonstrate certain learning requirements were achieved, but employees were getting burnt out or ready for their next role. Managers and the organisation needed to put a greater emphasis on employee development and tracking. Many employees were starting to use non corporate forms of learning like LinkedIn learning and others, but unless the employee were to track these development areas, there was never a record.
While meta trends, such as hybrid working, mobility, holistic well-being and employee experience shaped HR’s focus in 2020 and throughout 2021, 2022 has a more focused lens.
Hybrid has moved from contingency to certainty, deskless workers want more flexibility in their role based on their unique circumstances, while performance reviews are being redesigned to mitigate proximity bias.
Likewise, we’re seeing a shift in organisational focus in 2022 as organisations become more purpose-driven around sustainability, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, as well as an emphasis on culture change, data privacy and indivudalising employee experiences.
If you’d like to better understand how HR is continuing to evolve post-pandemic, you can read what 2022 has in store in the latest whitepaper, “The Evolution of HR: Where Current Trends Are Heading and How to Address Them”, which you can download here.