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What HR skills will we need for the future?

Julie Jones, Starford - Legal HR

As many organisations try to get back on their feet after the latest impact of COVID-19, HR professionals are under more pressure than ever to help leadership teams navigate the ever-changing landscape, prepare for potential further lockdowns, and provide key people-related strategies for their business.

Research claims that 71% of HR leaders believe 2020 was the most stressful year in their career as they were tasked with connecting a remote workforce, navigating the changing furlough rules, and making more of an impact with fewer resources, less time and less money.

With the stakes so high for the wellbeing of the workforce and the survival of many businesses, what does the future of HR look like?

Overwhelming Workloads = Increased Outsourcing
Many HR leaders are finding themselves steering their business through another furlough period with a significantly increased workload but a smaller HR team to help them manage each project and the usual cyclical processes. Small/medium sized companies who previously managed with an administrative member of the team picking up HR responsibilities are now struggling to ensure the appropriate people strategies are in place and that they can be implemented effectively.

HR teams are also overwhelmed by the volume of grievances, subject access requests or unfair dismissal claims coming from redundancy programmes. At Starford, we have seen a huge increase in requests for support in these areas even from big city law firms and other professional service firms who have their own in-house legal and HR teams.

These overwhelming workloads are leading to more and more organisations outsourcing the help they need from legal and HR consultancies, which means they can plug the gaps in their team and get support with the sheer volume of work the response to the pandemic has generated.

Outsourcing offers the ability to switch resources on and off like a tap, thereby reducing company overheads and giving teams more flexibility to deal with any increases in requirement, or, as was shown when the country goes into lockdown, the ability to stop an outsourced arrangement and immediately reduce that cost. 

Many of our experienced HR consultants and employment lawyers work with Starford’s clients in this way. We act as a flexible extension of the client’s team whenever they need advice on the whole spectrum of HR, people management and employment law, as well as support with implementation, but – crucially – clients have the flexibility to pause the retainer when needed.

Connecting a Remote Workforce
Despite the resistance to remote-working in some sectors prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, most companies are likely to review this policy and introduce more flexible working initiatives on a permanent basis given the ongoing uncertainty about working onsite. With remote working now a long-term reality, HR leaders need to consider which strategies to put in place to support the following:

  • New starters: How can you ensure they understand and become a part of an organisation’s unique culture if their only interaction with colleagues is virtual?
  • Learning and Development: How can people continue to progress and thrive when the natural learning or mentoring that takes place while physically in the office is suddenly removed?
  • Employee wellbeing: How can line managers spot changes in team morale and behaviour over a Zoom call? How can HR managers help employees dealing with the different challenges that working remotely during a pandemic can bring, such as juggling work with childcare or feeling isolated from others?

For those organisations who want to encourage employees back into the office post-lockdown, promises of free transport or free food won’t be enough. Employers need to remove any fear about being at work, perform updated risk assessments, and highlight safety measures that are being put in place. 

Bloomberg recently adopted an internal system that manages desk allocation according to social distancing requirements in each city and notifies employees if a desk move is required. In Vienna, myhive buildings are controlling turnstiles and elevators with smartphone applications, eliminating the need to touch anything unnecessarily. 

What HR skills will we need for the future?
Agility: This is a value close to our own heart at Starford. The events of the last year alone have shown many businesses the importance of facing a challenge head-on, being able to pivot quickly, and being unafraid to try new strategies to get the best results. Change can be difficult and slow to implement, particularly in large scale organisations, but HR leaders who embrace agility will find they can make significant and long lasting changes to business performance.

Tech-Savvy: HR leaders should not underestimate the need to be tech-savvy to improve workplace culture. While people remain at the heart of any business, we must accept that the workforce is becoming increasingly more virtual and dispersed. HR leaders must become more creative in how they adopt technology to analyse performance, communicate effectively, and keep employees engaged.

Proactive Thinking
Previously, many HR teams have been asked to develop strategies and policies in response to particular business needs, but we are seeing a real need for HR leaders to adopt a more proactive approach and consider how they can really impact and shape business strategy.  Some companies intend to tackle the post-lockdown return to the office head on,  by splitting the workforce into assigned teams and staggering the number of employees working together in the office on different days. Others are putting the spotlight on employee mental health by training up Wellbeing Ambassadors to keep in regular touch with the employees, spot early warning signs and offer proactive support. 

HR teams are dealing with increasingly demanding workloads and an overwhelming sense of responsibility right now, but we believe that with the right support HR leaders have a huge opportunity to plan for the future of the workforce and confidently lead their company to adopt new people strategies, and transform business performance over the long-term.

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