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Independence is our strength – covering the issues that directly impact on those with the duty of directing human resources

ISSUE 197 – Synopsis – MARCH

AI (continued adoption and impacts)
Whether HR and AI are compatible forces is open to conjecture and perspective. The Industrial Revolution saw machines supersede the poorest workers in the most hazardous jobs. With hindsight, that was a positive, but for the individuals impacted, the poor house was no substitute for a meagre income, however dangerous. History always repeats itself and now, in the grip of a pandemic that is accelerating change beyond our control, redundancies are amassing and, with many sectors under severe stress, the jobs market is weak. Now, AI and robotics are capable of superseding most of the human workforce output, are cheaper and represent less liability in the long-term – and with the added bonus of not being susceptible to catching and spreading viruses – the outcome seems inevitable. Emerging technologies, like 5G and AR, have the potential to revolutionise Human Resources, but this will only gain traction if HR and businesses look to the future, forget the past and explore new avenues for an HR/AI alliance, laying the foundation for the long-term with plans to optimise and align the qualities and strengths of both entities. Meanwhile, HR must discover its own adventure, by redesigning the HR digital experience, with new models that amplify the benefits. Urgently, the people management sector must stop being a passive audience and become a brave, active participant of transformation and build towards an era of collaboration.

Future of the office
What will we be after this pandemic? Minds are conflicted:  Some miss the workplace regime, the whirling, mishmash mayhem of the commute, the hectic workload and the rare and stolen moments of downtime. For others, normal was awful and they will vigorously challenge the drive to return to old ways, armed with anecdotal evidence that remote works. What will the future of the physical office look like? Will the same amount of space be required, in prime city hub locations? Clearly there are potentially huge cost savings to businesses, but what are the other unseen implications for the future of the employees without a physical focal point? Will the office be a place for collaboration hubs, where colleagues come to meet to be more productive? Will such a facility be used effectively and what are the pros and cons if we move this way? This is at the top of the HR agenda, as work is in revolutionary transition, a future reimagined to support a quasi/remote working framework, whilst continuing to maintain a COVID-safe environment for employees keeping the cogs of the business turning – as organisations react to constant change with fluid workforce scheduling – especially those in sectors that are either open of shut, depending on lockdowns and tiers. For all, this is a turmoil that even the best-prepared business continuity plans could not have envisioned. But this time has forced change that was a long time in the coming and represents an opportunity to build a future-ready framework for generations to come.

Engagement (Impacts of the pandemic and long-term furlough)
The long-term implications of the widescale dispersed and remote working population continue to be forged during these long winter months. The first lockdown represented a planned suspension of normality with the optimism of a determined return date. But the second lockdown came with more uncertainty, the potential for more delay and disruption and the collective shoulders slumped. Early reports were of remote workers adapting well, aligned with generally positive outcomes in performance and engagement, but this has palpably changed. For now there is emerging and worrying reports of the mental pressures of remote working, growing isolation and feelings of despair and exhaustion. Clearly, the traditional rules of engagement cannot reach the remote workforce in the longterm. It is worth remembering that engagement, performance and productivity were not in a good place before the pandemic and so it must be assumed that practically nothing from the past is applicable to the future. Clearly we need to reconfigure how we measure engagement, particularly as remote working looks set to stay in some shape of form going forward? So, in this issue, the burning question is, how can businesses redefine the rules of engagement to meet the rigours and challenges of the new normal? Does remote working present long-term sustainability or will we inevitably return to the more traditional conventions of engagement beyond the pandemic?

The changing relationship with work
There could not be a more rigorous test devised for employee/employer relationship resolve than the combined impacts of a pandemic, lockdown and remote working – not to mention the never-before-experienced limbo state imposed by furlough. This crisis has and will continue to change mindsets, motivations and perspectives and force a complete reconfiguration of the conventions of work. Change was in the wind pre-pandemic, with the rise of the gig economy and the empowerment of the workforce, but the pace was predictably slow. But now businesses are faced with the dual challenges of commercial and corporate redefinition and how to attract and recruit a dispersed talent-base, in the most sustainable, reliable, co-efficient and secure way, as the time-weary contentions of employment finally succumb to the impacts of continuous change. As with all our subjects this issue, we will be very grateful for your ideas for articles that explore, inform and bring insight to our senior HR readership.

As with all our subjects this issue, we welcome your expertise and insight in providing guidance to these challenging times.

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