By Lorraine Heber-Brause, Vice President & Global Head of People, NS1
Given the events of 2020, there has never been a more important time for companies to invest in the wellbeing of their staff and take a hard look at current and future talent needs. In a few short months three seismic events have collided to disrupt business as usual: a global health pandemic, a worldwide movement calling for social justice, and concerns about economic uncertainty on the horizon.
The recent sudden and massive shift to home working at scale means organisations have had to rethink their HR strategies fast. Dealing with the management of the remote workforce and keeping people engaged and productive is just part of the challenge. Supporting the health and wellbeing of employees as they navigate new working norms also represents another top priority.
For some organisations, this change has meant finding ways to engineer a wholesale shift to digital and distributed work models. For others, it has meant embracing new technologies like video conferencing and collaboration platforms or fostering an outcome-driven culture that empowers teams and ensures they have the resources to be efficient and effective in their work.
The path forward is two-fold: Evolve where needed and double down on the basics.
Evolve where needed – Reinventing the Art of Communication
In addition to ensuring that everyone has the right equipment and home office furnishings to work safely and appropriately, many organisations have quickly recognised the importance of supporting individuals in new ways: for instance, dealing with isolation and other additional stress factors created by the crisis. Whether that meant balancing work with home-schooling children, supporting elderly relatives, or dealing with the lack of in-person team bonding opportunities that somehow has had to be replicated in the virtual world.
Many have learned that leading virtual teams requires a different and structured approach. One that is centred on frequent communication routines to not only keep employees informed, but also establish and maintain a culture of trust while encouraging a collaborative approach to problem solving.
As lockdowns begin to ease, organisations are contemplating what the new normal will look like. Using learnings from the past months, they are identifying which practices, communication tools and processes will be critical to sustain and reinforce a successful and resilient workforce featuring employees who work virtually either full or part time.
Which means that HR considerations like talent development, recruitment and employee onboarding must also be reimagined to ensure the company continues to be fit for the future.
Double down on the basics
Even in light of this evolution in how we communicate, support and prioritise employees’ time, being great at the basics is becoming a more critical skill. What we are talking about here is solid leadership practices, from one-on-one meetings, to coaching, guiding and basic block and tackling to ensure employees can be successful under these unique circumstances. For 2021, I encourage all companies to think about how to get better at sharing/embracing feedback and recognition. If we get these fundamentals right, it can reinforce to employees that we care enough to be truthful and will recognise great work when we see it.
An addition to the basics is reinforcing the importance of a forward-looking culture – diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
The recent global health crisis has rewritten the social contract as far as employees are concerned. Which is why forward-thinking HR leaders must now focus on the need to redefine and reinvent the workplace in line with the evolving needs and expectations of the workforce. This can involve rebuilding the trust and loyalty of employees so they feel safe to return to normal office activities, providing greater flexibility in terms of how and where they can work, or creating new forms of employee care as part of company cultures and values.
With issues of diversity hitting the headlines this year, organisations can’t afford to miss a beat when it comes to leading with empathy or creating programmes that demonstrate their commitment to building back better.
Instead of feeling constrained by the current environment, our virtual new world has enabled us to tap into D&I efforts in a whole new way by broadening our reach to diverse candidates. We can now attract talent from more countries and more diverse backgrounds than ever before.
Companies have long paid lip service to issues like diversity and inclusion (D&I), despite the fact that numerous studies show that organisations that adopt D&I practices see huge gains in the form of improved business results, innovation, and decision-making. If there was ever a time to review D&I priorities and have open and transparent conversations about the inclusivity of people from every demographic, regardless of their age or gender, then this is the moment.
Fortunately, the recent mass shift to the digital workplace has opened significant talent mobility opportunities for organisations to tap into. With talent in short supply in certain roles, especially in fields like engineering, data analytics and IT, organisations that want to create a distinctive employer brand will need to rethink their recruitment practices and tap into this expanded supply of talent.
Alongside rethinking recruitment practices, HR leaders should not only lead the fray on the design and implementation of development and succession programmes for people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. They should also be focused on initiating D&I assessment programmes that drive behavioural change and out-of-the-box thinking across the enterprise, challenging senior leaders to go beyond simply considering Millennials, Gen Z, or people with a certain educational background for a variety of roles.
The pandemic has served to press the fast forward button on digitalisation trends. As companies reimagine their operations for the next normal, preparing employees for the future of work is a priority, whether that’s upskilling them to handle their current roles, or reskilling them for different or new roles.
Tackling the skills issue is not easy. According to research from McKinsey, organisations have identified some key barriers to success, including an inability to quantify the impact future automation would have on skills requirements and difficulties in executing a new strategy designed to address emerging skills gaps.
In a world where competitive advantage depends on digital innovation, the HR organisation is becoming a key driver of digital transformation and workforce redesign. Responsible for delivering predictive change analytics and insights that can help direct and evolve organisations, HR must guide the transformation process forward without impacting workforce morale, engagement or productivity.
Looking ahead with confidence
The events of 2020 have accelerated business change and uncertainty, requiring a stream of communication between managers and staff to gather feedback, deliver updates, and ensure a level of transparency that facilitates trust. Now, more than ever, we need to approach people with empathy, adjusting goals as needed, engaging in more frequent one-to-one discussions, and enabling feedback loops that articulate the impact that employees and teams have on customers—and the company as a whole.
Thriving and surviving depends on creating opportunities for employees to work towards shared goals, developing performance metrics that are relevant to the realities of today’s world of work (keeping the bar high), and building the workforce skills that will benefit both the individual employee—and the business—for the long term.