2020 spoke loud and clear with the coronavirus affecting every business around the world. Human Resources departments being on the frontline of change have been fighting a hard battle that is yet to be won as the world enters the new year.
From staying in lockdowns and handling business remotely to endless Zoom-meetings, HR managers continue maneuvering what is to be called the new normal.
Top 5 HR challenges in 2020 & How to best deal with them
Along with the reality of the unknown, the coronavirus has brought a lot of challenges in how businesses are operated. How were HR teams able to survive under the new circumstances? By introducing new working strategies for units within companies. Let’s review the most pressing HR challenges and solutions to them.
#1 Challenge: Change management and organizational design
The beginning of the pandemic showed that not all organizations could respond to changes quickly due to the lack of flexibility in business processes designed and operated for many years. According to Gartner HR Priorities report, 37% of HR leaders responded that their managers were not equipped to lead change, 36% of respondents said that employees were tired from all the change and 28% of HR leaders said their C-level managers were not equipped to sustain change.
Adopting virtual culture, policies, procedures and strategies was the main sudden roadblock for HR. They had to implement new processes and business models, at the same time trying to mitigate negative consequences.
#1 Remedy: Have a clear vision of change, define a strategy and implement it
In times of crisis, HR needs to team up with the company executives to define and implement a strategy for managing change. Experts at Gallup outlined 7 principles to help company leaders make the process effective and successful. These principles include:
- articulating the vision for change;
- involving the right people;
- communicating the right information at the right time;
- accounting for resistance to change;
- celebrating short-term wins without declaring premature victory;
- effectively anchoring the change to the organization;
- planning for change to be "the only constant”.
How did Amazon cope with change management?
If there’s one company that knows how to cope with change, that’s Amazon. When the coronavirus started, the Internet giant focused on several major parts of its business: employees, customers, business operations, community. In their blog, the Amazon team openly shares their strategy to deal with the pandemic: from introducing new safety measures and benefits for employees to providing guidelines on deliveries and other interactions with customers. The company also continues to give back to the community by supporting schools, hospitals and those in need.
#2 Challenge: Transition to remote work
Lockdowns and limitations forced companies to reconsider work from the office and switch to a fully remote or hybrid work mode. Sykes survey report on work at home during Covid-19 shows that over 86 % of respondents stated their companies were able to transfer within one week. 42% of those respondents were able to make the switch within 24 hours of their announcements.
However, despite the speed of transitioning into a new work mode, the seamlessness was not as high. According to the same report, on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being “poor” and 5 being “perfect,” the respondents’ experience of a seamless transition fell in the middle. It turned out that for many companies remote work processes were still a work in progress rather than an expected common practice.
#2 Remedy: Having a well-communicated transitioning plan
Switching to remote work means dealing with a lot of operational issues including online tools, virtual onboarding and best HR software. Make the most of technology and use tools like Slack, Toggl, Trello, Jira, Asana, Zoom. It will help employees to perform their regular duties better. Proper communication from the leadership and HR teams also plays a crucial role at keeping teams engaged, informed, and managed throughout the pandemic.
How did Twitter handle remote work transition?
Twitter was one of the first to announce the switch to a work-from-home mode in March 2020. Even for such a big company, it was a bold move that required working in a quick and organized manner. In their blog post, the team shared a few aspects they paid attention to, for example, detailed company collaboration guidelines, equipping employees’ homes with necessary tools, and ensuring additional help for workers with kids. Taking these measures allows to keep business afloat when the crisis strikes out.
#3 Challenge: Maintaining company culture
A shift to remote or hybrid work impacted the ways company culture was perceived and maintained by employees. HR teams had to figure out how the introduction of new policies and processes would not only ensure efficient work for all divisions but also stay in line with the company values and beliefs.
#3 Remedy: Reinventing company culture through virtual engagements
Much like regular working processes, company culture ventured into a new journey of virtual events. With the help of HR teams, companies were able to transform business and team-building meetings into fascinating online engagements. For example, regular workshops turned into online panels with software tools instead of regular stands and whiteboards. Online coffee breaks made their way into daily routines. Even team buildings were all managed through the world of communication software and a few applications for game nights.
How did Slack maintain company culture remotely?
For Slack, maintaining company culture remotely was a long-distance relationship in a need of great support. The first step was to gather all usual activities and planned events and digitize as many of them as possible. As a result, the process of telecommuting resembled a normal working day! Slack team members were involved in regular check-ins, coffee breaks and fun games like “Guess who” or “Through the Keyhole”. It is also worth mentioning that the leadership team played a crucial role in supporting the employees by having discussions, sharing plans and updates and providing transparency for the team.
#4 Challenge: Onboarding new talent
The beginning of the pandemic influenced recruiting and onboarding in companies. With the process being much of real-time human interaction, HR had to reinvent the whole procedure on a whim. It was done by digitizing the majority of its parts, by choosing the right HR software and understanding the way to provide guidance and support from senior team members.
#4 Remedy: Introducing a digitalized routine for onboarding newbies
The process of onboarding new employees in companies did change as well from hours-long real-life interactions to a fully planned online experience. Newcomers are now presented with access to the company online portal with policies and rules. Daily video meetings are there to ensure a bit of much needed personal communication. HR teams started sending out branded company stuff to new employees’ home addresses to make the newcomers feel even more welcome.
What was the LinkedIn’s approach to onboarding new talent?
When LinkedIn switched to remote work in March, the company had to make adjustments in many processes including onboarding. Kelly Chuck, a learning partner at LinkedIn turned a one-day onboarding program into a 5-day virtual engagement. It includes numerous engagements, such as regular check-ins, Q&A sessions with different company experts, a call with a LinkedIn executive and even a scavenger hunt within the company's online resources. The reason behind the change was to provide new employees with flexibility and a new working environment to adapt to work from home.
#5 Challenge: Employee learning and reskilling
New circumstances required proper learning processes and employees’ reskilling. According to a Gartner survey, 36% of HR leaders do not know what skill gaps their employees currently have, 33% of HR leaders do not integrate learning into employee workflows and 31% of respondents are not able to create skill development solutions fast enough to meet evolving skill needs.
#5 Remedy: Start reskilling now to win big when the crisis is over
Businesses won’t be able to flourish once the coronavirus is no longer a threat unless they start taking action now. HR needs to work closely with company leaders to identify employees’ skill gaps, adapt existing resources to create new learning programs quickly, and reach out to new HR management software which will ensure distribution and application of these programs within companies.
McKinsey & Company suggests 6 steps to plan and execute the reskilling strategy:
- identifying key skills crucial for the company recovery;
- creating a skill set to help employees be resilient to change;
- introducing tailored learning programs aimed at covering crucial skill gaps;
- getting started with reskilling, testing and iterating;
- being agile in the process.
How did L’Oreal take on employee learning?
Before the coronavirus, L’Oreal would hold 90% of employee training offline. When the pandemic struck, things needed to change. The company shifted its focus online by providing the employees with learning modules and webinars with industry experts through a Learning Management System (LMS). L’Oreal is now working on implementing online classrooms as a part of a blended learning program.
What should HR focus on in 2021?
This past year has marked only the beginning of organizational transformations. A number of initial issues HR teams are learning to tackle will be burdened by new emerging challenges. Here are three directions HR will focus on in the year to come.
1. Monitoring mental health and well-being
The fear of the virus, information overdose, isolation, possible financial losses, distractions in home offices keep pressuring employees as they navigate their lives through uncertainty. Mental health should be the topic talked about and normalized in companies. In 2021, HR teams will need to continue monitoring mental health among workers by constantly keeping in touch and ensuring a safe space for employees to be heard and helped.
2. Boosting employee engagement
According to the study done by ADP Research Institute, 84% of employees do not feel fully engaged at work. With much of this past year spent in and out of video meetings, coworkers will continue showing disinterest in supporting any company ambition and goals unless they are a part of the global discussion. In 2021, HR teams will need to facilitate a more frequent exchange of information between managers and employees about insights, implemented strategies, and results providing workers with opportunities to voice their opinions on company processes.
3. Data-driven strategies
For HR, any new talent management initiatives need to be based on data. In 2021 it’s vital to follow HR technology trends, thus helping human resources managers to conduct analysis of the collected information to see the correlation between different metrics, predict any changes in the workforce and introduce solutions that will ensure quality employee experience in a time of crisis.
We need to understand that the pandemic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and change will always be the constant in 2021 and beyond. The good news is we already know how to transform HR challenges into working strategies. Let’s use this experience to build successful and sustainable companies and cultures around the world.