Employment, telecommuting, team bonding... how do HR departments see the end of the COVID-19 crisis?
In its research, 451 Research had already noted that 45% of non-HR respondents listed the ability to work remotely as the work change that had the most positive impact on them over the past year.
However, less attention has been paid to the potential impacts this shift will have on the business functions that serve these employees – HR being at the forefront of managing this shift.
451 Research, a technology industry research firm, revisited these changes in its study, "The Future of HR - Preparing for a New World of Distributed Work," conducted on behalf of Oyster.
In the framework of this consultation, the authors interviewed more than 500 HR decision-makers between 2020 and 2021.
PRIORITIES CHANGED BY THE CRISIS
The year 2020 has brought its share of challenges for companies.
The mass adoption of remote and distributed work options has had more profound implications for how HR operates, and HR teams have had to shift their priorities to accommodate.
Maintaining compliance (e.g., workplace safety, labour standards, employee data privacy/security, anti-discrimination) in the new normal has been HR's biggest priority shift in light of COVID-19 according to 46% of respondents, followed by placing a stronger focus on supporting remote work, at 43%. Distributed work is here to stay, and it will have a significant impact on HR across its roles, responsibilities and processes.
To understand better where distributed work will impact HR the hardest, we must first track HR's core identity and what it views as its critical roles.
While delivering compensation and benefits has historically topped the list of HR's core responsibilities, recruiting, onboarding and developing the best talent emerged as the leading role for HR following the COVID-19 pandemic and the events of 2020.
It's clear that HR will not only have to help employees manage the transition to distributed work, but HR teams will also have to manage the impact that distributed work models have on their core processes and procedures as they examine their priorities.
For starters, this will impact the tech stack and recruitment processes.
The top change HR respondents anticipate in their organization is more full-time hiring at 42%, which is double the percentage of respondents who cited a stronger investment in remote work (21%).
When asked what features they would like to see added to their recruitment vendor's offering, 47% of HR respondents (top response) to the "Employee Lifecycle and HR" survey said the ability to support internal and external recruitment.
The shift to more distributed work means employers can look for talent in more locations. If they do, their approach to talent acquisition has to evolve, and the hiring and payrolling of geo-diverse employees needs to level up.
The second most cited missing feature was the ability to conduct video interviews – a practical addition that fits in with the distributed work paradigm. These are necessities for supporting a renewed investment in recruitment underpinned by the support of distributed work.
Another practical change in the talent acquisition space will be the digitization of employee contracting and negotiation processes. Document management has long been part of the HR toolkit. Still, HR will also need digital document execution tools (e.g., e-signature) to adapt these critical processes to an increasingly distributed workforce.
Once the candidate is in the pipeline, HR must also consider currency conversion rates and cross-border tax challenges among widely distributed workforces. When embracing a geographically diverse workforce, HR must keep these new considerations in mind.
When considering investing in tools and adopting an onboarding, training and development approach, HR personnel must also anticipate a potential lack of visibility or communication friction when interacting with dispersed workers.
As a result of these disruptions, HR has become a key stakeholder in the evolution of the work experience. For example, nearly half (48%) of respondents to the "Voice of the Enterprise: Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Employee Lifecycle & HR 2021" study said they were thinking more about flexible work, while 43% said they were focusing more on supporting distributed work.
HR respondents have already cited employee engagement as the HR function most in need of improvement. Moreover, this need for improvement may continue to grow as HR seeks to understand the impact of distributed work on employee sentiment (good or bad).
This, of course, translates into HR needing to broaden the focus of its benefits delivery model to include benefits that are conducive to optimizing distributed work (e.g., voluntary childcare benefits or emotional health and wellness initiatives).
Ultimately, a permanent shift in support for distributed work models will have a significant impact on the core responsibilities of the HR function; leaders must reimagine the work environment and how it supports both employees who work remotely and the business functions they serve.
These changes will be felt across HR's processes and tech stack, but nowhere will they be felt more heavily than in talent acquisition and recruitment departments.
As HR evolves to serve the future of work and support the distributed and hybrid workforce, it must also reexamine its key collaboration partners within the company.
HR is typically viewed as the primary architect of the employee experience, but it's critical to understand what other functions play a role.
The world of work is an increasingly digital environment, so it's not surprising that IT departments are often seen as the secondary architects of the employee experience.
When asked which function besides HR has the most impact on the employee experience, (HR) respondents to the "Voice of the Enterprise: Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Employee Lifecycle & HR 2021" study cited IT departments (34%), followed by operations (33%).
Interestingly, when the authors asked non-HR employees the same question, their top response was operations at 49%, followed by IT at 25%.
For many organizations, distributed work support is a foregone conclusion. In situations where remote employees can be effective, it seems that distributed work is here to stay.
However, we are only beginning to understand how this massive shift will impact our work environments and, in turn, the employee experience.
HR is the first casualty of the impact that distributed work is likely to have on organizations as a people function. The consequences may be more long-lasting than initially thought.
At the same time, HR will have new opportunities to influence organizational success by driving new workforce initiatives and work models that redefine how work is managed and executed.
In turn, HR may gain a more prominent seat at the strategic decision-making table. Organizations that embrace a distributed work model will see the HR function evolve throughout the employee lifecycle, starting with recruitment and talent acquisition.
New compliance standards and visibility challenges will move along this journey and impact all core HR processes, from payroll and benefits to employee communications and retention strategies.
To mitigate the potential friction of this change, companies must anticipate the obstacles and respond by reinvesting in corporate culture, brand identity, employee engagement and the right HR technology tools to equip practitioners for the future of work.