The pandemic tested each and everyone and brought with it a different era of working where we learned to work closely despite being miles apart. Communication and collaboration were redefined in terms of technology and the virtual world took over the real one. HR professional skills have been put through a difficult testing time with the focus being now on agility rather than service delivery functions.
The present time demands HR to be more adaptable: to change and include operational and management modules in line with the customer and market demands. Most of the HR management issues can be resolved by creating human-centric solutions to unlock the value and productivity of the workforce. There is a rising need for HR to uplift themselves to augmented solutions, that is to work with a combination of technologies for greater speed and better quality. Digital literacy was never so necessary as it is today. It is extremely important in recent times for HR professionals to be adept in anticipating issues, identifying opportunities, experimenting with new ideas, and designing innovative solutions. Below are some of the most poignant human resource management challenges and solutions during COVID-19.
- Remote working to be the new normal
Prior to COVID-19, the remote working model has mostly applied in the IT sector, that too in selected companies. However, now almost all sectors including banks, regulated industries, and even academic institutions are rushing to build remote working strategies to meet long-term goals. There are bright prospects for contractual and freelance jobs. With remote working, comes the challenge to establish proper communication and collaboration among the workforce so that the working is smooth and optimum. It is critical to combat HR management issues in selecting the best talent from different parts of the world who can be entrusted with maximum output with the least supervision. The onboarding of new employees needs to be aligned in a way that provides a hassle-free remote joining experience. Everything right from the recruitment process, employee engagement initiatives to the exit process needs to be redesigned as per the remote model.
- The mental health of the employees
Though remote working has great advantages like flexibility, higher productivity, no location constraint, etc., it comes with its own set of challenges. One of the worst HR challenges in 2020 has been reports of more and more employees feeling isolated and stressed. Before they start viewing themselves as another machine, it is important HR plans out ways to keep them engaged and instill in them a feeling of being valued. Employee motivation should rule the priority chart as working remotely can create a feeling of being cut from the outer world and confined to a room. It is the responsibility of the HR team to provide necessary guidance to the managers on how to handle sensitive topics arising due to COVID-19 like job security, changes in working strategy, alternate models of working and expected outputs. Virtual fun activities can be arranged on a weekly basis that can give a much-needed break from the chaos of work-life and at the same time bring the team together. Conducting periodic health talks and motivating training sessions can help to bring out the best in the employees.
- Recognition and rewards
At a time when everyone is far from sight, any token of appreciation goes a long way in motivating and gaining the trust of the employees. In some cases, HR managers may need to think about doubling the awards. The rewards may not necessarily be monetary; it can be a token of appreciation, a gift, a holiday coupon, or public acknowledgment. As per a report, one of the top reasons why employees leave an organization is the absence of learning and growing opportunities. HR management needs to shoulder the responsibility of upskilling their employees so that they are updated with the latest technology. This will help in bridging the knowledge gaps within the organization and making the employees feel valued.
- New organizational policies
To ensure business continuity during exigencies like COVID, it becomes imperative for organizations to modify their policies on remote working, contractual staffing, and workplace flexibility. HR professional skills need to be tuned to upgrade the new and existing employees as per the new requirements of the organization. Companies are likely to pay more stress on resilience than efficiency considering the present scenario and the probability of more infections in the future. One of the primary HR challenges during COVID is ensuring the psychological well-being of the employees as most of them are working remotely. The HR professionals should encourage the higher officials to call out unethical behaviors and ensure corrective measures are carried out promptly.
- Focus on digitization
With the remote working model, digitization has taken the center stage. For increased collaboration among the employees located in different geographies, digital technology plays a key role. The post-pandemic world will see an increased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in HR functioning. AI will make the screening process of applicants much more streamlined and help organizations have diversity in their hiring process. These smart applications will help the management to retain the existing talent and communicate with the employees. These technologies will enhance the capability of the organizations to stay competitive and relevant in the present market. The pandemic brought with it the opportunity to empower businesses with technology and focus on innovation to survive and prosper.
- Job security
With the pandemic came the era of fear and anxiety over job security. The temporary halt in the movement of the world brought down the economy so badly that the future of working professionals looked bleak for some time. One of the key HR challenges 2020 was reinstating confidence among the employees that their jobs are secure and the condition will improve. While working from home may sound easy and comfortable in the first look, there are many who juggle between the office and household work and this is especially true for women employees. With schools getting online, this added to the woes of working mothers who ended up multitasking and working beyond the normal hours. HR managers are required to let their employees know they are aware of the challenges and stress the employees face while working from home and right now the priority is keeping people up-to-date and building their trust.
How to overcome HR challenges
HR professionals in several organizations showed incredible ability to step up to the crisis and devise strategies for the smooth functioning of their organizations. They contributed towards encouraging the leadership to uplift the morale of the employees and drive them towards maximum productivity. The role of HR comes in not just to hire new talents but also to retain the existing ones. Existing employees are an asset to the company as they are already familiar with the working condition and the company’s goals and their experience can contribute significantly to the growth of the organization.
Working from home comes with its own set of challenges. Lack of creativity and absence of social life has been cited by many employees as the prominent discouraging factors. Besides, many feel remote working leads to long working hours, thereby affecting the work-life balance. HR needs to continuously remind the leaders of being flexible and resilient to ensure the employees are motivated and continue to work to the best of their capabilities.
HRs need to find out the best working arrangements for employees who don’t intend to return to the office even after the pandemic is over. This is important to ensure there is smooth communication between people working in different modalities and there are no cases of exclusion or any discrimination to staff who are far from the social milieu of the organization.
One of the key HR management issues is keeping on-site employees safe by maintaining a healthy working environment. Employees willing to return to the workplace or those who need to get back to the office for the nature of their jobs should be given health and safety security. HR needs to offer training to employees regarding hygiene regulations like mask-wearing, hand washing with water and soap for 20 seconds, etc. Measures like establishing policies for social distancing, performing routine office disinfection, providing no-touch hand sanitizers, displaying posters with respiratory etiquette can go a long way in keeping employees healthy and safe.
With COVID-19, HR has taken on a primary role in keeping the workforce engaged, resilient, and productive. HR has broken away from traditional operating models and has embraced an agile outlook to provide fast solutions to recover from the present economic crisis and thrive in the market. With the pandemic, organizations across the world have started to realize the importance of investing in robust and flexible HR processes and structures. Time has come to reimagine and reshape the working model for the HR department in every organization so that it is prepared to tackle such situations in the future and keep the organization working even in chaotic situations. This will lead to preparedness to fight emergencies in the future so that both well-being of the employees and the economy of the organizations are protected.