Chief People Officer IRIS Software
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Lessons HR can take from our annus horribilis

22nd Dec 2020
Chief People Officer IRIS Software
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The ongoing pandemic has transformed how British businesses work and operate. As 2020 comes to a close, it is safe to say that many business leaders will be glad to see the back of this year. However, while it has been a year of turmoil that many would be eager to forget, there are lessons that HR leaders can take with them to enter the new year with confidence.


Hybrid workers need continued support

 One thing is certain - remote working is here to stay, at least as part of a wider hybrid working initiative. Whether businesses opt to build a fully remote workforce or encourage staff to spend a few days a week in the office, it is hard to ignore the better work-life balance this new way of working has the potential of  bringing to the workforce.

The pandemic-induced mass remote working experiment has not only given staff the opportunity to spend more time on personal endeavours; it has also proven that productivity, creativity and engagement can remain high, regardless of where staff are located. However, these enhancements do not come without their downsides, as remote workers continue to work without personal contact with their colleagues. Consequently, the role of the office is shifting from simply being a space for business to a space for community, collaboration and ideation with teammates.

Remote working has undoubtedly been challenging for some of the workforce as it reduces opportunities for in-person human interactions, the easier way to build successful working relationships. In the new year, HR leaders need to monitor their hybrid working policies and its effects on staff closely to ensure that they harness the right tools to maintain high employee engagement and productivity.

It’s vital for HR personnel to ensure all line managers are trained in how to manage a remote workforce, and given the tools they require to support themselves and their teams in the next normal.  It’s also vital to provide practical support to employees to ensure they are achieving the work life balance they are craving, rather than substituting commuting hours, with more meetings and emails.


Mental Health should be at the top of the list of priorities list

After months of socially distancing from colleagues, friends and family, we are starting to see cracks emerge in the wider workforce. The threat of redundancy, disruption to schools, and the mental and emotional strain that comes with being separated from loved ones (or indeed being cooped up with them), have all contributed greatly to the increasing levels of stress and anxiety. 

Wellbeing is a complex topic by nature, with no ‘one size fits all’ solution. However, there are steps that HR teams can take to assist employees who require support. Setting a strategy to enhance health and wellbeing that works for all employees should be top of the priorities list especially as it is more important now than ever before, given the challenging year everyone has had.

HR leaders need to take the helm and work closely with line managers to identify any team members struggling to cope with new working norms and who are starting to develop stress or anxiety. With that in mind, HR teams can reshape their working environment and develop a proactive mental health and wellbeing strategy agile enough to weather the uncertainty around changing working conditions.


Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is key

Equality, justice and the celebration of diversity is the fulfilment of the best of the human spirit. And all good businesses are taking positive steps to promote diversity and inclusion.  Not only is it the right thing to do, it is crucial in order to attract and retain the best talent, and  remain constantly relevant in today’s ever changing world.

When it comes to recruiting the best talent, businesses should consider how to provide a level playing field for all.  Companies can work towards this goal by using gender-neutral language from the outset to encourage people from all backgrounds to apply, ‘blind’ application selection tools, manager awareness training and a warm and welcoming culture where everyone can bring their whole selves to work.

HR leaders should also view diversity as a journey, not a destination. Businesses have much to learn from their employees, and encouraging regular dialogue about what more they can do to promote and support equality  is an important step to ensuring all employees feel heard and valued and can truly be themselves at work. HR teams should be open to discussion around diversity and inclusion in the workplace in the new year and reexamine and reinvent their approach to this important topic in 2021.


2020 has been a tumultuous year for businesses in almost every sector. It is vital that HR teams are honest when reflecting on key learnings, and how best to take these lessons into a new way of working in 2021.

From reshaping the workplace to include opportunities for more flexible working, to developing a robust mental health and well-being strategy and supporting diversity and inclusion at work, there remains plenty of opportunities to improve work experience. Taking all these into consideration will put HR leaders in the best position possible to support the business in entering 2021 with confidence.

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