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What are the key HR challenges post-covid?

21st Jul 2020
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Few people could have anticipated the impact that the covid-19 pandemic would have on us – we are settling into a new reality, with the majority of companies working from home.

The transition to complete remote working left business leaders worried about the impact this would have on their organisations, however, many have been left surprised by how smooth the transition from office to remote has been. Many of the employees that were completely reliant on the office are now successfully working remotely, and are considering it as part of their future plans, but how will this impact the future? And what challenges will this pose to HR?

I spoke to professors from some of the top European business schools to gain their insights into the key HR challenges that we will face post-covid and potential solutions to them.

Now that remote working has become the new normal, Konstantin Korotov, professor of Organisational Behaviour at ESMT Berlin, says that “HRs need to figure out new working arrangements with some of the employees never returning to the office, or spending less of their working time on company premises.” He says that the reason for this is to ensure “smooth communication between people working in different modalities, and avoiding potential exclusion as a form of discrimination for those who do not have access to the social melieu of the organisation.”

That being said, Professor Korotov points out that, “many of the HR professionals have managed to step up to the current crisis and reinforce their importance for the smooth functioning of organisations during the difficult times.” He adds, “most of them have once again visibly demonstrated their contribution to the survival and further development of their organisations […] and should use the momentum and their current visibility and power to drive the transformational agenda in their organisations.”

Even though the transition to remote working has been smooth, we are still in an uncertain time, Sankalp Chaturvedi, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership at Imperial College Business School, says the biggest challenge for businesses is, “to balance an unstable and unpredictable economy, wherein the depth of the recession is still unknown and keeping their core employee size, salaries, and morale.”

Professor Chaturvedi says that in these times, leadership is more important than ever to “maintain employee morale to give confidence to people.” Employees are facing more challenges to work-from-home, such as lack of creativity and innovation, than they would if they were in the office. Add to that the changes in the work-life balance which can have a major impact on mental wellbeing, Professor Chaturvedi says that leaders need to be “flexible and resilient” to ensure that their employees are motivated.

Nikos Bozionelos, Professor of International HR Management at emlyon business school, echoes Professor Chaturvedi’s point about employee morale. “People’s attitudes and morale are not affected only by what happens in their own workplace but also by what happens in other workplaces they know about.” He adds that it is important for owners and managers, “to display an optimistic stance for the future, we know that this is contagious and feeds into employee’s motivation, commitment and performance.”

Employee morale can be severely impacted by redundancies, which is why Professor Bozionelos says that companies should “refrain from considering the possibility of letting people go.” However, in these circumstances, there may not be any other alternatives apart from reducing the payroll. That being said, Professor Bozionelos says that there are other options to consider before letting people go. “A much better option is to discuss with employees and propose a temporary reduction in wages for a reduction in workload, for example, 75% pay for 75% of time.”

Another challenge, particularly for SME’s in the sectors hardest hit, is that once recovery is fully on its way companies may find it hard to both retain and recruit talented employees. Professor Bozionelos says this is because, “there may be a general perception that working for large firms provides more security in unpredictable situations like COVID.” Furthermore, Professor Bozionelos says that people will look for jobs in sectors which were not as affected by Covid-19as they will be seen as more resilient and stable, thus making them more attractive for employment.

However, this doesn’t mean that SMEs will not be able to recruit, but Professor Bozionelos’s says that it could mean that “job turnover, which is costly in time and energy and by extension money, will be greater.”.”

Covid-19 has presented HR professionals with several challenges, but as Professor Korotov pointed out, HRs are stepping up to plate and are playing key roles in the success of their businesses in very uncertain times.

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