How can HR learn to live with Covid-19 and plan for more uncertainty in 2021?
This year we learned to expect the unexpected. As we head into 2021, what lessons can HR professionals take with them, particularly when it comes to preparing their teams for the future?
The traditional ‘new year, new me’ initiatives might not go quite as planned as we near 2021. One of the challenges that resulted from the mania of 2020 was how impossible it has been to know what to expect from anything. This has obviously made planning difficult and, unfortunately, the prevailing air of uncertainty looks likely to carry over into 2021. So, after surviving 2020, how can HR plan for the long-term, learn to live with Covid-19 and prepare for whatever the future has in store?
Businesses have had to change quickly and adapt to new challenges. One place this has been especially prevalent is in the appetite for technology, and the speed at which companies have transformed their business models. Alongside this, those that have managed the best during the pandemic have done so due to a culture of transparency and communication. This will need to continue if organisations wish to sustain any success they have had this year.
If teams effectively prepare now, 2021 needn’t be as hard as the first few months of this year have been.
Considering the ‘curve ball’ of a year we’ve had, nothing is impossible. In terms of planning, we can start with what we have learnt so far from Covid-19 and its impact on employers and employees alike. Comparing how our physical office space needs have changed, the shift in mental health and wellbeing needs, and how our social lives have been impacted is a really good place to start planning and prioritising for the year ahead.
The future of the home office
Earlier in the year, research found that one in three UK workers had been reluctant to return to the office, and that 63% felt they were more productive working from home. It is this type of data that is so valuable within organisations and HR teams to start their 2021 plans.
Understanding the preference of your employees before the year is up and also their concerns will prove fruitful when putting these plans together. Understandably, there may not be a lot of choice in the matter, given the current second lockdown situation in the UK and the possibility that this exercise might need to be repeated again in future.
A simple survey now, however, will better inform management of how they can best support their staff in future, as we look to extend our remote working culture into the future. HR departments all around the globe have had to adapt their processes in response to change – for example, Microsoft recently updated its benefits strategy during the pandemic, including putting in place volunteering and military leave policies to acknowledge the government’s and NHS’ request for volunteers and reservists.
Other options could include offering more online support, opening up the office (when possible) to employees that need the most support, or updating benefit schemes to include a ‘working from home allowance’ that entitles staff to claim an extra monitor, supportive chair, or desk, in replacement of ‘free fruit and snacks’. These measures will provide a welcome relief for those expecting the worst as we move into 2021.
Invest in wellbeing
Our research has unsurprisingly revealed that, as part of their efforts to cope with the new working world surrounding Covid-19, 45% of HR leaders are prioritising wellbeing investment for 2021 and 43% said they aim to focus on investing in employee engagement.
The prospect of lockdown measures continuing into the New Year, and potentially longer might be hard to accept, so the mental health of your employees should be a top priority. Weekly catch-ups on an individual and team basis should be encouraged, with online resources made easily accessible, such as free apps that individuals can download at their leisure. It’s also essential to ensure that ‘faceless communication’ does not become the norm, whether that’s via email, online team chats, or conference calls where videos are disabled. This will help management assess who may be struggling and who needs support.
For many who may be working in small flats, with housemates, friends, family, or even on their own, the prospect of not having normal professional interaction will be difficult, but this can be easily addressed. One way of encouraging wellbeing is suggesting team catch-ups take place via a ‘walking’ call, so everyone has an opportunity to stretch their legs outside. Overall, supporting the mental health and wellbeing of team members will improve engagement and productivity if everyone feels they are being supported in their working environment.
Time for a holiday?
Unfortunately, many have had to ditch their plans for a holiday this year and, while this is frustrating, one real concern it presents businesses is the amount of holiday employees still have left to take before we enter 2021. Our research found that a third of Brits have double the usual amount of holiday to take before Christmas.
This obviously will create staffing issues, not to mention problems around employee burnout. Understanding why employees haven’t taken their holiday is crucial. Perhaps they are saving it, feel overwhelmed with work, or have recently come back from furlough and don’t feel comfortable using it. If employees are not spreading their holiday out over the course of a year then the impact to the business can be huge. Not only might there be a rush to use this up before Christmas which will leave the business short of staff, but individuals could be damaging their own wellbeing by not taking time to switch off, relax, and have time to themselves.
Encouraging staff to take time off evenly throughout the year can be tricky. Of course, people may be saving holiday for special occasions or to match up with friends or family’s allowance, but it is crucial to manage staffing levels and ensure a happy and productive team. Implementing absence software gives easy online access to all to manage their own time off. It also allows management to keep an eye on who may struggle or who will need support given their holiday requests. The data that platforms such as these bring is invaluable and allows organisations to put the people at the heart of their decision-making. During difficult times such as these, HR technology needs to be a priority for all organisations, regardless of size.
HR teams were thrown in at the deep end earlier this year, as they battled to take constantly changing government advice and communicate this within their organisations. If teams effectively prepare now, 2021 needn’t be as hard as the first few months of this year have been. By updating and communicating your ‘work from home’ policies and employee benefits, investing in wellbeing initiatives, and updating your HR technology stack, you can ensure your business is in the best position as we head towards next year.
Interested in this topic? Read Four ways to shape a future of work that's right for your people.