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The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the many ways we work, direct employees and interact with colleagues and customers. Human resources (HR) management won’t be the same today as it was yesterday, and tomorrow’s HR department may look quite different than what we’re experiencing now.
Like many other sectors in a business, being open to shifts and pivots will be essential for any forward-thinking company. But how will trends such as remote work and virtual recruitment and office space renovation impact Alberta business owners in real and tangible ways? We spoke to several HR experts to get the insight you need to identify and overcome the many challenges that you could be facing today and tomorrow.
Entrepreneur advice for making remote work effective
Remote work may not just be a passing trend brought on by the pandemic. Only one-third of Canadians working remotely expect to come back to work in an office as consistently as they did pre-pandemic, while one-in-five say they will remain primarily at home, according to a June study from the Angus Reid Institute.
Still, as Alberta gradually reopens to allow employees to come back to offices, HR professionals have to be on top of several key issues. “Employers still need to be flexible for those who want clarity on policy regarding if they can request to work from home if, say, they’re at high risk of contracting the coronavirus,” says Aimee Parker, Entrepreneur Strategist at the Edmonton ATB Entrepreneur Centre.
The benefits of work-from-home staffing can vary, depending on the setup and how employers engage with employees, but one study from China highlighted performance gains: In a 2015 report on remote versus office workers at a call center, researchers found a performance increase of 22 per cent among remote workers compared to those working at an office space.
Another HR specialist suggests recognizing the various ways to manage remote workers who are missing that in-person connection with colleagues and bosses. “Try to avoid important conversations over IM or email,” says Chris Broughton, principal consultant with UpSourced HR. “Try a video chat so you can read the other person’s body language, something we’re used to doing.”
Parker adds it’s ideal for businesses to identify the disconnect some staff may have by working solo at home all day every day, but “that makes it even more important to have wellness initiatives in place to offer staff the right resources when they need it.”
She goes on to say a helpful idea for employers is adding a 30-minute check-in meeting every morning over a video-conferencing service, with the intention of ensuring the check-in doesn’t only revolve around business goals or issues but could also just be a way for employees to share how they feel today, in general.
Learn more about integrating successful work-from-home strategies into your business in this recent ATB post.
Culture fit in the face of an economic crisis
A report from Gartner forecasts the ever-increasing role HR will play in fostering an office culture in an office that looks vastly different in this new normal we’re going through.
“Understanding how to engage task workers in the team culture and creating a culture of inclusiveness is now even more important. To deliver on employee experience, HR will need to facilitate partnerships across the organization while working with managers to help employees navigate the different norms and expectations associated with these shifts,” the report notes.
Broughton says culture fit is more important now than ever, especially since managers may not be able to foster that inclusiveness and messaging in person. “If you can’t oversee everyone’s behaviour, you have to be open to different assessment methods in learning about people’s core competencies.”
How will recruitment adapt?
Finding talent outside the office, at events or job fairs, used to be the norm, says Maria Gafiuk, Entrepreneur Strategist at the Edmonton ATB Entrepreneur Centre. “But now you have to use technology to vet candidates, so HR has to adapt, and still identify those skills they need for their business.”
Parker echoes Gafiuk by stressing how virtual interviews could replace face-to-face interviews, requiring the HR department to make sure they have the right tech in place to conduct those interviews happen seamlessly.
Even by April 2020, many Canadian businesses realized they have to shift not only their recruitment processes, but other areas within staffing. More than half of companies surveyed by the HRPA changed their approaches to onboarding.
In the US, a Gartner poll found that 85 per cent of organizations are utilizing new technology to onboard employees.
“While most organizations are currently conducting interviews remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual interviewing may become the new standard for recruiting leaders and candidates long after social distancing guidelines are lifted,” said Lauren Smith, vice president in the Gartner HR practice. “The most successful organizations provide candidates with the same level of information and feeling of connection with the organization as they would have with an in-person interview or onboarding experience.”
Even if your office reopens, a second wave could strike Alberta and Canada, so being prepared with the tech solutions to facilitate online interviews, recruitment and onboarding is the best way to move forward.
Managing a new physical space
If your office or store opens, HR and other departments will need to work together to find the best solutions to ensure physically distancing and add the right safety precautions. It won’t be easy so it’s ideal to plan ahead as much as possible.
“You have to look at your numbers, of who’s coming back physically, who’s still working remotely,” says Grafiuk, “and find out how to reconfigure the space so people aren’t colliding with each other on the way to other parts of the office.”
There may be entire spaces in an office that don’t need to be re-introduced, such as meeting rooms. As a McKinsey report writes: “Previously, for example, organizations may have generated ideas by convening a meeting, brainstorming on a physical or digital whiteboard, and assigning someone to refine the resulting ideas. A new process may include a period of asynchronous brainstorming on a digital channel and incorporating ideas from across the organization, followed by a multi hour period of debate and refinement on an open videoconference.”
Broughton says a budgetary discussion has to happen with all relevant stakeholders. “You need to have that conversation about PPE costs, what safety measures to add to the office, what customer demand may look like in the coming months.”
Another idea lobbed by experts interviewed by BBC News recommended that for some businesses, getting rid of a crowded central hub could work. Why not try a distributed set of smaller offices that may be closer to where staff live? That could lead to reducing exposure to infectious diseases on public transport. “Having small groups of people working collaboratively would address the need for connections and improved mental health, but without risking massive exposure, where one person gets the virus and everyone else has to self-isolate,” says Amanda Stanaway, Sydney-based principal architect of architectural and consulting practice Woods Bagot.
The future of HR requires the same kind of resilience needed for an entire business to run smoothly, and that strength asks for HR professionals to take on adversity head-on and find creative solutions to tough problems. But knowing the strong backbone of Alberta entrepreneurs, we recognize they’re up for the challenge.
If you’re looking for a deep dive on everything you need to know around how to grow your business, our ATB X Accelerator program might be just the place for you. Alternatively, if you’re looking for key insights around your HR strategies, or have any other questions around your entrepreneurial approach feel free to reach out to one of our entrepreneur strategists to explore where you are with your business, where you want to be, and how to get there!