If there’s one word we’ve all heard and said too much over the last 14 months, coronavirus probably takes the prize. And while the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with President Biden’s announcement that there will be enough vaccines available for all US adults by the end of May.
As we set out on this path closer to normalcy, what does the future of the workforce, employee management, and employee experiences look like from the lens of Human Resources. Last year has completely reset existing work trends and priorities for most HR professionals, so it’s time to reimagine how and where work will get done in a post-COVID recovery world. Here are some trends we think are here to stay, and some tips for how you can prepare.
Post-COVID Workforce Trends
1. The Embrace of Remote Work
The success of remote work has reimagined how corporate work gets done, as well as where that work takes place. In PwC’s second survey into attitudes about remote work, data finds US executives and employees converging around a post-pandemic future with a lot more flexibility, yet few are prepared to completely abandon the office space.
As a result, by design or default, most companies are heading toward a hybrid workplace where a large number of office employees rotate in and out of offices configured for shared spaces. This model embraces the flexibility that most employees crave after working from home for months. It’s also a complicated way to organize the work week and is likely to transform a company’s culture, employee engagement, the way the work gets done and how office space is used.
Remote work has been an overwhelming success for both employees and employers. The shift in positive attitudes toward remote work is evident. Of the 133 executives surveyed in December, 83% of employers said the shift to remote work has been successful for their company, compared to 73% in our June 2020 survey. Reinforcing this finding is the 98 percent (of the 3,500 remote workers) surveyed by Buffer in The State of Remote Work who said they would like the option to work remotely for the rest of their careers.
Though the COVID-19 vaccine distribution may mean that we can all go back into the office safely at some point, HR pros should understand that the remote/hybrid and distributed team model is here to stay for most industries — the people have spoken. A Gartner poll showed that almost 50% of employees will plan to continue to continue to work remotely for at least part of the time, even after the pandemic is over.
Expect to plan around this new scenario, by optimizing employee onboarding processes, re-evaluating communication methods, streamlining day-to-day HR tasks, revisiting performance management plans, and tackling new employee engagement tactics for the remote age from here on out.
Go paperless. Modern HRIS’s make a significant difference for centralizing remote onboarding, benefits administration, payroll, and data management.
Onboard digitally. Use an employee onboarding platform to send digital offer letters, allow hires to enroll in benefits online, and set onboarding tasks so that your employees know exactly how to get up and running.
Increase touch points and empower communication for teams and all employees. With distributed teams, it’s challenging to gauge how your employees are doing, where they may be blocked, and how you can support them. Better support their communication and collaboration with easy-to-use technology designed to do just that.
Increase transparency by creating a formal remote work policy. Research best practices and include legal to make sure your policy is inclusive to and understood by all.
2. Company Actions Supporting Remote Work Are Bearing Fruit
52% of the executives surveyed by PwC said that average employee productivity has improved. Also, employees who report higher productivity are much more likely to say their companies have been better at performing various activities, including collaborating on new projects and serving customers.
Remote work productivity is not just a fleeting crisis phenomenon. Findings should help dispel concerns among the skeptics that work-from-home is less effective and draw attention to specific actions companies can take to help their workforce perform effectively in any environment.
A majority of employees surveyed say their companies have been successful in finding ways to make WFH more productive. Allowing the flexibility needed to manage family matters is rated highest: 79% of employees said that has been a success.
Optimize before it’s too late and you start losing your people. Companies that may have been slow to adopt technologies that support remote work — or to create clear rules and a secure structure around WFH — are playing catch-up. Accelerate investments to support virtual collaboration and creativity, as well as for scheduling and safety. Over 60% of executives expect to raise spending on virtual collaboration tools and manager training. Half plan to invest more in areas that support hybrid working models, including hoteling apps (50%) and communal space in the office (48%).
Invest in manager training. Leading remote and distributed teams requires a special skillset. Empower your people leaders with the right kind of training. There are a variety of programs available and strategies everyone should know.
3. Increase in Automation
If there’s one thing HR and business leaders over the last 12 months, it’s that figuring out how to automate and streamline processes and operations as much as possible will make a huge difference. For years, human resources has been a manual department process, and managers are typically getting the work done on their own. If utilized correctly, automation will take tedious busy work off your plate so you can focus on high-value, people-first priorities.
Processes that were previously manual, like HR checklists, new hire paperwork, and reimbursement requests are likely to stay online after the pandemic. Automation will likely impact every part of the business — whether it be factories using new technology to increase productivity or your employees using new software to organize their work or collaborate with one another within or across functions and even different organizations.
Automate and standardize your existing workflows to save time. Here are some common processes you can choose to automate:
New hire orientation
Travel requests (when that’s more of a thing again!)
Streamline your recruiting & hiring processes. Save time and money by automating some of these processes and integrating them in your Applicant Tracking System — doing so will also help you eliminate subjectivity and bias, making the right hires based on data.
Refocus on building and transforming your culture. Finally be able to reset your culture in a way that better supports and aligns with your workforce model. That means measuring your current culture and then hiring and managing to your desired culture.
Automation means you’ll have additional time to analyze your HR data, make smart business decisions, and collaborate with leadership on employee engagement practices — all the things you have wanted to do strategically but have always been put on the back burner.
4. Emphasis on Employee experience, Culture and Inclusiveness
One of the toughest challenges that COVID-19 has brought is a waning sense of community. In most surveys, workers continue to cite disconnection as a source of stress. Post-COVID, we expect HR to play an expanded role in every aspect of an employee’s life, from their mental to physical health to ensure a sense of connection and belonging. The majority of employees faced new hardships in the past year — some of which were compounded by a rapid and unexpected shift to remote work — but most if not all struggled to juggle personal life and work life. That will only continue, and it’s become HR’s role to shift the employee experience, along with a culture that better supports remote, hybrid and newly distributed teams.
A Humantelligence poll of 200 HR leaders in March 2021 indicated that the majority use a non-centralized combination of surveys, turnover rates, exit interviews and external review sites to gauge culture.
Be more consistent in how you collect and use employee feedback. There may be a sense of disconnect between direct reports and managers, or how your team is connecting and hence collaborating. Annual or even quarterly feedback surveys are no longer sufficient. Create a process for soliciting ongoing or weekly surveys to gather feedback and encourage frequent check-ins.
Invest in a culture management solution. Use a centralized, data-centric approach to measuring culture in order to keep a pulse on what needs to change. With a psychometric-based approach to measuring and managing culture that goes well beyond the qualitative data of engagement surveys, you can identify current culture and compare against a target culture by highlighting adaptations to be made.
Host more virtual social events. From virtual trivia and game nights to a weekly happy hour, your employees might be craving social interactions. At minimum make sure to recognize employee anniversaries, birthdays, and major milestones. days, and consistently ask for more feedback on how to keep the fun alive.
Invest in and continue to encourage employees to take advantage of company benefits. Whether it’s telehealth options or even mental health support programs, make sure you remind your employees about their resources on a regular basis. It may also be a great idea to look into free or company-provided subscriptions to apps like Calm.
Mission critical! In this new way of working, think about your meeting culture as a subset of your organizational culture. It too should transform in ways that are inclusive and support productivity. Set expectations for how you expect meetings to take place — it can help start shifting your culture in a direction that better supports remote and hybrid working.