Why HR Departments Are More Important Than Ever During The Pandemic

PRemployer on June 16, 2021

shutterstock_265356545The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way we work, and many temporary changes will likely be here to stay. The transition to work from home was made abruptly and caused issues for management and employees. As vaccinations become more widely distributed, companies are now bringing employees back or increasing their customer-facing functions, which has its own challenges for employees and managers. In these challenging times, HR forms an integral part of keeping everything running smoothly. 

Human Resources Holds the Company Together 

The changes and uncertainties of the past year have put a lot of stress on companies. The economic impact of the pandemic has also caused issues for many companies, as have problems with global supply chains. 

All of this can impact employee engagement. Employees are under stress of their own, especially if they have children. An active and responsive HR team that adapts to and addresses concerns is vital. HR’s job in these times includes reassuring employees and increasing their engagement to keep the business performing well. At the same time, the economic changes have made it even less feasible to expand your team, leading you to seek out other solutions. HR outsourcing during uncertain times offsets some challenging workload and eases your financial burden. It allows you to hand over mundane paperwork and let HR develop the overall strategy needed to navigate the current complicated situation.  

HR Helps Maintain Communication With Remote Teams  

Remote work has been a massive challenge for companies that generally prefer to keep their entire team in the office. Many managers have reasonable concerns about team engagement. Managers who have not handled remote teams before will likely worry about team communication, fearing employees may be goofing off between calls. From the employee’s perspective, they have their own difficulties due to the barrier to communication. It can be a lot harder to get the direction you need when you can’t poke your head in your supervisor’s office and check with them. 

HR, alongside IT, ensures there are open communication channels at all levels, reassuring both employees and managers that communication is happening, and work is in progress. That helps improve morale by reducing any tension developing between teams at all levels and improve the overall work output. Aside from communication alone, HR also needs to determine employees have all necessary channels to conduct their work. They need to ensure employees are properly set up to work remotely by setting up systems to accurately record how many hours non-exempt employees work from home, including overtime. Other necessary things to consider are establishing secure connections between the employees’ computers and company servers to protect the company from cyber threats, like spammers, phishing schemes, hacking, and other security breaches.  

HR also needs to ensure that remote work policies are fair, understandable, and easy to read. A lot of companies develop ad hoc policies that end up lengthy, complex, and reactive. Remote work policies need to be flexible and straightforward and show a degree of trust. Managers should resist the temptation to react to remote work by trying to micromanage. 

Finally, HR should arrange events that encourage socialization between team members, such as virtual happy hours. These should not cross the line into “mandatory fun” but instead be framed as opportunities to keep connections between people and talk about things that are not working. 

HR Helps Adapt to New Technologies 

Working with IT, companies have had to adapt to various changing procedures, which often require updating old technology. It’s vital for systems to be intuitive, allow employees to work from anywhere, and increase online accessibility for employers and customers. For some companies, video conferencing with customers has been a vital tool to ensure that business can continue. 

Collaborative tools have grown in importance and have established themselves within the organization. HR plays a vital role in putting measures in place and addressing issues, especially if you do not have a full-time IT department. HR is where many employees will turn if they have uncertainties about the tools, especially relating to privacy and security. It’s also HR’s responsibility to provide training in using tools, such as videoconferencing or file sharing, so that all employees are familiar with them and able to use them efficiently. 

HR Helps Maintain Employee Health 

Throughout the pandemic, there has been a strong and near-universal concern for public health and safety. Many employees have been worried about their health and that of their families. As offices reopened and continue to reopen, they’ve faced these issues. For a lot of people, “re-entry anxiety” is prevalent and poses difficulty returning to old routines due to a fear that society is reopening prematurely. They’re likely continuing with pandemic precautions even if science says they are no longer necessary, as they personally transition away from it until the transmission statistics reach a comfortable level.  

HR is key to helping employees manage their fears, and in reducing real risks. That might include setting work schedules to limit the total number of people in the office at any given time, designing routes through the building to reduce “milling,” and setting a mask policy. It might also include encouraging those employees who can take the stairs to do so, rather than using the elevator.  Employers are also facing whether they should require vaccines for those able to get vaccinated or merely encourage them. For most workplaces, allowing any employees who are uncomfortable about returning to the office the option to continue working from home is a good idea, especially for those unable to be vaccinated.  

However, the circumstances surrounding each work-from-home situation should be considered individually. Before an employee can be allowed to permanently work from home, the company also needs to consider if they can cover expenses that support their home offices, such as providing computers, fax machines, copiers, or phone connections. Furthermore, there are challenges in ensuring employees can maintain confidentiality and professionalism by keeping out background noise and distractions. Some companies may wish to conduct a home audit to determine how feasible a long-term work-from-home situation can be. Many of these arrangements are not feasible, permanent solutions. In response, HR should determine if returning to the office is necessary, and if so, work with the employee to determine how the employee can eventually be brought back to the office.  

HR also must ensure that these measures are properly communicated to employees and that everyone knows where they stand. Taking input, especially in smaller offices, can help employees to feel heard and that their safety is valued. It increases morale, improves performance, and makes it less likely that employees will quit avoiding coming back into the office. 

As we start to move past the pandemic and into what comes next, HR plays a vital role in supporting continued remote work and facilitating a safe return to the office. That risks stretching your HR systems thin, between training to use new collaborative tools and helping people facing re-entry anxiety find the resources they need. If your HR team is starting to feel the strain, outsourcing routine HR functions will help immensely. 

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