Role of HR in the Post-COVID Work Environment

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Last updated on
10th Mar, 2021
21st Nov, 2020
Role of HR in the Post-COVID Work Environment

A study published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that, “the pandemic has resulted in people getting more stressed and less engaged at work”.

Covid-times have brought to the fore the shortcomings of the traditional workplace. Organizations are relying on HR to deal with new age disruptions like lack of engagement, employee retention and motivation. The solutions adopted by the most successful HR teams?—Go agile while helping employees re-skill and up-skill.

The millennium has brought with it extraordinary advancements. There are no technological borders anymore and projects have gone pan-global. Forrester terms it as ‘customer obsession’, and what an obsession it is, indeed! The customer is the king and everything an organization does is geared towards giving the customer, who is the most important stakeholder, an unparalleled experience. The bar has been set high, and organizations have to scale up to survive and grow in this competitive market.

But the convergence of all these expectations can take a heavy toll on the workforce.  Just as innovations are being introduced at break neck speed, so are millennial employees expected to out-perform and bring to the table new skills that will fuel the innovation needed to meet new-age customer demands.

Add to this, old management styles, hampered by processes and policies that are now termed ‘old school’ can seriously stagnate any form of innovation and progress. Today’s extraordinary circumstances, be it the economy or the COVID crisis, has put the spotlight back on the drawbacks that are holding back organizations and people from reaching their full potential.

Role of HR in the Post-COVID Work Environment

Challenges facing HR in the next normal

Lack of agility

“An agile workforce has emerged as a key differentiator between successful and non-successful organizations” — Accelerating Workforce Agility and Resilience - Aon

A monolithic human resource structure is not nimble enough to keep up with changing ideas and business solutions. Fast changes in the environment, markets and employee attitudes require policies and processes that help in taking quick decisions and implementing impactful solutions.

Remote working has changed the work landscape and forced HR to re-think employee allocation, potential and adaptability. A non-agile workforce is unable to adapt to or support change, and this skill-gap has become more conspicuous in the remote working scenario.  Research by McKinsey indicates that agility has the potential to improve the customer experience by up to 30 percent.

Lack of employee engagement

The millennial workforce is a new breed altogether.  They have a different set of expectations, a different vision and different motivations.

The COVID situation has further deepened this divide and the HR cannot engage the workforce as before.

Changing the status quo and addressing this individualistic workforce is a major challenge. Successful employee engagement leads to a more motivated staff that is empowered and puts the focus back to where it needs to be—on the customer.

An analysis by McKinsey showed a 20 to 30 percent financial improvement with improved employee engagement.

Decreasing productivity

“70 percent of organizations believe that the single biggest concern for continued remote working is a fall in productivity” - Research study by Ernst and Young.

Managing the remote workforce, re-prioritizing processes and solutions and helping employees cope with newer working technologies and models is a challenge for HR in most organizations.

According to the survey, “less than 35 percent organizations are prepared if the crisis escalated and less than 10 percent have undertaken contingency and scenario planning.”

Lack of collaboration and cross-learning among team members

It’s not always a team that is super talented or the most brilliant that completes a successful project, but one that is most collaborative.

For an HR team, ensuring this collaboration could well be an unprecedented challenge. As projects go global and team members spread across the world, the HR team has to make sure that people from different cultures and diverse languages collaborate efficiently and implement improvements to meet organizational objectives.

A lack of collaboration between team members creates silos, inhibits the process of continuous learning, teamwork and commitment and breaks the business value chain.

Long-term impact of remote work on collaboration and organizational culture

According to a survey by Harvard Business Review, as teams become more remote, there is a decline in cross collaboration.

Sure it also helps to have team mates who will join you in your coffee breaks, but collaboration is more than that. It’s about sharing work, knowledge and experience. Interaction and team activities help enhance collaboration.

Collaboration leads to innovation. Collaboration fosters not just the team spirit but enhances individual confidence and contribution.

But having team building activities can be a challenge when working remotely. The HR needs to be more proactive in establishing a collaborative culture and ensuring that the process of cross learning remains continuous.

What must HR do to ensure continued business excellence?

HR is more than just recruiting and policy creation. In today’s world they are a key partner in ensuring organizational success. And it is the HR that recognizes and fosters talent through a process of continuous learning.

“It’s about getting the best people, retaining them, nurturing a creative environment and helping to find a way to innovate” - Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo.

So, how does one do it?

Invest in a learning culture

"Organizations that focused on helping their employees upskill were ahead of the competition and more confident of the future” - PwC Talent Trends 2020

Continuous learning should be part of a company’s DNA. Upskilling and reskilling will keep employees engaged and updated with the latest technologies, a fact corroborated by the best minds in the industry.

41 percent of the CEOs who were part of PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey said that “their upskilling programme has been “very effective” in creating a stronger corporate culture and engaging employees.”

Introduce an Agile culture

Agile adoption leads to significant improvements in ROI, accelerates growth and fosters innovation and stability. And it’s not just about the bottom lines.

This research by McKinsey found that agile organizations did a better job of handling the COVID crisis than their peers. Agile teams were better able to adapt to changing business priorities and models and ensure customer satisfaction.

The HR department is a key contributor to ushering in an organization-wide agile transformation. Enabling training to help leaders embrace agility and turn into coaches, breaking up large teams into small, high-performance and self-functioning bodies, creating an environment of continuous improvement and learning and encouraging strong policies of engagement and transparency are some of the ways.

Improve remote collaboration

In the coming years, work from home and remote working will be the norm more than an exception.

The gig economy is growing and soon will influence federal government policies. More than 50 percent of the US workforce will be a part of the gig workforce by 2027.

HR will have to come up with policies that will help talent fruitfully engage with the organization remotely, while keeping the pace of innovation and progress steady.

In summary, a nimble and pro-active HR is the cornerstone for an organization to remain relevant in the next normal. The role of HR as a business partner in ensuring organizational success is crucial in these times of disruption, more than ever before. The ability to recognize, accept and adapt to change will be the key differentiator between success and failure.



KnowledgeHut is an outcome-focused global ed-tech company. We help organizations and professionals unlock excellence through skills development. We offer training solutions under the people and process, data science, full-stack development, cybersecurity, future technologies and digital transformation verticals.