The Coronavirus pandemic has turned everyone’s world upside down and shone light on the gaps that exist within corporate infrastructures. Already it has accelerated many social and economic changes that otherwise may have taken years to materialize. When we eventually come out on the other side of the Coronavirus and the economy recovers, businesses will be faced with new, and likely permanent, changes.
With businesses working on recovery plans and strategically preparing for an uncertain future, they need to make fundamental changes and improvements to protect their strongest asset—their employees. As they plan to emerge from this battle, businesses will need to take precautionary steps to ease employees back into the office in limited numbers. And in support of extending remote work, companies will want to take advantage of technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), that provide more sophisticated automated solutions that can help businesses become more flexible and resilient to meet new challenges in the future.
COVID-19 Tests Corporate Remote Work Policies
According to an analysis conducted by FlexJobs and Global Workplace, remote work in the United States from 2005 to 2017 experienced a 159 percent increase. Over the last decade, remote work has grown drastically, and COVID-19 has only enhanced the adoption rate. The remote work policies companies have implemented over the last few months most likely will continue, as organizations now are forced to consider employee well-being more holistically—not only physically, but also from a mental, financial, and emotional standpoint. HR teams are playing a key role in pivoting to virtual work environments and preparing employees to return to a what is likely to be a significantly changed office environment. However, many employees may prefer working remotely and, when the crisis is over, it will be difficult (and costly) for some companies to deny them that option, especially if they don’t feel safe working in the office. As a result, workforces and employee bases likely will remain more dispersed, and rely on alternate forms of communications to stay in touch and complete deliverables.
The Future of HR Teams and the Workplace Post-COVID-19
No one’s playbook was quite ready for this crisis, and HR has a key leadership role to play in making sure their organizations and leadership teams are responding in the most effective way —including business continuity plan actions, remote working strategies and execution, colleague well-being support, and more. Human Resources departments will continue to adopt even more technology and AI platforms in order to leverage predictive analytics and determine key data points, such as best-fit application candidates and employee retention. The ability to leverage AI to better understand candidates, employees, and contingent workers and align skill sets and experience to the work that needs to get done will be a powerful tool for organizations. New technology is transforming talent acquisition through virtual recruiting, intelligent screening and skill set assessment, the use of recruiter chatbots, and improving bias avoidance. Expect this trend to be applied more ubiquitously throughout the employee lifecycle.
For example, simpler, digital onboarding is likely to be part of a new hire’s induction. According to Sapling, the average new hire has 54 activities to complete during his or her onboarding experience. This high number of activities is much harder for remote workers since the process of “ramping up” is noticeably more time-consuming online than in-person. This could make it more difficult or will take longer for workers to learn the necessary skills and tasks needed for their jobs. One-on-one meetings via video with managers/direct reports/colleagues could make a huge difference in the success of the onboarding process and help new hires feel connected to team members, even if employees are physically distanced from each other. And while this may not seem pivotal, a successful onboarding process is crucial for employee retention—research from Glassdoor found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by more than 70 percent.
Virtually onboarding new hires might be an easier transition for companies that already have remote workers, in addition to those with offices in different time zones, who typically collaborate online. For companies starting to hire and onboard virtually, it’s key to remember that certain fundamentals of onboarding, such as mandatory training and i9, should remain the same, and communicating effectively is crucial to success. HR and IT professionals need to work together throughout these processes and constantly evaluate how they can improve the employee experience and address any pain points as they arise. Trainings should be offered in multiple formats, so employees can select the training method that suits them best. For example, online training and the use of video recordings are a good way to ensure new hires receive all key details on their role and the company, underpinning success moving forward.
Reopening: Steps Businesses Will Need to Take to Ensure Employee Safety
When offices physically reopen depends on the jurisdiction and nature of the work. Employers will need to implement many precautionary measures to ensure employee safety, such as increased sanitation for the workspace and temperature checks at the office. Many offices will require employees to wear masks for increased protection. There are also challenges as to who is responsible for what when it comes to these requirements: landlords, employers, employees, local government, etc. Employers also will need to take into consideration employees who may not be able to return to the office due to health reasons or comfort level.
Currently, due to varying restrictions across states and countries, the future of corporate travel is also up in the air. Moving forward, many employees may opt to meet via teleconferencing technology vs. in-person to avoid compromising personal or family health. In addition, and likely for the foreseeable future, travel may require a two-week quarantine on either end, which could mean that employees would be out of the office for several weeks—increasing the need for remote work accommodations and flexibility. According to Harvard Business Review, a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an e-mail; and while a video call comes closer, it’s still not nearly as effective. Ultimately, while business travel will not end for companies, it may very well become less frequent and more expensive. Regardless, programs will need to be structured to allow employees to have the required quarantine time needed, depending on the risks tied to specific cities.
With around half of the world’s population just starting to emerge from lockdown, there’s no doubt the future of work will be fundamentally different and have a major impact across essentially all industries. And while this crisis has the potential to spark some positive change, too, it’s up to us all to figure out how to make it happen.
Paul Burrin is a work trends expert; self-proclaimed “People Geek”; and vice president at Sage People, a global cloud HR and People platform that helps organizations around the world to acquire, retain, manage, and engage their workforce. For more information, visit: www.sage.com