Human Resource departments will place a greater emphasis on their processes post COVID-19, with a focus on adapting to a changing workplace and doing business in the new normal, HR leaders in the area say.
Heather Rudes, senior director of human resources at The Bonadio Group, says the HR function of a business will likely focus on creating agility to meet the demands of the COVID-19 evolution.
“HR departments are learning how to build a crisis response muscle, learn quickly how to distribute authority and coordinate activity and implement real-time data collection, listening and communication programs,” she says.
At Bonadio, the HR department has placed priorities into the following segments: employee health and well-being; clear and consistent over-communication; remote work; and client service/commitments.
The HR group then partnered with all areas of the business to ensure the objectives were met, she notes.
For most industries, the concept of remote work solutions and policies focused on flexibility will be a key change in how businesses are run, Rudes says.
Additional areas of need include developing programs to educate, train and empower people to work from home and quickly assess what jobs are going away and then start to align people toward new roles.
Managing employee performance effectively in a remote environment will also be a process that will need to be in place, Rudes says.
“Managing performance face-to-face is hard enough,” Rudes says. “Working remotely brings a whole new set of challenges.”
She believes HR will continue to take on additional importance in a company’s day-to-day operations.
“Companies are recognizing that an agile HR team is critical to maintaining sustainability,” Rudes says. “To ensure businesses can sustain in light of potential job losses, HR leaders need to work in tandem with the rest of senior leadership to consider reconfiguring workflows, redeploying talent or reskilling staff to help them stay relevant.”
Mark Peterson, Rochester practice leader with Lawley Insurance, says employee safety is a key area now for HR departments.
Lawley has several resources related to workplace changes as a result of COVID-19 on its Website.
Part of those changes HR departments will need to take into account include having a larger percentage of the employees working from home and a greater emphasis on technology.
Lawley has implemented some of those changes already. Last summer, the firm applied a work from home program pilot program, so when the state’s stay at home orders went into effect the firm was ready to continue with business as usual.
Lawley also used its technical capabilities recently to add three new employees, with a hiring and onboarding process done virtually.
Kevin Tehan, Lawley’s senior employee benefits consultant in Rochester, adds that staff meetings with employees from multiple offices previously held in Buffalo, have been virtual, as wells — and the response has been positive.
He adds that technology will likely play a bigger role this fall during open enrollment versus the traditional face-to-face group meetings employers held to explain company benefits.
Open enrollment is an area taking center stage at a number of companies, with employees having an even greater interest in what benefits are offered as a result of the global pandemic.
“The communication of benefits is even more critical now than it was before,” Tehan says.
Both expect HR to play a bigger role at companies moving forward.
“There will be new ways of doing business and HR will help businesses adapt effectively to serve clients,” Peterson says, adding that HR professionals will also be fielding questions from employees.
Tehan has been impressed with the HR industry’s ability to adapt to multiple changes over the past couple of months, dealing with not only changes and additions to state and federal laws, but issues including layoffs and furloughs, as well as tax credits.
How a company handles its HR functions is something people will track and can have a big impact on a firm’s ability to retain and attract employees, he says.
“HR’s ability to manage a brand can determine whether people will get through this or they don’t,” Tehan says.
Erick Bond, president of Bond Benefits Consulting, says his office has been fielding numerous calls from clients in all industries on issues related to human resources and employee benefits.
“It’s at the front of all business owners’ minds,” he says.
Now that the Finger Lakes region is starting the state’s re-opening phase, Bond says it is the time to make sure a company’s policies and procedures are in place, and HR will be crucial to that transition.
“HR employees tend to be very process driven,” Bond says, noting that attention to detail will help a company as it navigates the new normal.
A major challenge for businesses moving forward will be setting and reinforcing its culture as more employees work remotely, Bond says.
In addition to focusing on company culture, human resource departments need to make sure companies have rules in place to protect employees.
The emphasis is on worker safety, Bond says, and can include all aspects of business such as having a plan in place for gatherings where there is shared food to determining who is responsible for wiping down the conference table after a meeting.
HR departments also have to deal with new federal laws, such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, as well as tweaks to existing laws that have arisen as a result of the pandemic.
That includes an expansion to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Family and Medical Leave Act, which now offers employees up to 12 weeks of partial pay for events such as caring for a loved one with COVID-19 and taking care of school-aged children while schools are closed and on-line learning is used instead.
Businesses are now getting into the weeds with the intricacies of these laws and it can be potentially thorny, Bond says, noting there is a history of lawsuits related to some of these federal workforce regulations.
Other areas that will need to be addressed from an HR perspective include policies related to working remotely.
“HR will really be helping to put words to the underlying philosophy of the president or CEO,” Bond says.
Bond sees a bigger role for the HR department moving forward.
“There are more challenges, more changes and they are all happening at a faster pace than before,” he says.
Human resource departments, by nature, tend to be more employee-centric, which is valuable at a time when employee safety in the workplace is key, he notes.
“If companies don’t have their employees, they have nothing,” Bond says.
Andrea Deckert is a Rochester-area freelance writer.e