The Impact of a Global Pandemic for HR

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2020, a year like no other! It certainly wasn’t the year we were expecting! 

Instead, it was the year we spent months at home creating separate workspaces for everyone so we could juggle the home school with work, realising our short-comings when it came to some of the homework challenges and longing for the schools to reopen. We taught our colleagues/parents/grandparents how to un-mute themselves on Zoom, we jumped on on-line quizzes (anyone still doing those?) and tried to figure out what the hell people were doing with the 100’s of toilet rolls they’d stock-piled!  

Businesses had to very quickly rethink how they operated and we certainly saw HR come into their own, dropping some of the tactical elements to really navigate their way through a global pandemic whilst not compromising the strategic direction or performance of the business. Not many organisations hadn’t undergone some change over the last 12-18 months, but coronavirus made some go into hyperdrive. HR, often the go-to people in times of a crisis were pivotal in those unprecedented times. Agility, flexibility and resilience were quickly tested as they navigated their way through the maze of enabling home-working, furlough, redundancies, keeping people engaged, remote hiring and on-boarding – thank goodness for Microsoft and Zoom!  All major challenges in themselves – not to mention reopening workplaces abiding by the Covid guidance whilst ensuring people’s safety!  

For us, the recruitment market shut down virtually overnight with lots of interviews being canceled, jobs going on hold and candidates and clients feeling very much in limbo with emotions running high. It was tricky to know how much contact candidates wanted as it was such an uncertain time, but we tried to balance support with keeping in touch and providing advice and sharing leads. We wanted to continue to add value to their job search so had to be a little creative in how we did this, without having the volume of roles we would usually have to speak about. Fast forward a few months to the summer and we saw a flurry of new jobs, it was so good to be back in the game! Typically a time when you would expect it to be quieter, but this year was bucking the trend all round so we didn’t ask any questions, we were just delighted to help those we could with new exciting roles. 

Moving forward 

To say coronavirus made us push the boundaries of the norm is an understatement but as we approach Christmas with the vaccination offering a light at the end of what feels like a very long tunnel we wanted to look forward to 2021 and the impact Covid has had on HR. It certainly will have had some positive change and initiated fundamental re-thinks of why we worked like that in the first place. Let’s face it, it took a Global pandemic to shift the mindset of many around home working and more traditional ways of working. How many now will hold their people to office working hours, 5 days a week when they’ve shown that they can be equally or more effective working from home? Interestingly now for us, where we used to hear candidates putting home-working near the top of their job search criteria that has shifted to a more blended way of working as many miss the camaraderie, energy and social aspects of working in an office. Will we move to core working days in the office so we can retain some of that? The mood around office-working certainly altered as we went through the year and that question, do you work from home or live at work became the reality for many? Lots of our clients have shared that whilst working from home tended to give them more work/life balance, they were now doing much longer hours and struggling to switch off as the distinction between the work and home space blurred.   

2021 and beyond… 

So 2021… it’s never easy to predict exactly what the market will do, but if we’ve learned anything from 2020 it’s fair to say you can’t always see what’s coming. What we can say is it looks like there will be a raft of change and transformation coming and naturally HR will be at the heart of this as businesses will need to focus on the wellbeing, engagement and development of their people, all underpinned by enhanced technology in this new digital age.  So what are we expecting to see high on HR agendas?  

Wellbeing and Mental Health – this has been huge and will continue to be throughout 2021 and beyond! We have read so many posts and personal stories on this very topic this year it’s hard to believe we’ve seen the full impact of this yet. Whilst engagement has been topical for many years, we’re expecting this to shift to a focus around employee happiness. 

D&I – has been a big topic for businesses over the last few years with added pressure from the gender pay gap, percentage of female leaders at SLT level, the black lives matter campaign and 2021 will not be any different.  Lots of HRD’s that we speak to still reveal that there is more they want to do around diversity and shifting the makeup of the employee population. 

Hiring and Talent – we don’t think many hiring managers would have considered offering someone a job without meeting them in person and giving them a tour of the office…things have changed so much in such a short space of time! With so many candidate’s job hunting ‘the candidate experience’ has been more important than ever as the market picks up and candidate pools widen as location becomes almost irrelevant. We hear lots about ghosting, black holes and no feedback (more on that another time), but I think as client expectations get higher, so too will candidates. Engaging talent is one thing, but retaining them will be the differentiator for successful businesses. 

Reward and recognition – Coronavirus has had a huge impact in this area with many realigning their reward strategies and re-thinking how they’ll ensure attractive packages and engage their people now that car allowances, season ticket loans and office-wide incentives become potentially less appealing with so much home working. Will base salaries be impacted to factor in working from home rather than commuting into a city – will we see the phasing out of London weighting for example? 

People and Data Analytics – this was already big before Covid, but with the bottom line being the focus for a lot of businesses who have perhaps struggled during these times – performance and productivity will remain near to the top of many HR agendas, we’re sure. Those businesses who have invested in a fit for purpose HR system will certainly be glad they did.  

Culture, Engagement and Communications – have we saved the best for last? Culture and Engagement run through all of these themes so it will be interesting to see how businesses juggle keeping the values alive whilst meeting business goals and objectives with the ongoing shift in the world of work. Getting communication right will be pivotal and we will be looking forward to hearing who does this well.  

Whilst 2020 has been a year like no other, what is certain is that it’s brought lots of change but also lots of opportunities. We think it’s also safe to say that we will be glad to close off 2020 and remain positive about 2021 and what’s in store!  Will HR even be called HR this time next year or will we see the people titles coming through even stronger… part of us will be looking out for titles such as ‘Director of Home Working’ or ‘Chief of People Happiness’.  What do you think?

All that is left to say is we wish you all a Merry, safe and healthy Christmas. 

If you would like to catch up with Jemma or Kerry, please drop us a message on Linkedin.

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