5 ways the COVID-19 crisis will transform HR’s role

Human Resources is at the front lines of employers’ response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The crisis is forcing almost every business to immediately develop, adapt or improve remote work policies and procedures.

As HR pros struggle to keep employees safe and informed, it helps to think about what changes will be more permanent and how you’ll guide employees and organizational leadership through those changes.

Here are 5 effects that you’ll likely be dealing with long after things return to “normal.”

Luckily, for most employers, the technology and communications infrastructure needed for successful remote work are available to employees.

But HR needs to start now, collaborating closely with Finance, IT and other departments to develop and implement new rules. Among the questions that need to be addressed:

  • How will managers translate existing work rules, meeting schedules and communications strategies to the new reality?
  • Who will pay for remote workers’ connectivity and any required equipment, like printers, monitors, headset, etc.?
  • How will you recover them if someone quits or is fired?
  • How must job descriptions change to accommodate part- or full-time remote work?
  • How will you monitor and enforce attendance?
  • What HR functions must adapt – talent acquisition and development, discipline, benefits and compensation all introduce their own challenges in a remote work environment.

And in the meantime, HR’s role in monitoring and maintaining morale becomes even more crucial.

It is a good idea to create a formal process for checking in with remote employees to ask how they are dealing with the added stress during the crisis — and to keep on top of any issues after things return to a new normal.

Are they staying in touch with their colleagues and manager? Do they need anything to help stay productive? Are they aware of available emotional health resources and how to access them?

It will also become clear over the coming weeks what jobs cannot be done effectively offsite. You’ll need to start on contingency plans and work policies for those, as well.

Nurturing culture gets more challenging in dispersed workplaces

Workers and business leaders tell researchers they believe a strong and well-defined organizational culture is critical to long-term success.

It sets the organization’s identity, helps form its mission and gives employees at all levels a sense of identity and purpose in their work.

But culture is also vulnerable in times of crisis when decisions are being made on the fly and financial survival takes priority over almost everything else.

Unfortunately, culture is also impossible to automate — there is no technology solution that can preserve and enhance organizational culture.

Employee engagement, constant communication and demonstrated commitment to your culture by leadership are the only tools that will work.

And workers will detect lip service even when they’re working remotely and will remember it after the crisis passes.

It is hard to put culture at the top of HR’s priority list while you are putting out fires every day. But, if anything, culture is even more important now and can hold your organization together over the long term.

Talent acquisition and retention remains critical

With the dire economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic becoming clearer by the moment, companies and whole industries are laying off workers and freezing hiring.

That may require greater reliance on contractors and temp workers in the early stages of the eventual recovery. But companies’ reputations among the candidates you’ll need longer term will depend on how they are treated during this crisis.

That may mean hiring some employees back as 1099 contractors in the short term or helping them sign on with temp agencies.

Even in the midst of this uncertainty and turmoil, however, it’s a good idea to keep your talent pipeline full and maintain contact with prospective rehires and new hires.

Engaging a remote workforce

Keeping employees engaged, enthused and productive is one of HR’s most valuable roles and, often, one of your team’s superpowers.

And research makes it clear that employees who feel that their physical and emotional wellbeing is a real priority for the organizations they work for are more engaged.

That translates into real money.

Two decades of Gallup research shows that highly engaged teams:

  • produce substantially better outcomes
  • treat customers better and attract new ones, and
  • are more likely to remain with their organization than those who are less engaged.

Engaged employees are also healthier, Gallup reports, and less likely to experience burnout.

You can show workers at home you are committed to their wellbeing by adjusting benefits.

A great immediate step is to reduce or eliminate copays for telehealth visits. If you don’t already include mental health consultations as part of your telehealth plan, add it now.

And, with financial stress impacting almost every employee, it is a good time to investigate options like daily pay, subsidized loans and free access to financial education webinars.

Loyalty to your workers amid unprecedented stress and confusion will come back to you through their ongoing loyalty and dedication to your mission.

Accommodation and compliance

With the number of people working remotely exploding, employers face new policy issues and, potentially, very real employment law concerns.

Potential compliance issues include:

  • Permitted employer actions under the ADA, FMLA, Title VII and other federal and state statutes and regulations.
  • The important ADA concepts of “disability-related inquiries,” “medical examinations,” “direct threat,” “undue hardship and other similar terms.
  • Leave policies and FMLA requirements.
  • Acceptable teleworking arrangements to protect employees.

You’ll need to keep track of all the new requirements in new laws coming out of congress, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that takes effect on or by April 2, 2020.

Taking effective action requires leaders to conduct advanced planning and make strategic management decisions, all of which will rely heavily on the advice and insight only HR can provide.

Additional resources

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources for HR Professionals. Keeping yourself and your team educated and informed during times of uncertainty is important. To help, we’ve compiled the need-to-know resources regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) – how to keep yourself and your team safe, managing remote employees and more.

Coronavirus & Remote Work: Pivoting from Bricks to Clicks, on demand. Join internationally-recognized business consultant Michelle Coussens to get tools and information to help your organization make the leap from having employees work in the office to working remotely from home – while minimizing downtime and anxiety and maximizing productivity.

Coronavirus & Influenza: Obligations Under FMLA, ADA, Title VII & More, on demand. Please join Dr. Jim Castagnera, labor and employment attorney as he explains what employee-related actions the ADA, FMLA, and other relevant federal regulations permit employers to take before, during, and in the aftermath of an outbreak.

Coronavirus in the Workplace: Employers’ Duty to Protect Employeesavailable on demand. Join Adele L. Abrams, Esq., a nationally recognized authority on Occupational Safety and Health law for this 60-minute program explaining what OSHA requires from employers, and steps you can take to protect workers.