Even though technology has become indispensable for digital-centric organisations, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to create new habits and management practices for how people adapt, behave, and work in conjunction with the tools available to them. It is in this dynamic new landscape, says Ian McAlister, General Manager at CRS Technologies, where human resources have become the key enabler.

“Given the uncertainty of what the future of work will look like, human resources practitioners will be more important than ever. They are integral to planning for any number of scenarios, including the potential of mitigating the risks of a third wave of infections, the likelihood of ongoing lockdown scenarios, and how to effectively leverage digital solutions to manage employees from wherever they might work,” he says.

A sense of people

As part of their evolving skillsets, human resources departments should consider embracing several elements to help facilitate this, from counselling and collaboration to understanding peoples’ need for support, especially those who predominantly work remotely.

“The human resources function must reinforce organisational values at a time where nothing can be considered normal. With employees becoming used to the concept of a distributed work environment, there must be guidelines in place to assist them in structuring their daily responsibilities. Similarly, companies must also recognise the efforts employees are taking to meet their deliverables despite their emotional state,” says McAlister.

The ongoing education, reskilling, and upskilling of the workforce will help maintain staff focus when external forces still give cause for concern. These can range from questions around when schools will resume, what the impact of continued lockdown restrictions will be on the economy, or just concerns around the health and safety of family and friends.

Keeping up with change

“Just as employees must look at ways to reskill themselves for a digital environment, so too must human resource practitioners understand the ways that the increasing availability of digital tools and technologies will help redefine the future of work. They will be the essential workers providing guidance to the leadership and ensuring that the people-centric needs are taken care of, especially as how it relates to a more digitally driven work environment,” adds McAlister.

This means that even as discussions turn to the ‘stickiness’ of remote work and the possibility that this could become the status quo, employee wellbeing must remain front and centre of the human resource focus. There is always a risk that some people might rebel against ongoing remote work, instead preferring to return to the office as quickly as possible. It could result in conflict if the organisation is wholly committed to downscaling the physical office building and only keeping a handful of essential employees on site.

“There is no silver bullet approach that human resources can take to alleviate employee (and executive) concerns around what the future of work will look like. Work-life balance will be even more of a discussion point, prioritising the need to set clear boundaries between when the employee is available for work at home, and when the reasonable expectation is for personal time. Companies must remain agile and willing to adapt quickly as things change. What is evident is that no business will be able to return to how things were pre-2020,” concludes McAlister.

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