2020 NAHR fellows

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Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management

HRE: What is your outlook on remote work? Do you think it will survive on a widespread basis after the pandemic?

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

Taylor: Yes, SHRM’s research with the top 2,000 employers shows that over one in three organizations are more willing to consider employing fully remote workers going forward, compared to prior to COVID-19, and 27% of organizations are reviewing open positions to determine if they can be completed remotely. Many employers have found telework during COVID to be successful for their organizations. Despite this, three in four people managers have seen a decline in the productivity gains experienced at the outset of the pandemic, citing employees’ need for the psychosocial elements of work. SHRM’s national biweekly poll of American workers shows 60% admit to experiencing a decrease in productivity after experiencing diminished motivation after the first two months of working from home. Savvy employers have found safe means for engaging in return-to-worksite with a focus on building better people manager mechanisms and resources for employee wellness. The best employers have pivoted by leveraging the talent to accomplish innovation and diversification. In sum, there will be more remote work opportunity post-COVID, but I believe the majority of employers will return to a worksite as their primary office.

HRE: How has the pandemic reshaped technology’s role in the HR function?

Taylor: There have been several technology changes during the pandemic. HR’s role has included ensuring employees have the resources, systems and equipment needed to perform their roles successfully from home. Consideration and adjustments needed to be made to ensure the security of employment, as well as client and vendor data. By far, the biggest shift has materialized in the use of automation to reskill the broad workforce. With the availability of new talent options with staggering unemployment, leading organizations are taking advantage of their data to upskill and reskill others while launching new operations. The best are doing this by leveraging available data and driving growth in the face of inevitable decline.

HRE: Burnout and depression are rampant among American workers during the pandemic; what is HR’s responsibility in this regard? And how does it differ from the historical HR approach to mental health?

Taylor: HR is looking closer at the mental health benefits and wellness programs offered within their organizations. In fact, SHRM research in partnership with OneMind indicates workers in certain sectors are using EAPs at a rate 11 times greater than traditional utilization levels. Most leading employers are benefitting from the use of expanded EAPs, with 20% indicating they are developing new offerings focused on resilience coaching and virtual team effectiveness. Leading employers are also using this opportunity to offer pivot training, where leaders are taught to unlock the power of pivoting when failure comes fast.

HRE: What should HR leaders be doing to advance the conversation around diversity and inclusion?

Taylor: HR leaders can drive greater focus on inclusion over diversity. Traditionally, we have focused so heavily on the compliance part of diversity and tried to grow the applicant pool. SHRM’s own research indicates a tendency by employers to spend $3 on hiring for diverse candidates as opposed to only $1 on inclusive retention for diverse candidates. Balancing this metric is what makes true inclusion a possibility in our lifetimes. We launched the TogetherForward@Work initiative precisely to help the profession take the lead in making workplaces more diverse, inclusive and equitable.

HRE: The role of HR has changed dramatically in 2020. What are the most important skill sets HR leaders of tomorrow will need to fulfill those roles?

Taylor: We, HR, have achieved a level of insight and influence rarely experienced by most C-suite executives. The pandemic shone a light on the importance of managing people effectively and sustaining culture when it matters most. This is for CPOs what Y2K was for CTOs and the Great Recession was for CFOs, with one clear distinction: Long-term risk coupled with unparalleled global impact. COVID-19 and 2020 have called for HR leaders of today to think like those of tomorrow with an emphasis on context-driven decision-making and a focus on shepherding culture through trying times. Most important, however, is making HR the home of meaningful innovation. As we look to tomorrow, the pandemic has accelerated the need for CHROs who see the possibilities with talent pools differently than originally conceived but more agile than ever. HR leaders in the future will need to have strong data skills and courage.