How HR leaders are leveraging lessons in crisis

'HR really needs to get in front of what’s happening now as well as prepare people for future growth,' says one HR Tech speaker.
By: | October 29, 2020 • 4 min read

It’s no secret organizations and HR leaders have dealt with a host of challenges thrown at them in the last several months as a result of the pandemic as well as nationwide social and racial unrest.

But months into the crisis, it’s time leaders leverage the lessons of disruption and start thinking about what to do in 2021 and beyond to create a successful workforce.

“When the boat has a hole in it, you fix the hole before you change course, but it’s not sustainable for a long time or even medium-term to not invest in other things,” Edward Cone, editorial director of consulting firm Oxford Economics, said Tuesday during the HR Technology Conference & Exposition, held virtually. “HR really needs to get in front of what’s happening now as well as prepare people for future growth. [That’s] really important to retaining and recruiting employees.”

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Oxford Economics and the Society for Human Resources Management partnered with SAP SuccessFactors for new research to glean insight into emerging realities facing employers and employees—and next steps for HR leaders in 2021 and beyond.

So, what are some of the lessons learned? A big one is that remote work is largely working and it’s time that leaders look at the model as a longstanding investment, not just a short-term solution.

(Photo by Hannah McKay – Pool/Getty Images)

“Remote work is a long-term investment and it’s going to be a talent magnet in the coming years,” said Elizabeth Supinski, director of data science and research products at SHRM, noting that over half of respondents say they have greater remote work flexibility as a result of COVID-19.

“Organizations that were hostile toward remote work—or at least skeptical—have really decided to take another look. Around the world, I expect flexible work policies to become much more important to attracting and retaining talent,” she said.

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Similarly, an important takeaway for HR managers is the emergence of a two-tiered workforce—one remote and the other in-office. “You don’t just have a remote workforce and you don’t just have an on-site workforce—you have one workforce you have to manage in two very different ways,” Cone said. “It will be a big and sustained challenge for all HR managers.”

“Organizations that were hostile toward remote work—or at least skeptical—have really decided to take another look.” – Elizabeth Supinski

Cone said employers must continue to invest heavily in collaboration and distance-work technologies to help manage that workforce model. They also need to invest in learning tools and training to help those employees be successful.

Overall, making investments in employees—from diversity and inclusion efforts and reskilling and upskilling to the right technology—is one of the major lessons for employers, the panel said.

Click here to listen to the full presentation.

When asked how they were responding to social unrest in the survey, the vast majority of organizations said they would recommit to corporate culture and values. But “few have really taken the concrete steps to address workplace inequality,” like adjusting wages, increasing leadership diversity or changing benefits to facilitate greater inclusion, said Lauren Bidwell, senior research scientist at SAP SuccessFactors. “I think it just illustrates we have a long way to go there. Real change is driven by action and not just the talk so it will be interesting to see where that goes.”

Meanwhile, before the pandemic, there was already some urgency around reskilling because many employees already knew that technology was changing and their jobs were going to change, said Adrianna Gregory, senior editor at Oxford Economics. But in response to COVID-19, “reskilling opportunities are going to be more important than ever.” That’s because a number of employers that had to lay off employees are now rehiring and are looking for workers with new, varied skills.
“Reskilling opportunities are going to be more important than ever.” – Adrianna Gregory
Additionally, employers that aren’t in a place to rehire are wise to upskill and retrain remaining employees to meet their current needs.

Supinski added that “forward-thinking organizations really need to take the lead and say, ‘I’m going to upskill my workforce, I’m going to drive this,’ ” rather than just hope employees or the marketplace solves the problem for them.

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“Employers need to be making sure there’s a chance for development for everyone in the workforce. [They] need to make sure [they’re] taking care of their workforce,” Gregory said. “[We need to] not lose sight of employee development and other broader goals. Yes, this is a crisis situation, but it’s not sustainable to put other investments on the backburner for too long.”

The HR Tech Conference features free, virtual content through Oct. 30. There is still time to register. For more information, click HERE.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.