Top 5 HR best practices in a time of disruption

HR leaders are in an unprecedented time: A global pandemic, a massive shift to remote work, and social and racial unrest have defined 2020. So, what best practices can human resource professionals embrace to best lead their organization through these tumultuous times?

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During a session Thursday at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition, held virtually, Jessica Barry, senior people systems and recruiting analyst at Slack, and Jessalyn Klein, head of people and culture at Workato, sounded off on the future of HR.

Lead. “Today, being a leader, especially in times of change and disruption, can take on many forms,” Barry said, noting there are formal leaders, key opinion leaders, even leads on projects. But what makes a leader today isn’t defined by their role in the organization, but also “what they do to show up as a leader.” They foster transparency, they encourage participation, they’re willing to experiment and they model behavior as to how to effectivity cope with change.

Related: Read all of our HR Tech Conference coverage here

Jessalyn Klein, head of people and culture at Workato, shares communication tips at the virtual 2020 HR Tech Conference.

Communicate. Especially during times of crisis, communication among leaders and employees is vital: If there’s change happening in the organization, employees need to hear the why, when, who and how. “They should know what’s in it for them,” Klein said.

Transparency is key, she said. “That’s often counterintuitive for us as leaders because we might want to make sure we have everything stable and figured out first. Oftentimes in HR, we really like to have some degree of organization and stability, and yet at the same time, a lot of the times in disruption, our workforce actually needs to hear from us early. That means communicating what we know and what we’re confident in and what we don’t know and what we’re still figuring out.”

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Customize. Given the unique time we’re in, companies need to think about balancing the unique needs of employees. Workers are dealing with various schedules, arrangements, conflicts, stress and much more. And, of course, remote work is keeping employees apart. “Employee needs are going to vary, sometimes significantly,” Barry said. “And certainly they aren’t going to be met by a one-size-fits-all approach.”

That’s why allowing customization–giving employees the ability to define preferences that work for them–is “a best practice for any organization going forward to deliver on your business objectives.”

Klein says Workato used “asset request bots” to give employees the ability to choose what they needed to effectively work from home, under a certain budget. “At first we were thinking, ‘What’s the best equipment we can get for everyone?’ Then we realized what you might need and want to work from home might be totally different from what you might want or need.”

Engage. “This has been on a lot of HR managers’ minds,” Klein said, especially given the pandemic and how to connect with employees. “It’s not just one form of connection, but connection across different levels. The purpose of work is not just to be agenda-oriented all the time, but also have spaces for play, for creativity and for being able to engage with each other in a way that is not always work-related.”

Barry said one way to engage with workers and make them feel valued is to enable moments to check in with them on topics like health, sanity or social. Some of that can be done in an automated way, she said. For example, “wellness bots” can deliver reminders to employees to stand, stretch, take a break for a breathing or meditation exercise or encourage them to track their daily water intake. It also can deliver notices to employees if they have a high paid-time-off balance and encourage them to take some time off.

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Iterate. “Agile HR is going to be the new model going forward,” Barry said. “The key here is optimizing your employee experience while still maintaining your agility–most especially during times of disruption.”

Smart organizations should identify barriers and pain points, then start with small solutions and “build upon them over time.” Doing so means that “iteration will help your organization scale.”

“Build with room to grow and without solving for everything,” she said.

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former 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.